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Towers are tall structures that are almost always taller than they are wide, usually by a significant margin. Towers are generally built to take advantage of their height, and can stand alone or as part of a larger structure.


Towers have been used by mankind since prehistoric times. The oldest known may be the circular stone tower in walls of Neolithic Jericho (8000 BC). Some of the earliest surviving examples are the broch structures in northern Scotlandmarker, which are conical towerhouses. These and later examples from Phoenicianmarker and Roman cultures emphasised the use of a tower in fortification and sentinel roles. For example, watchtower elements are found at Mogadormarker from the first millennium BC, derived from Phoenician or Carthaginian origins. The Romans utilised octagonal towers as elements of Diocletian's Palace in Croatiamarker, which monument dates to approximately 300 AD, while the Servian Walls (4th century BC) and the Aurelian Wallsmarker (3rd century AD) featured square ones. The Chinese used towers as integrated elements of the Great Wall of China in 210 BC during the Qin Dynasty.

A noted incomplete tower is the Hassan Towermarker in Moroccomarker, where work was abandoned in 1199 AD, and the tower stands today as a monument in its incomplete state. Another well known tower is the Leaning Tower of Pisamarker in Pisa, Italymarker built from 1173 until 1372. The Himalayan Towers are stone towers located chiefly in Tibet built approximately 14th to 15th century.


Old English torr is from Latin turris via Old French tor. The Latin term together with Greek τύρσις was loaned from a pre-Indo-European Mediterranean language, connected with the Illyrian toponymΒου-δοργίς. With the Lydian toponyms Τύρρα, Τύρσα, it has been connected with the ethnonym Τυρρήνιοι as well as with Tusci (from *Turs-ci), the Greek and Latin names for the Etruscansmarker (Kretschmer Glotta 22, 110ff.)

Functions of towers


A modern type of tower, the skyscraper, uses less ground space as a ratio of total building interior square footage. Skyscrapers are often not classified as towers, although most have the same design and structure of towers. In the United Kingdommarker, tall domestic buildings are referred to as tower blocks. In the United Statesmarker, the World Trade Centermarker had the nickname the Twin Towers, a name shared with the Petronas Twin Towersmarker in Kuala Lumpurmarker.

Strategic advantages

The tower throughout history has provided its users with an advantage in surveying defensive positions and obtaining a better view of the surrounding areas, including battlefields. They were installed on defensive walls, or rolled near a target (see siege tower). Today, strategic-use towers are still used at prisons, military camps, and defensive perimeters.

Potential energy

By using gravity to move objects or substances downward, a tower can be used to store items or liquids like a storage silo or a water tower, or aim an object into the earth such as a drilling tower. Ski-jump ramps use the same idea, and in the absence of a natural mountain slope or hill, can be human-made.

Communication enhancement

In history, simple towers like lighthouses, bell towers, clock towers, signal towers and minarets were used to communicate information over greater distances. In more recent years, radio masts and cell phone towers facilitate communication by expanding the range of the transmitter. The CN Towermarker in Torontomarker, Canadamarker was built as a communications tower, with the capability to act as both a transmitter and repeater. Its design also incorporated features to make it a tourist attraction, including the world's highest observation deck at 147 stories.

Transportation support

Towers can also be used to support bridges, and can reach heights that rival some of the tallest buildings above-water. Their use is most prevalent in suspension bridges and cable-stayed bridges. The use of the pylon, a simple tower structure, has also helped to build railroad bridges, mass-transit systems, and harbors.

Other towers

The term "tower" is also sometimes used to refer to firefighting equipment with an extremely tall ladder designed for use in firefighting/rescue operations involving high-rise buildings.

See also


  1. C.Michael Hogan, "Diocletian's Palace", The Megalithic Portal, A. Burnham ed, Oct 6, 2007
  2. Justin McGuinness, Morocco Handbook, 2003, Footprint Travel Guides: Morocco, 560 pages ISBN 190347163X
  3. Dana Thomas, Towers to the Heavens, Newsweek, 2003-11-15

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