Discovery the history of Antica Torre di Iuso

The city of Matera, in the early decades of the 9th century A.D., was part of the Lombard Principality of Benevento. Around the year 847, Matera, along with Bari and Taranto, was occupied by the Arabs. They established a true Islamic state there, the Emirate of Bari, which was directly subordinate to Baghdad. The existence of a Lombard castle, the so-called Castelvecchio of Matera, is first documented in a record from the year 867 within the "Chronicles of the Abbey of Montecassino," where it is mentioned that the Castle of Matera was "the last outpost of the Arab conquest." In the year 867, Matera was liberated from the Arabs by Ludovico II with his Byzantine troops, who reached as far as Benevento. You are on the ANCIENT TOWER of Iuso.

The date of its construction is unknown but certainly predates the year 867 AD, as it was part of the so-called CASTELVECCHIO or CASTEL VETERE, the ancient defensive system consisting of walls and bastions to protect the CIVITA of Matera, which is the original nucleus of the city.

Currently, to reach the Cathedral from Piazza del Sedile, one must take Via Duomo. In the Middle Ages, it was characterized by two gates: below, the 'Porta de Iuso' with its drawbridge, and two hundred meters ahead, the 'Porta de Suso.' Both gates, like almost all the gates in Matera, were flanked on one side by a SCARPED DEFENSE TOWER.

The "Porta di SUSO" is still present and clearly visible, while the corresponding "Torre di SUSO" was demolished during a violent earthquake at the end of the eighteenth century, as it had been severely damaged.

fresco reproduction (1709) archbishop's palace<br/>matera by the Matera artist Mimmo Taccardi

The layout of the ancient defense system has been modified today: "La Porta di Iuso," along with its drawbridge, no longer exists.

However, the "TORRE di IUSO" is still standing to the right as one ascends Via Duomo, albeit altered in its upper part over the passing centuries.

The "TORRE di IUSO," therefore, the defensive tower for "Porta di IUSO" with its drawbridge, was inhabited and protected by armed guards with swords and spears, as well as skilled archers with bows and crossbows to defend the city during the high and late Middle Ages.

Count Gattini, in the "Historical Notes" on page 378, mentions the "Torre di Iuso," recalling that, after losing its defensive function, it became the residence of the Troiano family for several generations. Their nobility is documented in a notarial document dated January 2, 1464, written on parchment by the notary Staso Danese di Leone. In this document, there is mention of the order that King Ferdinand of Aragon gave regarding the restitution of properties recently confiscated by the Prince of Taranto to the "nobilis vir" Troiano di Troiano.

In 1642, the "Torre di Iuso" was sold by the Troiano family and purchased, for residence, by Captain of the Galera Fra Silvio Zurla di Crema, as the Commander of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, to be used as a residence.

His COAT OF ARMS is "Azure with three merlons," still visible on the door of the cellar on Via Duomo that precedes the current entrance to the Tower’s residences. His coat of arms can still be appreciated today inside the Sanctuary of Picciano, as it is part of the "Commenda" of Matera and Picciano, which was the fiefdom commanded by the Knights Templar until 1308 and later by the Order of the Knights of Malta following the suppression of the Templar Order.

Fra Silvio Zurla was a skilled and renowned military lieutenant of the Supreme General of the Kingdom, Fra Giovanni Battista Brancaccio. His skill is recounted in the chronicles of Fasano, where great gratitude was attributed to Fra Silvio Zurla for the victory over 400 invading Turkish pirates that occurred on June 2, 1678.

Fra Silvio had, in fact, provided military training to the citizens of Fasano and and implemented a series of modifications to the defensive structure of the city. This made it possible for the population to mount a vigorous defense against the attack, which occurred at night, by surprise and in the absence of defensive walls. The worst was avoided in that raid, although some citizens of Fasano perished in the attack, and others were abducted and deported as slaves to Lepanto to demand a ransom. Returning to the events in Matera, Fra Silvio Zurla completely restored the tower "a fundamentis" to live there safely. He was terrified by the fact that his predecessor, Fra Giovanni Mastiello, had died in the collapse of a house where he lived in another area of the city, as stated in the act of Notary Flaminio D'Ercole from 1641.

Coat of arms of Fra Silvio Zurla

Returning to the events in Matera, Fra Silvio Zurla completely restored the tower "a fundamentis" to live there safely. He was terrified by the fact that his predecessor, Fra Giovanni Mastiello, had died in the collapse of a house where he lived in another area of the city, as stated in the act of Notary Flaminio D'Ercole from 1641.

Fra Silvio Zurla lived in the Torre di Iuso for 43 years, and as mentioned in an epitaph in the church of SS Annunziata di Picciano, he died in Picciano in 1685, or rather... "departed to receive the eternal reward."

The Tower remained the property of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta for over two centuries, serving as the Commander's residence.

It is noted that its 17th Commander, Fra Antonio Resta da Mesagne, in 1788, had it lowered "out of fear that its excessive height threatened ruin." The last Commander of the Commandery of Picciano and Matera was Fra Giuseppe Caracciolo; the commandery was initially abolished, along with seven others, during the Neapolitan Republic and then reinstated on December 17, 1839. However, Fra Caracciolo could not resume the commandery because he passed away shortly before its restoration.

As known, the Commanderies of the Order of the Knights of Malta were destined to disappear, and with the laws of 1867, they suffered the same fate as ecclesiastical properties: they became the property of the newly established Italian State and were auctioned off to replenish the state coffers.

The Torre di Iuso was first purchased by the Volpe family and later by Don Tommaso Vizziello, Captain of the Royal Guards, for a total of three thousand ducats. The Captain, having taken out significant loans for the purchase, only gained full possession in 1872. The Tower, with its corresponding apartments, remained exclusively in the possession of the Vizziello family and its heirs for 143 years.

Currently, the uppermost part has been acquired and restored by the owner, Architect Alina Melli, and her husband, Dr. Rocco Gentile. Their intention was to recover, as much as still possible, the architectural structure and highlight its high historical value, albeit marred by time and residential adaptations that occurred over the twelve centuries of history.


Patronal Festival

The Patronal Festival of Madonna della Bruna has its own ritual linked to the so-called "Carro." It consists of leading the statue of Madonna from the Cathedral in Piazza Duomo, through Via Duomo, to the City Center. From our garden, through its long balcony overlooking Via Duomo, you can safely and magnificently witness all the phases of the Festival, from the parade of the Knights to the passage of the Bishop, the Clergy, and the Faithful, to the management of the unruly attackers of the Carro, ready to fight among themselves to seize a fragment to display as a relic at home, a sign of their courage and devotion to the Madonna.