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Irish Round Towers

37 36 charleMagne Charlemagne and the round tower The Irish were not alone in being inspired by Ravenna. Charlemagne visited it in the 780s, demolished several Byzantine buildings, and transported their parts to Aachen to build himself a Roman palace there, with an imperial chapel imitating the greatest Ravennan church, San Vitale. The idea of round campanili impressed him too, for round bell towers were built at two of his great ecclesiastical buildings. St Riquier, in northern France, circa 790 had four round towers, while Fulda 790819, has a circular foundation by its entrance for another one. Humbler churches like St Johannisberg circa 800900 followed, which had a single circular belfry at its western end. Even more remarkably, a plan was drawn up in about 810 for a new monastery at Sankt Gallen, with two freestanding round towers set at an angle to the church entrance, echoing the Irish geometrical relationship between church and tower. Charlemagne had forced all monasteries inside his empire to follow the same Benedictine disciplines, but as Ireland, the papal states and Ravenna were outside his control, they continued with the old system, with each monastery drawing up its own rules. The Irish must therefore have felt that their monastic system had the papal seal of approval, and that the round campanile, which broadcast its own communitys religious hours, was an important architectural statement of this reality.
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