A rampart dominating Volterra
The De’ Medici in Valdicecina: a fortress dominates the city and the valley
Volterra and Valdicecina’s profile is distinguished, even from far away, by the austere and noble lines of the castle, wanted by the Medici not so much to protect the city and its territory but rather to subject the proud ancient commune, discouraging all kinds of uprising.
The Fortress was built in 1474 – on the remains of older fortifications – exactly two years after the city of Florence had conquered the town after a bitter war for the control of the alum mines, an important mineral used in the manufacturing of textiles. Today the Fortress hosts a penitentiary.
Between the “Mastio” and the “Femmina”
Discovering the Fortress
From its commanding hilltop position the enormous Medici Fortress looks out over Volterra and the surrounding countryside. This massive building is visible from miles away and characterizes the skyline of the hill upon which the city lies.
The Fortress was built in 1474, exactly two years after Florence conquered the city of Volterra following a fierce battle over the control of nearby alum mines, an important mineral used in the production of textiles.
The Fortress was intended not only to protect the city, but primarily to keep the city under tight control and to prevent revolts against the new masters of the city. A part of the fortress – the easternmost part – was already standing before 1474 and was an ancient castle called the Cassero.
The construction of this section was completed in 1292 and was designed to augment the pre-existing defensive structures of the city and protect the area around Porta a Selci.
Around the year 1343, Gualtieri di Brienne, Duke of Athens and lord of Florence, took control of the Cassero and built a new tower on the other side of the ancient Porta a Selci. The tower was then joined to the Cassero thus creating a single structure protected by an outer ring of walls and ditches.
In 1430 began the construction of the prow-shaped outer wall which still stands at the easternmost end of the fortress; this defensive innovation, which was completed in 1432, has ever since been called “the shoe”.
This name derives from the shape of the structure, as the walls are strongly slanted at the base to better protect against artillery attacks. All of the eastern section – the oldest part – is now called the Rocca Vecchia (“old castle”) or Femmina (“female”), while the new part, built entirely in stone, consists of two parts: the Mastio on the western end, which is a large, isolated circular tower inside the walls, and a rectangle of curtain-walls with four, high circular towers at each corner.
A double curtain-wall was also built between the Mastio and the Rocca Vecchia to join the two fortifications and also created the necessary space to house a sizable garrison.
The exterior of the towers and walls consist of a wide base and a walkway supported by protruding corbels which served a defensive function, or rather were used to launch stones and other materials onto approaching enemies. This walkway was also built onto the older sections and thus the entire perimeter today appears homogeneous.