The Medici: a dream of an unconquerable fortress

The forts and the walls of Portoferraio, its origin and the myth of an impregnable city

Dragut and Cosimo I

Let’s try and picture Turghud Alì (called Dragut), one of the most fearsome corsair in all history of piracy, off the coast of Portoferraio opening fire against its majestic defensive walls with his cannons.
ow think about a man, who had been until then the nightmare of the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian Sea, helpless and forced to surrender faced to the fearless resistance of Portoferraio people, well protected by the military constructions specially wanted by Cosimo I.
The Grand Duke of Tuscany was indeed the creator of the contemporary Portoferraio that he called Cosmopolis.

The fortresses

Portoferraio design and location are, by themselves, two important defensive elements: two headlands overlooking the sea combined with a narrow spiral-shaped passage closing the inner harbour.

Cosimo I even added three forts as a corollary of these “natural qualities”, all of them brilliantly designed by Giovan Battista Bellucci and Giovanni Camerini: “Forte Stella” protecting the northern cliffs: “Forte Falcone” watching over Portoferraio in its highest hill and “Forte della Linguella” defending the harbour on the edge of the sea.

The moat

On land, several ramparts and defensive walls had been built, which made Portoferraio one of the many fortresses called to protect the traffics on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
In the 1600s, the excavation of a moat separating Portoferraio from the rest of the Island is the last and deciding act of this extraordinary fortification.
As Admiral Nelson said: Portoferraio is an impregnable fortress.

The Dockyard

The Grand Duke Cosimo I did not just create a defensive network against pirates. Indeed, he also started the Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano with the aim of containing the merciless wave of the Turkish piracy. The De Laugier Barrack (once the Monastery of San Salvatore) as well as the Dockyard of Galleasses (the naval workshop and considered the flagship of the Grand Duke) are still showing clear evidence of this presence which greatly affected the development of the city.

Let’s go find out!