Civic Tower called “Visconti Tower”


The Tower, commonly known as “Visconti Tower”, rises in the area of the ancient castle of Palestro, and it is the only turreted element that survived, probably the mastio, of a larger fortress appointed in documents since 999; it had to include, accoding to the chronicles arrived to us, at least four other towers, the residence of the feudal lords, storage and shelter civil and military buildings, rooms used as prisons and a religious building; it also had to be an important military garrison in a geographic border area, located in defense of commercial custom corresponding to one of the ports on the Sesia river, on the preferential and more direct road that connected Vercelli with Novara and right on the ancient route of the Via Francigena.
Signs, at least on two facades, show the existence of buildings attached to it and then demolished. The relative regularity of its plan projection could trace its construction back to late Middle Ages or at least at the beginning of the Visconti domination in the Lombard territory, from which would give rise the name handed down to us. The investiture, in 1437, by the Duke Filippo Maria of the Palestro fief to the powerful banker of Tuscan origins and ducal treasurer Vitaliano Borromeo would confirm the thesis of its construction by the Visconti. A border fiefdom, strong and well equipped, with excellent chances of commercial development, given by the duties and the fertility of the land that the Borromeo family, despite the far more satisfying domains obtained in the meantime on the Lago Maggiore, which constituted the so- called “Borromeo State”, maintained, directly or indirectly at the hands of vassals and agents, until the end of the feudal period, therefore almost four centuries.
Unfortunately the devastation, the looting and the sixteenth and eighteenth-century fires erased the material evidence of a glorious past from Palestro: its castle and the victorious Risorgimento battle in May 1859, which also made the village internationally known, contributed to throw further oblivion on the richest antiquity of the place. The religious tradition remains, handed down by the confraternity of Santo Spirito, which recalls the goodness of medieval lords in granting a free meal to the population on the Pentecost Feast and the popular belief, supported by direct evidence, which attributes to the bell of the Tower, appropriately blessed, saving qualities and protection for the town and for the harvest, on the occasion of turbulent atmospheric events. For the rest, as for the numerous churches, various convents and palaces that stood in the ancient village, there are only faint traces to be investigated and reconstructed.
The building is in exposed brick, with elements of even considerable size in the most low parts, sign of probable partial construction on the remains of pre-existing buildings, with regular courses, few loopholes on the four sides and some larger openings, now completely or partially buffered, that had to connect it to external perimeter walkways, then demolished. Evident are the remakes traces of large masonry portions and, in their regular distribution, the pontaie holes. Its top is finished with a decorative motif, with overlapping hanging arches and one battlements in Ghibelline fashion, swallow-tailed, the result of a remake in the nineteenth century style. The Tower, as also appears from some known Risorgimento prints, in the second half of XIX century, was covered by a pavilion roof, then demolished.
The entrance is through a not very large door, preceded by a small staircase, on the south side, and the access to the upper floors is possible through a succession of iron stairs alternating with wooden shelves. The building has a running civic clock, the bell of which has already been mentioned, object of recent makeover.

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In update


  • Palestro's parish archive
  • Palestro's municipal archive
  • AA.VV., Palestro, numero unico, Gallardi e Ugo Editori, Vercelli 1893 (rist. 1961, 1974, 1989)
  • AA.VV., Memorie di un architetto, Torino 1897
  • R. Orsenigo, Vercelli Sacra, Vercelli 1909
  • G. Battezzati, Palestro, Gallardi, Vercelli 1921 (rist. 1991)
  • E. Zambelli, Memorie sulla storia antica di Palestro, Paltrinieri, Novara 1959
  • E. Zambelli, Palestro - memorie cronistoriche, S.E.T.E., Vercelli 1970
  • E. Zambelli, Palestro - memorie cronistoriche, supplemento al 1° volume, S.E.T.E., Vercelli 1971
  • M. Merlo, Castelli, rocche, case-forti, torri della Provincia di Pavia, Volume Primo, Editrice Fusi, Pavia 1971
  • A. Bongianino, Palestro, la Festa del Castello, Palestro 1975
  • V. Cervetta (a cura di), Ossario di Palestro (1893-1993), Comune di Palestro, 1993
  • E.Zanone, Palestro 1940-1945, Gallo, Vercelli 1995
  • AA.VV., Parrocchie allo Specchio, Saviolo, Vercelli 1996
  • AA.VV., Approfondimenti di storia palestrese, Comune di Palestro, 1998
  • E. Zanone, Le chiese di Palestro, Vercelli 2003
  • AA.VV., 1006-2006 La chiesa Parrocchiale di Palestro, Vercelli 2006
  • E. D. Vicini, Educazione forma e decoro: le scuole lomelline del secondo ottocento al primo novecento, in Viglevanum, Anno XXVIII, aprile 2018

Text Arch. Riccardo Pasquino
Photography Andrea Fornasini
Translations in english by the I° Grade Secondary School F. Ressico of Palestro. (School year 2018-2019)

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