The Old fortress today is the symbol of Livorno, because it contains the whole history of this Tuscan city. It is located near the Medici Port of Livorno. It has an asymmetrical shape and is built over three bastions: the Ampolletta, facing the city, the Canaviglia towards the port and the Capitana towards northeast. Originally, the fortified complex was accessible only by sea, to isolate it completely.
The Old Fortress was built following a project by Antonio and Giuliano da Sangallo, as an extension of the square tower (also known as Quadratura dei Pisani or Rocca Nuova), the nucleus of the fortress in the Middle Ages. Subsequently, after a request of Matilde di Cannossa, a second circular tower was erected with the aim of defending and watching the coast from the frequent attacks of Saracen pirates.
The Fortress was also the residence of Cosimo I de’ Medici who, in 1544, built the Medici Mansion on the Canaviglia Bastion which commanded the entrance of the harbor. Cosimo, at that time Duke of Florence, asked Francesco Redi to excavate a cistern, this allowed to purify the water with a brilliant natural filtering system.
Experiments, animals and physics
On April 2nd, 1662, from the tower of the Rocca Nuova, observations on the motion of the bullets conducted by the Accademia del Cimento to confirm experimentally the conclusions of Galileo Galilei were taken. Between the end of 1657 and the beginning of 1658, the city of Livorno was also the venue of several academic experiments of the Accademia on the freezing of liquids.
The Fortress was not only a place for physical experiments but also a place of “natural observation”. In October 1734, after a storm, a whale was found beached at the foot of the Rock. This episode happened again in 1753, when two whales were killed by a cannon-shot.
The Old Fortress after the Medici
With the end of the Medici dynasty (1769) and the transition of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to Lorraine, the Old Fortress became seat of military barracks for nobles. In the Napoleonic era a high wall was built, and the bastions were equipped with holes for the rifles and fire guns for the cannons.
The Fortress of Livorno was severely damaged during World War II, but thanks to a restoration project started in the 1970s, much of the fortress was rebuilt. To admire this beautiful structure and having a striking view from above, a metal walkway that covers the entire perimeter of the fortress has been installed. The most particular place of the Old Fortress is the basement, recently restored.
Advice: If you are in a cruise-ship holiday and you don’t want to remain in Livorno while you still want to appreciate the history of the Medici family, you could head to Florence with a shore excursion.