The Fortezza Vecchia ('old fortress') which dominates the old Medici port, is an important symbol of Livorno. Originating in medieval times, the fortress has developed over many centuries to become what it is today.
From tower to fortress - a brief history
The original nucleus of the fortress, in the form of a square tower, now considerably reduced in height but still visible, dates from the medieval era. The tall round tower, known as the Mastio di Matilde, was built afterwards, and the two were enclosed in around 1377 with a surrounding wall known as the Quadratura dei Pisani, the whole structure serving as a seaboard citadel defending the southern side of what was left of the Pisan port.
Further modifications were made by the Genoese when the area fell under their rule in 1405, but the actual Fortezza came into being in the 16th century when the Medici, rulers of Florence and Tuscany, became interested in making Livorno their port (after the port of Pisa had become inaccessible due to silting). They commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Elder to redesign the nucleus of the original fortress, work which was completed in 1534.
The Medici Grand Duke Francesco I had a palace built for his own residence in 1544 on the western side of the fortress, dominating the old port, while the little church of San Francesco inside the fortress was built in 1530. It was here, in 1606, that Livorno was officially proclaimed a "city".
The Medici Grand Dukes continued to make additions and modifications to the fortress throughout their dynasty (which ended in 1737 with Gian Gastone). Further transformations were made during the Napoleonic occupation and during the 19th century.
The Fortezza Vecchia was seriously damaged during World War II. Restoration was begun in the 1970s and the complex is now open to the public (with the exception of some areas).
Why visit the Fortezza Vecchia?
To get a feel for a construction that has stood for as long as the city of Livorno itself (parts of it for much longer), and imagine what is was like when the fortress really defended the city from invaders and when looking out to sea had a much more significant purpose than merely enjoying the view! You may or may not be into fortifications, weaponry, architecture, the Renaissance, the Medici Grand Dukes, or the history of Tuscany and Livorno, but the strange calm that reigns inside the fortress, the smell of its bricks and stones - damp and musty in winter, hot and dusty in summer -, the sound of the port in the distance, the incredible asymmetrical layout of courtyards, ramps, steps, underground passages and storerooms, elevated ramparts, and the views from the city to the port, cannot fail to leave an impression.
The Fortezza is managed by the Livorno Port Authority. It is currently open to the public (with limited access to some areas) at the following times:
Winter (1st October-30th April)
Tuesday to Sunday, 9am-8pm, closed on Mondays
Summer (1st May-30th September)
free entrance (except during special events when opening times may vary and an entrance fee may be charged).
HOW TO GET THERE
The entrance to the Fortezza is through the port gateway Varco Fortezza, about 15 minutes' walk from the city centre. Follow this link for a map.
For private guided tours, contact Fabrizio Ottone at Livorno Tour
Facebook page for the Fortezza Vecchia
To see more images of Livorno's old Medici fortress, the Fortezza Vecchia, click here.