Watch Towers (Guettes)
A watchtower is a type of fortification used in many parts of the
world. Its main purpose is to provide a high, safe place from which
a sentinel or guard may observe the surrounding area. It differs
from a turret in that it is usually a freestanding structure.
The Romans built numerous towers as part of a system of communications,
one example being the towers along Hadrian's Wall in Britain. Each
tower was in sight of the next in the line, and a simple system
of semaphore signalling was used between them.
The Romans also built many lighthouses,
such as the Tower of Hercules in northern Spain, which survives
as a working building, and the equally famous lighthouse at Dover
Castle, which survives to about half its original height as a ruin.
In medieval Europe, many castles and manor houses, or similar fortified
buildings, were equipped with watchtowers. In some of the manor
houses of western France, the watchtower equipped with arrow or
gun loopholes was one of the principal means of defense.
Scotland saw the construction of Peel towers that combined the
function of watchtower with that of a keep or tower house that served
as the residence for a local notable family.
Mediterranean countries, and Italy in particular, saw the construction
of numerous coastal watchtowers since the early Middle Ages, connected
to the threat of Saracen attacks from the various Muslim states
existing at the time (such as the Balearic Islands, Ifriqiya or
Sicily). From the 16th century many were restored against the Barbary
Notable examples of military Mediterranean watchtowers include
the towers that the Knights of Malta had constructed on the coasts
of Malta. These towers ranged in size from small watchtowers to
large structures armed with numerous cannon. They include the Wignacourt,
and de Redin.
The Martello Towers that the
British built in the UK and elsewhere in the British Empire were
defensive fortifications that were armed with cannon and that were
often within line of sight of each other. One of the last Martello
Towers to be built was Fort Denison in Sydney harbour. The most
recent descendants of the Martello Towers are the flak towers that
the various combatants erected in World War II as mounts for anti-aircraft
In modern warfare the relevance of watchtowers has decreased due
to the availability of alternative forms of military intelligence,
such as reconnaissance by spy satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles.