The Tower of Frederick II (24)
Effectively, in addition to the natural defence offered by its hilltop location, the town was also in a position equidistant from the major cities of Tuscany such as Volterra, Pisa, Lucca, and Florence, and close to two of the roads that were most important in mediaeval times: the ancient Roman Via Quintia that linked Pisa with Florence, and the Via Francigena. The complex of the Rocca was made up of two wall circles of trapezoidal form which were separate but linked so as to form what was almost a figure of eight .The first, smaller, ring of walls girdled the summit of the hill and was crowned by the so-called mastio, better known as the Torre Federiciana .From the summit of the tower it was possible to control the entire area of the lower Valdarno as far as the hills of Volterra, the Apennines and the sea. The second larger wall circle branched off the first descending the slopes of the hill towards the south east to encircle the area corresponding to what is now Piazza del Duomo .Belonging to this second wall circle were the Torre delle Cornacchie , destroyed in the nineteenth century, and the Torre di Matilde ,which is now the belltower of the Duomo . Both these towers, and the walls that joined them, were in existence before the constructions ordered by Frederick II, having been part of the older fortifications built around the mid-twelfth century by Frederick I known as Barbarossa .The higher wall circle was accessible only from this area below and hence represented the last defensive bulwark. The sources recount that this section was reached by passing through an impressive arched gate, complete with drawbridge, and that the walls were no less than II metres high. The Torre Federiciana stood in close proximity to the main entrance : slightly trapezoidal in shape, it is approximately 30 metres high with round arched windows on the upper floors and others in the form of arrow slits, which provided lighting for the two different floor levels. The tower was originally crowned with cylindrical brick columns in the style of the Sicilian pinnacles, the presence of which together with the ogive arches appears to confirm the theory that it may have been constructed by Sicilian workmen brought to Tuscany by Frederick II. An inscription on a stone set on the tower declared that the construction was supervised by the imperial chancellor Corrado da Spira. Unfortunately this stone was destroyed in 1944 when the tower was mined by the Germans and razed to the ground. Therefore, what we see today is a complete reconstruction, albeit faithful in the dimension and building techniques to the original thirteenth-century tower, erected in 1958 to restore to the citizens of San Miniato the symbol of their town. The sources tell us that the tower was also often used for the detention of political prisoners, a function that it preserved even after the end of the Swabian domination and up until 1530,when the area was abandoned and was acquired by the papal archiator, or physician, Michele Mercati, who also built his residence there. Among the most celebrated political prisoners was Pier delle Vigne, rendered immortal by Dante's verses (Inferno, Canto XIII) ,who was imprisoned with the charge of having plotted against the Emperor Frederick II.