As the name suggests, a “casatorre” is a cross between a house (“casa”) and a tower (“torre”) that is built from stone and designed for defensive purposes.
It is believed these tower houses initially appeared in Ireland before spreading through the rest of Europe, including Italy.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, the casatorre allowed inhabitants to live inside a structure that gave better vantage points plus greater attack and defense capabilities.
Casatorri were commonly constructed by important figures such as aristocrats. Power struggles amongst the elite were often waged in violent attacks in battles over land and power.
Other structures were occasionally built around the base of these Italian tower houses, with some even have connecting passages to the upper floors of the tower so select people could retreat to the safety of the casatorre should there ever be an attack.
Besides the status symbol of owning a casatorre in itself, the higher the tower, the more important its noble owner. When a battle was won, a few extra metres would be added to the construction, only to be lowered slightly upon a defeat. Even during more peaceful periods throughout history, casatorri continued to be built by important figures also as a status symbol.
During a time of peace after centuries of fighting and power struggles throughout Italy, it was agreed to stop this practice. Many towers were lowered or knocked down altogether throughout Tuscany. In Florence, the tops were lopped off to have a standard height.
Arguably the most famous collection of tower houses can be found today in the Tuscan hilltop town of San Gimignano where many casatorri had been abandoned and thus remain intact to this day.