The Origins of the Tower

The Brandale Tower has been a symbol of Savona since time immemorial. It is so ancient that even the date of its construction is shrouded in mystery.
In fact, no document concerning the events of its construction has ever been found.
However, the research and the excavations carried out on site showed important discoveries: more than a thousand years ago the coast line between the Torretta and today’s indoor market in Via Gramsci was significantly more arcuate and set back than the one of today. Thus, the piers of the ancient port were located just a few meters from the Brandale Tower.
In the early Middle Ages, therefore, the ‘Calata’ (the area of the port where all the piers are located) stretched from today’s Piazza del Brandale, Via degli Orefici, Via Quarda Superiore, Piazza Leon Pancaldo, up to today’s church of Santa Lucia.
Only towards the end of the 12th century, a second ‘Calata’ and a new and safer dock were built in order to prevent the accumulation of debris and sediments. These, in fact, were dragged by the Letimbro torrent and by sea currents and were gradually obstructing the whole port area.
The Tower was therefore built directly facing the ancient ‘Calata’ probably around the year 1000, to the left of the Romanesque church of San Pietro (now incorporated into the building in via Pia 29), which is the second oldest church in the city only after the Cathedral.
The area in front of the church of San Pietro is also where the ‘Act of liberty of the city of Savona’ was drawn up in 1191.
On the other side of the tower, the so-called ‘Loggia dei popolari’ (People’s Loggia) was later erected, in contrast to the ‘Loggia dei nobili’ (Nobles’ Loggia), located in Piazza della Maddalena.
As shown by the existing documents, the Tower was originally privately owned and only at the beginning of the 14th century the property passed to the municipality.
The oldest document attesting the existence of the tower dates back to May 1178. It was found in the documents of notary Arnaldo Cumano and certifies the sale to Arnaldo Iolta by Ansaldo Curlaspedo and his wife Richelda. This document certifies the sale of the fourth part of the tower together with the fourth part of the land belonging to the same construction. The sale was made at the price of 25 Lire.
In another document dated May 31, 1178, which was drawn up by the same notary, Ansaldo Curlaspedo declared that he had received the sum of 31 Lire as payment for his wife’s dowry, 25 of which as the price of the part due to her of the tower.

The Origin of the Term “BRANDALE”

In the Middle Ages the tower was called “Turris Perforata“. This was due to the fact that it rested on six pointed arches spanned on high pillars so as to form a loggia open to transit from all four sides. Later on, due to the erection of the adjacent buildings, four of the six arches were closed and even today it is possible to walk under the tower only through Vico dell’Archivolto. The oldest document in which the current name of the tower has been used dates back to May 21, 1202. This is a notarial deed that was stipulated “su brandali” (meaning under the Brandale Tower) and concerns a transfer of rights carried out by Gandolfo Ferralasino in relation to some lands owned by him in the villages of Celle and Sanda. Nothing certain is known about the origin of the term “Brandale” and, therefore, only hypotheses can be made. According to some, this word derives from “brand” and could be translated as light, bonfire. In this context, it would indicate the ancient function of the tower, which was once directly facing the ‘Calata’, to guide ships bound for the Savona port. Then, according to two writers of the 19th century: Du Cange and Torteroli, the term would instead indicate the banner of the city municipality which flew on the top of the tower in medieval times. However, according to Russo the word “Brandale” could also have another meaning. In this regard he stated that in the deed dated June 17, 1164 of the notary Johannis Scriba (1154-1166) there was an inventory of private belongings attached to a testamentary act. In this inventory, amongst others, there was also an item called “brandale seu bancacia” which was a tool usually used in construction to lift weights. Finally, there is also a thesis supported by Verzellino according to which the term “Brandale” derives from the name of Ildebrando di Soana, who later became known as Pope Gregory VII. This thesis however cannot be considered true as the birthplace of Pope Gregory VII is in Tuscany and his family never had anything to do with the city of Savona.

The Municipality of Savona acquires the Brandale Tower

With the beginning of the 14th century the ownership of the Brandale tower, at that time in the hands of the Iolta and Bava families, passed entirely to those of the Municipality of Savona. The sale was carried out over a two-year period. On 18 September 1305 the structure was placed under public auction, and two days later, with an act of the notary Angelino Bellotto, Oberto Bava sold the tower with all the adjacent buildings to Giacomino Porcella, who was representing the Municipality of Savona, at a price of 230 Lire.
On September 20, with another notary deed the Municipality of Savona declared itself to owe Oberto Bava 192 Lire and 10 Soldi and 5 Lire and 15 Soldi, i.e. the remaining sum in addition to the agreed payment amount.
On January 22, Oberto Bava issued a receipt of payment inciting the Municipality of Savona to give him the remaining amount that had not been paid at the time of the sale.
Finally, on November 18, 1307, Giacomino and Antonio Iolta, sons of Guglielmo, sold the part of the tower they owned to the Municipality for 85 Lire and 100 Lire, respectively.
In that same year the construction of the Palazzo del Podestà was completed in the nearby Piazza delle Erbe. The Brandale tower, now owned by the Municipality, was home of the ‘People’s Abbot’ together with his eight servants and, in that period, also of the Great Council of the City.
A few years later, finding itself in a time of economic hardship, the Municipality of Savona was forced to sell a compartment of the tower, albeit with the restriction of retrocession, in order to pay the salaries to the Genoese vicars of the Municipality of Savona and their families. It was Guglielmo Petenario who was commissioned to carry out this operation on June 25, 1332 and on July 3, he sold the stable located inside the right arch of the structure to Pietro Fodrato at the price of 250 Lire.

The Construction of the Palazzo degli Anziani

On May 23, 1341, the Municipality of Savona bought for the price of 30 Lire the house located next to the Brandale Tower from the brothers Antonio and Paolino Fodrato. This purchase was carried out in order to build the building set to become the Palazzo degli Anziani.
To proceed with the erection of this new structure, the building on the left of the tower was used. This edifice was the ‘People’s Loggia’ where the citizens belonging to popular classes gathered.
As declared by Poggio Poggi, the new palace was built based on the loggia which nevertheless continued to exist. Even nowadays, in fact, whoever observes the right side of the facade of the building, next to the entrance, can see a capital and a column base that once must have been part of the People’s Loggia.
The Council of Elders was seated in the new building, while the ‘People’s Abbot’, which was a position that had been established as a result of the democratic reform of 1303, continued to reside in the Brandale Tower.
According to the notary Ottobuono Giordano, at the beginning of the sixteenth century the Palazzo degli Anziani was embellished with a series of elegant frescoes depicting “the history of the Romans”. The building was also equipped in 1482 with a large marble staircase.
In the square in front of the church of San Pietro, the Brandale tower and the People’s Loggia the citizens of Savona gathered under the characteristic large elm tree, discussed and often drew up acts of great importance for the city.
The importance of these places was such that the crimes committed there were punished with double the penalty established by the Municipality Statutes.
Moreover, exactly in these places used to go the men of the castles and villas under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Savona on the morning of Christmas Eve, bringing the ‘confeugo’ as a gift to the Podestà and the People’s Abbot every year. The ‘confeugo’ consisted of a large number of pigs, lambs, capons and other delicacies transported on a cart pulled by two oxen dressed for a party and decorated with flowers and flags bearing the crest of the Municipality.

The Tower ‘severed’ by the Genoese

On October 29, 1528, at the end of its second fight with Genoa, Savona surrendered to Andrea Doria. Disregarding the pacts established with the Elders of the city, the winners imposed very heavy penalties on the city of Savona. In addition to the taxes and restrictions on traffic and navigation, the port was buried, the walls of the dock were dismantled and the towers were partially destroyed. In 1542, on the ancient district of Santa Maria, it also began the construction of a majestic military fortress, i.e. the Priamàr, which completely changed the heart of the historic city of Savona.
On October 10, 1552, under the order of the rulers of Genoa, which was commonly called the ‘Superba’, the Elders were ordered to lower the Brandale Tower by 100 palms (half of its total height, which was 49.60 m).
As declared by the notary Marco Tullio De Lorenzi, the provision was adopted by the Genoese to avoid the risk that the tower could possibly cause some kind of offense to the fortress. In addition to this, the citizens of Savona were also obliged to bear all the financial burdens and expenses deriving from the lowering of the civic tower. Through Bernardo Corsi and Scipione Berruti, the Elders appointed the architect Battista Sormano, brother of the two sculptors Leonardo and Giovanni Antonio, to supervise the demolition work.
During the following year, Battista Sormano and the Wood Master Luciano Fracchia were commissioned by three officers elected by the Municipality to build the roofing of the Brandale Tower, exposed to the weather, as well as to take care of the arrangement of the bell (called “campanaccia”) and a room for the clock. On that occasion, they also built three large windows of 10×6 palms surmounted by arches.
This work was carried out at the price of ’24 gold ecus of the sun’.
In 1583, the Elders of Savona managed to raise the tower by 19 palms (about 5 meters) by creating a canopy to protect the bell. The Genoese commissioners also carried out an investigation on its construction. However, they reassured the government of Genoa that what had been accomplished could in no way constitute a threat to the nearby fortress of Priamàr.As a result of this new rising, the tower was now 31.60 metres tall and it remained that way until 1933.


The Brandale Tower from 1600 to 1700

After the Genoese conquest in 1528, Savona endured very hard centuries. The citizens lived in conditions of great poverty and misery, subjugated by the powerful Genoa. However, little is known about the Brandale Tower from 1600 to 1800 since the information regarding it is very scarce. On the morning of July 7, 1648, a shocking event struck the whole city and in particular an area near the Brandale Tower. A lightning hit the tower of the Castle of San Giorgio, located at a short distance from the Brandale Tower, causing more than a thousand barrels of gunpowder to explode. This was a huge massacre and caused great destruction in the whole city. More than 800 people died and at that time Savona had a population of only 6000 inhabitants. A third of the city was destroyed or damaged. In addition to this, the area surrounding the Brandale Tower was located only a short distance from the gunpowder deposit and, therefore, it was also severely damaged. For a few weeks, the inhabitants, terrified by the effects of the explosion, completely abandoned the city. It took several decades for Savona to fully recover. In addition to the destructions caused by men, Savona underwent several natural disasters which caused severe damages on the city and on the Brandale Tower. In fact, several roofs collapsed after the April 30, 1668 and February 7, 1767 earthquakes which also caused damage throughout the whole city.

The Brandale Tower in 1800

In 1800, the Brandale Tower and its surroundings underwent major renovations.
Between February and April 1838, the Municipal Administration decided to replace the old clock and entrusted the watchmaker Guidi.
The work was carried out between May and June 1840 and costed 800 lire.
Other renovation works have also been carried out by the architect Giuseppe Cortese in order to secure the staircase leading to the current premises of the Secretariat.
In 1853, a marble statue of the Madonna della Misericordia, placed in the recess still existing in the Sala degli Anziani, was given as a deposit to guarantee for the construction of the chapel of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Vico del Vento.
A canvas by Raffaello Resio was then placed as a replacement of the statue in the same recess.In May 1861, the tower underwent also renovation works of the bell ringer’s lodgings that costed 90 lire.
Nevertheless, a project which has never been carried out was the one developed by the Municipal Art Office in May 1868. The Art Office wanted, in fact, to widen the road of Via Pia under the Brandale Tower, but the works have never even started.
On February 23, 1887, Western Liguria was hard-hit by an earthquake causing 657 deaths, 12 of which in Savona, and large damages to the Brandale area, too.
After the earthquake an inspection was carried out and the premises of the Brandale Tower were declared unusable.
Then, there also was an evaluation to establish the costs for its restoration. As a result, it was decided to secure the structure of the tower and ensure its solidity by inserting several iron bars (technically called “chiavi”) normally placed on historic buildings to curb possible damages caused by earthquakes.

The Rising of the Tower to its Original Height

One of the first projects of the “A Campanassa” Association, founded in 1924, which had and still has its headquarters in the Brandale Tower, was to restore the tower to its original height of 49.60 meters.
The Tower was, in fact, partially destroyed by the Genoese in 1552, and it was then raised by about five meters in 1583. Nevertheless, in August 1926, the “A Campanassa” Association promoted a public subscription to finance the significant work. An appeal was sent to organizations, associations, citizens. The first benefactor was Paolo Boselli, who donated the sum, conspicuous for those times, of 1000 lire. On January 27, 1931, it was officially decided to raise the Tower and at the same time, to cast a new bell. The previous bell dated back to 1931, but it had never been appreciated by the population, due to the hoarse sound of it. That same year, by the end of April, the old bell was removed and on October 11, with a solemn ceremony, the new one, weighing over two tons, was installed. The works for the raising of the Tower began in the summer of 1931, carried out by the Prefumo company, based on the project of the engineer Giovanni Damonte. The new floors were made, as the technical report states: “In partially reinforced cement conglomerate, so as to be able to obtain a good connection between the various parts of the monument, without resorting to large thicknesses of masonry”.
The old clock was replaced and on the facade towards the dock, Eso Peluzzi frescoed the image of the Madonna della Misericordia, patron saint of Savona. Then, twelve majolica crests had also been walled in between the first and second floors. They represent the families and powers that controlled Savona over the centuries: Del Carretto family, Amedeo IV of Savoy, Frederick II, Henry of Luxembourg, Louis IV the Bavarian, the Visconti family, the French Kingdom, the Campofregoso family, the Republic of Genoa, the Ligurian Democratic Republic, Napoleon and the Kingdom of Sardinia.Important works were also carried out inside, both in the Tower and in the adjacent Palazzo degli Anziani, and important remains of the city’s past were also found. The restoration works overall costed over 117,000 lire. Finally, On Sunday, April 23, 1933, the solemn inauguration ceremony took place with the presence of Bishop Righetti, the mayor Assereto, the president of “A Campanassa” Poggio Poggi and a large crowd.