The city of Vieste has a positive geographical location which over the course of history has favored the development of activities related to fishing, agriculture and maritime trade; its position on the sea also made it easy to control the entire Adriatic. The complex system of towers on the coast was born out of necessity, with the aim of sighting foreign ships on the Gargano and monitoring their incursions. Charles V in 1537 started construction of the entire defense system, with a strategic plandevised by the viceroy Pedro di Toledo, then implemented by Don Pedro Afan de Ribera. Given the attractiveness of the coasts of the Capitanata, ten towers were built on the coasts from Fortore to Manfredonia. Torre San Felice was the eighth of this system and is the easternmost of the towers, strategically placed to guard the “Testa del Gargano”.
The San Felice tower stands on the promontory of the same name within a dense wooded area that surrounds the cove below and it is about 9km from the historic center of Vieste. The tower was built in 1568 on a project by Eng. Giovanni Tommaso Scala, who was specialized in the construction and design of military architecture under the Viceroyalty of Pedro di Toledo. In the plan of rationalization of the defensive system of the Kingdom, the Viceroy Don Pedro Afan de Rivera in 1541 decreed the construction of a tower and embankments and, on the proposal of the Governor of Capitanata Carlo Caracciolo, the construction of ten towers was established along the Gargano coast.
Viceroy Don Pedro Afan de Rivera with a letter sent in February 1568 describes the area designated for the construction of military architecture. The towers could generally be cylindrical or quadrangular, with the traditional truncated pyramid shape: this formal resolution was preferred for the control of the most exposed points of the coast, as happened for the control of the Bay of San Felice.
The tower was renamed “cavallara” (for men on horseback), due to its defensive functioning: a man on horseback, placed in defense, notified foreign raids to the nearest military garrison in the city. In addition, sighting the foreign canals, the towers signaled each other: that of San Felice is in fact only one of the many towers that can be found along the Vieste – Mattinata coast.
The tower has a single quadrangular compartment, in line with the characteristics of this type of construction. Access to the environment is also unique: it is accessed via a fixed external staircase and a mobile drawbridge located on the main wall that faces the hinterland. The wall most exposed to danger was the one facing the sea, which in fact has no openings. Only the side walls, suitable for control, are equipped with slits. Recent renovations and the elevation works with a pitched roof have changed the original profile of the building, but at the end of the sloping walls the ancient crowning is still visible. In 1980 the restoration work by the Puglia Superintendence of the MiBACT returned a careful and rigorous reading of the San Felice Tower.