The Spire of Raimondello

The Spire of Raimondello in Soleto
The construction of this huge "monolith stuck in the ground" can be ascribed to Raimondello Del Balzo Orsini, Count of Soleto, Prince of Taranto and Lecce, the most powerful man in southern Italy at that time. This construction was begun in 1397 with the approval of Pope Martin V. The spire, whose architect is unknown, marks the beginning of a process of latinization of a population of Italian-Greek origins1.


The spire is a wonderful example of late Gothic art in "Salento", a laic structure with an autonomous figurative and allegorical style. Square-shaped, it has a base of 5.2 m and it rises to 45 m through 5 orders ending today with a little dome, originally with a cusp, destroyed by lightning in early 1700. The first 4 orders were built under Raimondello, who died in 1406, and only in 1417 the works of completion of the fifth order were resumed by his wife Maria d'Enghien and his eldest son Giovanni Antonio (married to Anna Colonna, niece of Pope Martino V)2.
It is not a bell-tower, even if an attempt was made by the Greek clergymen in the first years of 1500 to lodge two bells in the cell of the third order, then removed for structural problems, in order to convert the spire into a bell-tower, so as to become a religious and spiritual instrument. By the Greek community and the majority of the population the spire was seen as a monument to the magnificence of the prince, as well as a piece of Latin in Greek culture. The Greek church, stoked by the discontent of the citizens, used for his own purposes some personalities like Matteo Tafuri, feared and disliked by people (that considered him pratictioner of demonic religion), to tag the structure as profane and created by black magic.3 In this socio-political context a popular legend was born, that wants the spire erected at one time in one night by the "magician" Tafuri (not yet born at that time) and by the witches under his orders; the legend says the works were stopped by the light of dawn that petrified the devils in the four corners of the spire.4

The complex of the decorative elements of the spire, griffins, winged lions, guardians dogs, apotropaic masks, zoomorphic masks, leafy masks with donkey ears, bearded figures, a mask with glasses , kings and queens, princes, crowned devil heads, respond to a precise logic and not to a casual project.


In the splendor of the decorative elements are to be found the apotropaic, alchemical, celebratory, astrological, oriental themes. A polysemic variety interwoven into astronomical implications and a mysterious geometric-numeric motif.
The choice of the place where the spire rises is meaningful, the highest place in Soleto reflects the desire of "elevation" of the Prince towards a sacred path. The several griffins inhabiting the spire, are at the same time the guardians, along with lions and dogs, and allegorically reflect the character and courage of the warrior Raimondello.5


The upper floors of the spire are populated by anthropomorphic masks carved in various expressions. The singular mask with glasses symbolizes the alchemical sublimation, the art of magic.6


Griffins, lions and masks exorcised the evils of the time, the existential anguish, disease, fears of the people in the culture of that period. They are a mirror of the prince, but also a metaphor of the anxiety, powerlessness, insecurity and transiency of human beings.7

  • Photos by moc.liamg|anehcul.otrebla#anehcuL otreblA (December 2012)


- Marco Lanera, Michele Paone, " Momenti e figure di storia pugliese", Congedo editore, Galatina 1981, vol.I, pp. 255-265
- Luigi Manni, "La guglia, l'astrologo, la macàra", C.R.S.E.O. LE/42, Galatina 2004
- Luigi Manni "L'universo magico della guglia di soleto" da "Il Filo di Aracne",Editrice Salentina, Anno VII N°5 novembre/dicembre 2012, pp 13-15

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