The Torre Matilde is the oldest building in Viareggio and is considered to be the symbol of the city. Built as a watchtower, it later became a prison and is now a cultural centre. In the 18th century the tower survived being struck by lightning, an event which is still commemorated every year.
Torre Matilde Viareggio
Address: Via della Foce – Viareggio.
History and description
The Torre Matilde was built in the 16th century. For centuries it was the central point of the business and shipbuilding life in Viareggio.
Around the middle of the 15th century the Burlamacca Canal was the only outlet to the sea for the flourishing State of Lucca. When the sea retreated it became necessary to build a new defensive tower for its port.
Construction of the Torre Matilde took from 1534 till 1542. The tower, which accommodated a garrison of 15 soldiers, consisted of three floors. The rooms were vaulted and the tower had a roof terrace and an underground cistern.
The name refers to duchess Matilde di Canossa, since the tower was (wrongly) attributed to this lady.
When the coastline advanced even further the tower lost its defensive value and in 1788 a new one was built at the mouth of the canal.
In that same period the tower was struck by lightning. Miraculously, the lightning flash missed the depot where gunpowder was stored and the tower survived. The inhabitants of the city vowed to commemmorate this miraculous event every year. Thus, still every year this Voto cel Comune (“Vow of the City”) is celebrated on April 15th.
In the beginning of the nineteenth century it became a prison. In the year 1810 a telegraph was installed.
After the war it was abandoned and remained unused until 1970. Nowadays it is a cultural centre and hosts art exhibitions.
Unfortunately the tower is badly maintained.