Italy

Civitavecchia

Fort Michelangelo



Michelangelo_Fort


 

Summary

Fort Michelangelo, Civitavecchia was built in the 16th century on the site of a former Roman building to defend the port of Civitavecchia from the constant incursions from pirates. Within one of its towers is a small chapel dedicated to Santa Fermina, Patron Saint of the Sailors and Civitavecchia. The chapel is located where the saint is said to have found shelter inside a cave and where she stayed for two years. The fortress today is located between the city area and water front and is the Headquarters of the Port Authorities.
  



Fort Michelangelo was built in the 16th century to defend the port of Civitavecchia from the constant incursions from pirates, something that the city had been subjected to since the 15th century and which had resulted in it being subjected to looting, fires and massacres. 

Built under the direction of Michelangelo Buonarroti - who the fortress was named after – it was commissioned by Giulio II della Rovere who became Pope Julius II in 1502 and who laid the first stone on 14th December 1508.

Prior to the construction of the fortress the citizens of Civitavecchia, were forced to find refuge in the nearby mountains whenever the city came under attack.

The project involved the construction of just the upper level as the building was erected over foundations belonged to a vast Roman building dating from imperial times, a building which could have been a barracks. This building, which was only partially excavated, revealed an almost totally preserved large room with a beautiful geometric mosaics floor.

Quadrilateral in shape, originally the structure was surrounding by a mote, which today has disappeared. It has four turrets on top and an octagonal shaped donjon, this is the main tower and was typical of Medieval castles. The walls and the escarpment are slightly inclined and covered in travertine. At the top there is a cornice supported by brackets. The walls are crowned with parapets with large openings which would allow for the use of cannons.

The fortress was finally completed in 1535 under the papacy of Pope Paulus III da Farnese, renowned as a great patron of the arts, and is amongst the largest built at that time.

The original entrance was located between the donjon and the tower on the west side and the old bronze chain pulley, which served to raise and lower the drawbridge, is still visible. On the side of the entrance can still be seen the words "Leave Your Weapons".

The fortress is protected at each of its corners by four cylindrical towers with the names of St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Romolus and St. Julius although these are also known as San Colombano, Santa Ferma, San Sebastiano and San Giovanni. The donjon is an octagonal tower which rises higher than the others and looks out to the port.

Leading from under the San Sebastiano tower is an underground passage; which leads out of the fortress and inside of the city walls. Within the Santa Ferma tower, which was once in direct contact with the sea, is a small chapel in honour of Santa Fermina, Patron Saint of the Sailors and Civitavecchia’s patron saint. The chapel is located where the saint is said to have found shelter inside a cave and where she stayed for two years.

Having recently undergone some renovation and conservation work, the fortress today is devoid of traffic areas and provides space between the city area and water front. It contains a pedestrian promenade circumnavigating the fortress and has lawns and wide flowerbeds.  Today the fortress is the Headquarters of the Port Authorities.


 
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Copyright - All  Photographs copyright Ron Gatepain

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