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Valorisation of Sardinia’s coastal tower heritage

Torre del Prezzemolo
Conservatoria delle Coste has acquired regional heritage coastal tower, and is undertaking a range of work in order to valorise them. The coastal towers are:

• S. Maria Navaresse Tower | Baunei
• Prezzemolo Tower | Cagliari
• Poetto Tower | Cagliari
• Regia IV Tower | Cagliari
• Segnali di Capo Sant’Elia Tower | Cagliari
• Chia Tower | Domus de Maria
• Piscinnì Tower | Domus de Maria
• Budello Tower | Teulada
• Capo Malfatano Tower | Teulada
• Porto Scudo Tower | Teulada
• Scal’e Sali Tower | San Vero Milis
• Capo Mannu Tower | San Vero Milis
• Sa Mora Tower | San Vero Milis
• Torregrande Tower | Oristano
• La Pegna Tower | Alghero
• Trabuccato Tower | Asinara, Porto Torres
• Cala d’Oliva Tower | Asinara, Porto Torres
• Cala d’Arena Tower | Asinara, Porto Torres

Historical introduction to the coastal tower heritage

Following the battle of Lepanto and the conquest of La Goleta, in the Mediterranean coasts, the Spanish Crown and the Ottoman Empire turned their attentions to each other’s ongoing pirate activity. This led to a perennial state of border insecurity and the Mediterranean States of the Spanish Crown forming a chain of coastal fortresses (in Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Majorca, Valencia, Murcia, Granada and Catalonia), paid for by each state.
The Sardinian coastal towers were erected from around 1570 at the behest of the Spanish Crown, as part of a defensive plan against the Saracen forays on the Sardinian coast that were causing great danger and loss of human life.

The entire defensive system was administered by the Royal Administration of Towers, established by Phillip II of Spain, in 1581. This institution remained active even through the Sabaudian period, only finally being abolished in 1842. It had to design and construct new towers, maintain existing ones, enlist soldiers and supply arms, ammunition and everything else necessary for the functioning of the garrison. As well as recruiting guards for the coastal towers, it was also responsible for the enlisting of men to patrol the unprotected coastal areas. A final duty of the administration was the payment of the lookout guards and the collection of taxes required to manage these defences. The strengthening of strongholds was accompanied by a widespread surveillance of less populated areas under military, financial and health aspects.

Collectively the coastal towers represented an effective fixed defence system (providing spotting and signalling) that integrated with the mobile defence system of galleys, which were much incisive but more cumbersome. Overall decisions were taken by the State or War Councils, however, each Mediterranean kingdom under the Spanish Crown acted autonomously, within the contractual powers and economic resources available to it. While the single towers formed a fixed defensive system for each kingdom, controlled by its Viceroy, together the network represented the general system of the Spanish Crown.

The locating of the towers in places with strategic vantage points made them an effective means to control the territory. The positioning of the tower apertures confirms this role: the first aperture usually faced the coast and provided visual contact with the other towers in the vicinity; the second faced inland. Specifically, each armed and manned tower was positioned for good visibility of the towers in front and behind it. This allowed the alarm to be communicated rapidly along the entire coast using audible and visual signals, when an enemy raids was sighted. Daytime signals were made using smoke; those at night by fire. These were accompanied by fireworks to alert the cavalry and local villagers to deter the invading forces.

The function and geographic setting, led to 3 categories of tower:
- Armas or Gagliarde towers were the largest and best-armed. The garrison was led by an Alcalde (Captain) and was usually armed with 4 high-calibre canons, 2 mortars and 5 rifles, and had heavy defence;
- Senzillas were medium-sized towers. They had only light defence being manned by an Alcalde (Captain) and 4 men and armed with 2 medium-calibre canons, 2 mortars and 5 rifles.
- Torrezillas were the most modest towers. They housed 2 soldiers and functioned almost exclusively as look out points. The entrances were high up the smallest towers, and were reached by steps that the soldiers pulled inside after them.

Restoration and conservation project for the coastal towers of the Autonomous Region of Sardinia

Following the acquisition of the coastal tower regional heritage, Conservatoria delle Coste has completed a restoration and valorisation project for the following towers:
La Pegna Tower in Alghero; Prezzemolo and Poetto Towers in Cagliari; Budello, Capo Malfatano and Porto Scudo Towers in Teulada; Scal’e Sali, Capo Mannu and Sa Mora Towers in San Vero Milis.
The programme is within the “Integrated Coastal Zone Management” strand. This is part of the “Sustainable Environment” Programme Agreement (APQ) between the Italian government and the Autonomous Region of Sardinia, which came into effect on the 18th July 2007. It was started with funds from the FAS and financed with Delibera CIPE 35/05 and 3/06.

The APQ objective is to protect and restore coastal systems through the maintenance and eventual improvement of local biodiversity, and the restoration of natural dynamics, streamlining activities and resource consumption with a view to environmental sustainability.

The objective of the strategy is the activation of an organic and integrated set of mutually consistent interventions aimed at the stewardship and valorisation of areas of high environmental importance. It does this by coordinating specific actions and through research into all possible synergies between the environment and adjoining areas, especially tourist ones, and favouring conditions to create new forms of employment.

Part of the interventions specifically regarding the coastal tower restoration project, are a series of works aimed at improving the accessibility and safety of the most abandoned and degraded buildings. The intervention fits into a sustainable tourism process, promoting the development of eco-compatible, archaeological and cultural forms of tourism. These towers are in the municipalities of Alghero, Cagliari, San Vero Milis and Teulada, and are form part of the scenic and cultural heritage of the island. Fixed and functional activities will make these assets accessible, and improve understanding and appreciation of the important role that they have played historically. The economic effects for local areas and populations will be extremely important.

Purpose of the intervention

The overall Coastal Tower works programme foresees a series of actions aimed to:
 implement safety measures on the buildings and their related areas;
 conserve the structures of the buildings;
 preserve the memories and stories, however small, and the historic and cultural value of the locations;
 valorise individual buildings and highlight tourism itineraries (including through signposting and posters) to build a deeper understanding of the defensive system of Sardinia, and at the same time to valorise and grow the cultural and environmental resources within the area;
 valorise jobs involving the coastal zone culture and landscape, with the aim of growing sustainable tourism in these areas and to provide economic opportunities which will limit the exodus of local populations;
 restore economic value to coastal zone that have suffered from centuries of neglect and abandonment, rediscovering the potential of coastal assets as sources of energy for local and regional development.

In essence, the intention of the Conservatoria delle Coste programme is to contribute the characteristic identity of each area. At the same time, the project aims to repay these areas for the important roles that they played, by turning them into crucial nodes of a larger re-discovery of the territorial history of the island.
The end goal is for thriving coastal areas with sustainable and quality tourism.
The interventions will need to be complementary, systematic and coordinated, in order to achieve cultural recovery and, more generally, social and environmental restoration.
Consequently, the use (through a range of tours and visits) and management of each individual building, is intended to form part of a larger integrated system, and must result from the constant and active cooperation between Conservatoria and the various stakeholders which has been used throughout this project.