Saracen towers in Massa Lubrense

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Saracen towers in Massa Lubrense

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written by Eleonora Aiello

The territory of Massa Lubrense is dotted with coastal guard towers, the so-called “Saracen towers”. They are the testimony of a sighting and defense system built to protect the population from pirate raids.


The watchtowers on the territory of Massa Lubrense were built in different periods: during the Longobard-Norman period (IX century), under the Angevins (1266 -1442) who were the first to devise a real defensive system, and with the Aragonese (1442-1503) who continued the work.

Saracen pirates began to attack our coasts during the 9th century. With unprecedented ferocity, they pillaged and destroyed villages, kidnapped men, women, and children to sell them as slaves.

In 1500 the raids by Saracen, Barbary, and Turkish pirates became more frequent. In addition to attacking merchant ships in the Mediterranean Sea, privateers landed on the beaches and went inland to look for villages to raid and Christians to kidnap.

Among the bloodiest incursions that occurred in the Sorrento Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast, we remember the attack suffered by Cetara (1534), the massacre of Conca dei Marini (1543), the Turkish invasion of Massa Lubrense and Sorrento (1558), the Turkish invasion of Vietri (1587).

Thus it was that the coastal fortifications became more and more necessary. In fact, it is during the period of the Spanish viceroyalty that most of the towers still existing today were built. In 1563 Don Parfan de Ribera Duca d’Alcalà issued an edict that imposed the construction of coastal towers manned by military personnel on all the coasts of the Kingdom of Naples.

However, the large project was never completed, either due to lack of funds or due to the start of the battle of Lepanto, which required numerous galleys from the Turkish fleet. The towers gradually lost their strategic importance and were used for other purposes.

Tower of Crapolla – Photo by Giovanni Gargiulo


The towers of the Angevin period were cylindrical in shape, high, with not very thick masonry, and mainly had a guard function. They were used to signal the arrival of pirates with fires or smoke signals. In this way, the population was warned to seek shelter in the woods, caves, or fortifications.

With the intensification of the attacks, it was necessary to make the towers more resistant and massive; a square plan was preferred, with a greater thickness of the masonry on the external side. The first series of lookout towers were gradually replaced by defense towers, armed with cannons and manned by a guardhouse commanded by the guardian of the tower.

The defensive system implied that each tower was built in such a position as to be visible from the closest one so that the danger signals could be more effective and faster.

To mark the transition from one form to another was the introduction of artillery, which made it essential to change these fortifications. The artillery was placed on the square and not inside the tower since the gases and fumes released by the weapons would have damaged them due to the lack of saturation. The square tower was more functional than the cylindrical one also because it allowed containing more weapons.

Tower Minerva – Photo by Giovanni Gargiulo

What remains?

Numerous testimonies of these ancient defensive structures survive in the Sorrento peninsula. Some Saracen towers are nothing more than ruins, due to the lack of maintenance, while others, subjected to recovery interventions, have been adapted to the most diverse uses.

Torri saracene

The main Saracen towers

Nine towers still exist along the coast of Massa Lubrense. Along the Neapolitan side of the Massa coast, there are those of Capo Massa, Capo Corbo, San Lorenzo, Fossa di Papa, and Minerva. The others, Montalto, Nerano, Recommone, and Crapolla, are instead on the Salerno side.

Massa Lubrense is also rich in internal defense structures, built on the hilly belt. Examples are the “Torrione”, a structure built to defend the former Jesuit college, and the tower-houses, erected mainly by private individuals. The population used the towers even after the Saracen raids: Torre Turbolo, in the village of Annunziata, was the seat of the Pawnshop in the seventeenth century; Torre Ghezi, near Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, served as a refuge during the Second World War.

Map of the Saracen towers on the coast of Massa Lubrense

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