Architecture Developers Town Houses

Campanile + Barden Towers Belfast

Twin Peaks

The traditional Italian campanile is a standalone structure, not integrated with the accompanying building, and reserved for its purpose of keeping bells. St Mark’s Campanile in Venice is the most famous: it is the belltower of the adjacent St Mark’s Basilica.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were together responsible for lots of fads that became fashions that became fixtures of national life, from Christmas trees to white wedding dresses. Their mid 19th century house on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House, remodelled (with a helping hand by Prince Albert) and rebuilt by the developer Thomas Cubitt, launched an architectural craze. The residential campanile. Osborne House has two such vertical features. Soon, campaniles were springing up on houses everywhere across the British Isles. “The top floors were sometimes used to house water tanks,” explains heritage architect John O’Connell.

Belfast has a handful of striking examples. In the north of the city, campaniles dramatically rise above the side elevations of a pair of semi-detached villas on Donegall Park Avenue. In the east of the city, twin campaniles are attached to the front elevations of a pair of semi-detached houses on Belmont Road named Barden Towers.

Completed in 1895, Barden Towers are typical red brick bay windowed suburban Belfast houses of the larger kind but the campaniles with their terracotta trimmings give them a novel twist. These belvederes each contain a square ground floor vestibule with a corresponding room on the two storeys above. The upper floor tower rooms are lit on three sides by generously sized sash windows. Daylight streams into one of the bedrooms like Edward Hopper’s painting ‘Sun in an Empty Room’.

Built decades after their Osborne House inspiration and centuries after their Italian forerunners, the campaniles of Belfast are shining examples of an architectural feature adapted in terms of material and function to a different climate, country and culture.