Bishop’s Tower

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The Torre del vescovo (Bishop’s Tower) is a unique building on the horizon of the Val Camonica (Camonica Valley) and Sebino. It is not a fortified residence, a tower house, but a building constructed in special circumstances and for a specific purpose. Its location marks the natural boundary of the Lake as it was before the square was extended and the ports resulted in an advancing coastline. The Designamentum (inventory) of the assets of the Bishop of Brescia in Pisogne, drawn up in 1299, had to be analysed to determine the relative period and circumstances of its construction. This operation, supported by Bishop Berardo Maggi, also resulted in a census being taken of the buildings and lands of the Bishop’s revenue. This text firstly describes the building the Bishop kept as his residence in Pisogne, near the square, consisting of one large and one small dilapidated building and various houses in ruins, the church of San Clemente, used as a private chapel, and land once used as orchards. The description seems to suggest that this cluster was very damaged, almost certainly following the Ghibellines’ attack on Pisogne in 1288 led by an independent faction from the Val Camonica. However, it mentions the foot of a tower to the side of the building almost certainly belonging to the building in question. This seems to suggest that the tower was under construction during that period and that, once, the Bishop regained power over Pisogne, he wanted a building that would act as a deterrent to prevent other attacks and reaffirm his supremacy over the area.

The Bishop handed over all its property in Pisogne to the municipality around the middle of the 15th Century. In return the municipality purchased and gave the bishop a notable piece of land (around 200 plus, almost 70,000 square meters), in Bagnolo. This operation took place in 1462, but the Bishop retained ownership of the tower. It was only handed over to the municipality of Pisogne at the beginning of the 19th Century.

This building is square in shape with a base of just over 7 m and around 32 m in height. Internally, it is divided into eight floors, from ground level to the altana (rooftop terrace) supporting the roof. All floors have similar internal dimensions, are square shaped and side of around 3.70 square metres. This suggests it is a construction of military use. The walls of tower-houses are generally thinner the higher the level, moving the face of the wall back to gain useful living space. However, in this case the interior space is the same on all floors and all the walls are around 1.60 m thick. Embrasures prevail on all floors, apart from the last two, all made with the same construction technique based on the brick used for the arches overlapping the intrados.

The roof was constructed later, as the building originally had deep battlements, as shown by a 15th Century fresco in the old rectory of the Pieve (parish church) where the Tower appears with part of the walls of Pisogne. However, the altarpiece of a couple of centuries later, originally in the church of San Clemente and now in the Pieve, shows the tower in the background of Pisogne with a similar roof to the one now. Therefore, the roof may have been changed between the 15th and 16th Centuries when the building lost its original function. After the he municipality’s acquisition the internal wooden decks were reconstructed in 1813, now replaced with iron structures during recent restoration work, and, later, its conversion to church tower for the 18th-19th Century parish church, housing the bells on the top floor.

Alberto Bianchi

 For more information:

BIANCHI A., MACARIO F., In loco de Pisoneis. Pisogne 1299: il borgo del vescovo, Pisogne 2008.

Iniziativa realizzata nell’ambito del bando Wonderfood & Wine di Regione Lombardia e Unioncamere Lombardia per la promozione di Sapore inLOMBARDIA

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