The Torre della Castagna (tower of the chestnut) is located opposite the House of Dante, in the Piazzetta San Martino.
Already built by 1038, the tower was donated to the monks of the adjacent Badia Fiorentina to defend the monastery.
It became the meeting place of the Priory of Arts of Florence from 1282 until the completion of the Bargello Palace.
The name of the tower originated from the voting process used by the Priors, which involved putting chestnuts in a bag and then comparing the number of chestnuts to the number of voters.
It is said that to prevent intrusions or to minimize pressure from politicians, wealthy bankers and traders, the Priors would inclose themselves in the tower for days until they had finished voting.
The Priory of Arts was created in 1282 and represented the executive and representative power in the city, along with the Capitano del Popolo.
Access to political life in Florence was achieved through enrollment in one of the powerful guilds of Arts and Crafts.
Among its members, 3 (later 6) Priors were appointed.
These guilds were created in the twelfth century in many European cities to regulate and protect the activities of workers belonging to the same professional trade.
In Italy, trades they were defined generically “Arts”. Those considered called “major” in Florence were mainly that of the Wool, and that of the Judges and Notaries.
The Priors remained in office for only two months. While allowing a certain mobility among its members, this also prevented the centralization of power in the hands of a single person, protecting the city from potential tyranny.
After a series of laws called the Ordinances of Justice were passed in 1293, to hold public office, it became necessary to not only be a member of a corporation, but also to practice a profession. It is most likely that these ordinances served to curb the power of the nobles.
The guilds in Florence were very rich and important for centuries. They financed many works of art in the city. However, but their political clout was already shrinking by the fifteenth century during Medici rule.
The Torre della Castagna has survived the many demolitions and renovations of the historic center of the city thanks to its historical and symbolic value.
On June 14, 1300, Dante Alighieri, after a short political career, became a Prior. Dante did not pursue any profession and lived off loans from his father-in-law Manetto Donati.
He enrolled in the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries only to be eligible to participate in political life. However, in some letters, the poet wrote:
all my troubles began in my Priory.
It is clear that Dante always acted in such a way as to maintain Florence’s independent and freedom. This first important public office probably caused him a lot of trouble.
Pictures by Aldo Cavini and Wikipedia