It’s not widely known that the Voynich Manuscript’s “nine-rosette” foldout page contains two sets of swallow-tail merlons – one set on top of the famous castle (as per the Cipher Mysteries header graphic), and one on a long low wall, apparently beside the sea. This latter runs across one of the folds, making it very slightly awkward to make out:-

But where is this? I suspect it’s not Genoa, because (as per this picture from Hartmann Schedel’s 1493 Weltchronik) that had neither a flat sea frontage nor swallowtail merlons. For a while I suspected that it might depict Naples: but while reading up on the Occitan dialect Niçard, I found a, well, nice picture of Nice being besieged from the sea by Barbarossa in 1543. The (fabulously made-up) story goes that outraged local washerwoman Catherine Ségurane climbed on top of the walls to expose her ample rear to the Turkish fleet, which (somehow) caused them to abandon their attack (Ségurane’s triumphant mooning is celebrated on November 25th [St Catherine’s Day] each year in Nice)… but I guess you had to be there. Anyway… because of Turin’s history as a key part of the Duchy of Savoy, the Biblioteca Reale di Torino also has quite a few piante e disegni of Nice AKA ‘Nizza’ (see p.508 of this online inventory, though unfortunately few dates are given), which might prove to be a useful resource. I don’t know whether or not all this line of thought is going anywhere: it’s certainly something to bear in mind, though.

I also found a nice picture of the same Turkish fleet wintering in Toulon, a mere 100 miles down the coast: it’s hard to be sure, but it looks to me as though its walls have swallowtail merlons. Were there any more major walled ports circa 1400-1450 between Marseille and Genoa? Perhaps Villefranche-sur-Mer? Someone out there should know…

29 thoughts on “Is the nine-rosette sea-side castle Nice?

  1. Paul Ferguson on May 19, 2010 at 9:38 am said:

    Not exactly Savoy/Piedmont but it looks a bit like the Bellinzona castles, in which case it would be a river (Ticino) not the sea:

  2. Paul: good point! For all my research into Milan I hadn’t thought to look at Bellinzona. What might also possibly be connected is that one of Filarete’s big secrets was the site where he thought the Sforza’s ‘Milan 2.0′ (AKA Sforzinda) should be built: so if this is Bellinzona, then the VMs’ nine-rosette page might possibly be a local map to Sforzinda. It’s fun to speculate once in a while, eh? Thanks! 🙂

  3. Rene Zandbergen on May 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm said:

    The Bellinzona castle isn’t actually on the side of the river, or is it? This combination one has in Verona though:

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a date for this construction, but there are a number of walls with swallow tails facing the river.

    There’s lake Garda with a few castles as well…

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  5. Diane on May 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm said:

    Nick – who invented the term ‘swallowtail’ merlons? Is that what the medieval engineers or masons (or something) called them?

  6. Paul Ferguson on May 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm said:

    The Skaliger bridge in Verona is mid-1350s according to Wiki:

  7. Paul Ferguson on May 19, 2010 at 4:14 pm said:

    On Lake Garda another Scaliger/Skaliger edifice would seem the likeliest candidate:–the-scaliger-castle-in-sirmione-on-lake-garda.html

  8. Diane: don’t know, most just referred to them as Ghibelline as far as I know.

    Paul: we’re long on swallowtails but short on seaside castle walls (or, as you point out, riverside castle walls or crenellated bridges).

  9. Diane on May 19, 2010 at 5:12 pm said:

    At least one of the churches by the sea in those 3 towns demolished when Montpellier was built had been fortified. Presumably the towns had been too.

    But does anyone happen to have a book called ‘Castles of God: fortified religious buildings of the world’?

    [hilarious title..]

    It talks about swallowtail merlons in Russia on p.163, but Google has chosen not to show p.162, on which the building is identified. I think it may be Smolensk.

    I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about the vocab. I feel sure that one such term will be informative. I suppose someone else has already mentioned that one of the old gates of Jerusalem has swallow-tail merlons?

  10. Diane on May 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm said:

    Correction. p.161. It’s page 160 that’s not shown.

  11. Paul Ferguson on May 19, 2010 at 6:10 pm said:

    I believe the first swallowtail merlons in Russia were on the Kremlin in Moscow (see link below) and were then copied extensively from there. But they are slightly different to the Italian ones are they not? Softer and more rounded:,_Moscow_Kremlin.JPG

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  14. Stefan Mathys on May 19, 2010 at 10:05 pm said:

    You might want to have a look at this Swiss castle on the shores of lake Geneva: It is called Chateau de Chillon. It is NOT the one we are looking for (if any) because I cannot see any swallowtail merlons there..but the instructive website tells you that it is a Savoyan castle and unlike the typical ones which were built rectangualr with 4 towers, one in each corner, this one was built to fit the island is was built on. Nevertheless, we may get some more ideas, or inspiration, from this. Also, in this area of Switzerland, Arpetan is still spoken to some extent..

  15. Stefan Mathys on May 19, 2010 at 10:15 pm said:

    The same website also gives you a nice history overview and an actually quite detailed castle plan (aerial view):

  16. Nick: I see you got “pinged” or “trackbacked” or whatever that is called… when I linked your page. You can delete these if you like, of course. I linked you to my posts, because it is a good example of an attempt at actual identification… which of course may be the case, although I sway toward the opposite possibility. Rich.

  17. Diane on May 20, 2010 at 3:57 am said:

    The Kremlin hired Italian architects, so that might explain the Kremlin, but the other would appear to pre-date the Italian examples, since it’s no later that the early 11th century.

    s-t merlons are also called dove-tail merlons sometimes.

  18. Rene Zandbergen on May 20, 2010 at 8:25 am said:

    A certain similarity between the rosettes illustration shown by Nick (above) and the Castelvecchio bridge in Verona cannot be denied: even the small windows are there. I’d hesitate to draw any conclusions from this, of course 🙂

  19. Paul Ferguson on May 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm said:


    First piccie on this page gives the right idea:

  20. Diane O'Donovan on May 30, 2012 at 9:02 am said:

    Oddly enough, I’ve just seen some similar crenellations in Kircher’s book, China Illustrata. An old, but illustrated translation of the work is available now as a pdf, and on its page 208, there is an image of the wall and towers above the gateways. One might suppose that Kircher or his illustrator imagined it, but Kircher clearly consulted written accounts, and apparently ones obtained from the Chinese, for he says “the Chinese *write* that many ships were submerged with great masses of iron to be used as a foundation” (describing how the wall was extended into the sea).

    He also mentions someone whose name I don’t recognise, but whom I now intend to chase up.

    “Nasirodinus, an astronomer of
    Persia quoted by Golius”

    The pdf of China Illustrada is at:
    (It’s rather large)

  21. Diane O'Donovan on May 30, 2012 at 9:13 am said:

    re Kircher’s ‘Nasirodinus’, apparently that was the seventeenth-century Latin version of al-Tusi’s name.
    the wiki

  22. Donald Vaughn on July 2, 2014 at 4:52 am said:

    i know this is an old thread but try Bodrum Castle in Turkey, the outer walls were designed by the German Knight Heinrich Schlegelholt. I cannot determine if the swallowtails were original but if so it definitely falls in the right timeframe

  23. Mark Knowles on April 15, 2017 at 6:10 pm said:


    The first person, it appears, to have suggested Bellinzona as the causeway between the bottom left rosette and the bottom centre was Paul Ferguson and not Rene Zandbergen. However, as I have said elsewhere, I, personally, did come to this conclusion independently as it makes sense from my analysis of the map.

  24. Peter on April 18, 2017 at 6:37 am said:

    Bellinzona is not so wrong. As you can see on old pictures there were also lakes, which have disappeared through the channeling of the river (Ticino).
    Other details about the Rosetta VM would fit as well. For example. La Murata was once 600m long. Links down in the Rosetta are lakes, are they more mountains?

  25. Mark Knowles on April 18, 2017 at 7:41 am said:

    Peter: Interesting. You say: “Links down in the Rosetta are lakes, are they more mountains?” I don’t understand what you mean by this. Maybe there is a typo or otherwise I am being stupid. Have you seen my full analysis on Nick’s page devoted to the 9 Rosette map page? Maybe you have more insights vis a vis the Swiss lakes and other features.

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