Fortress of Sarzanello
Via alla Fortezza - 19038 Sarzana (SP)
Telefono: 0187 62 20 80
Fax: 0187 15 00 158
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"Seizing the inheritance of Luni, the biggest centre on the east, operative as a business port, famous enough as a Roman colony to give the whole surrounding territory the name of Lunigiana was quite a demanding responsibility. Only a city in an important strategic point, with a vast flat territory suitable for farming, on important roads such as the Via Francigena and via Aurelia, could be a witness. We are speaking of Sarzana, which as a small village developed until it covered an important role in history. Discover its origins with the Liguria Heritage audio-guides!"

In the heart of the Middle Ages

The first sure information on the existence of Sarzanello Fort takes us to a few decades before the famous year one thousand.
In that period, at the branch of two main roads, via Romea, being the road used by pilgrims that led to the three main pilgrim destinations Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago di Compostela, and via Aurelia, there was a vast flat area of land, just like today, useful for farming. This extraordinary strategic position could certainly not remain without a citadel, a stronghold for the potentates of the time.

Luni, the important business port and Roman colony had declined and been in ruins for many centuries. Established long before, in 177 B.C., in the year 1000 it was nothing but a ghost city, littered with ruins, the official seat of a bishop who in truth administered his affairs in Lucca, in castles in the nearby areas, and maybe even directly from Rome.

In 963 A.D., Emperor Otto I granted to Adalberto Bishop of Luni ownership of the castrum Sarzanae, a fortified village where today the fortress of Sarzanello is located, and which developed around a village of which only a few houses remain near the fort, while the remaining part was destroyed during the Austrian war of succession.
The nearby village of Sarzana developed in parallel to the castrum, until it was recognised as a true living area, called “burgo Sarzania”, in 1084.

The 12th century was the period of political change for Sarzana and its castle.
In about twenty years the village, which in the meantime had become the most populated centre in the Val di Magra, changed from being under Frederick I Barbarossa’s sphere of influence to that of the Bishop, initially by force. When the Malaspina family appeared on the Ligurian riviera, desirous to obtain supremacy in Lunigiana, Episcopal authority was preferred to the new conquerors, and Sarzana surrendered to that same authority spontaneously.

"Hanging between Bishops and Emperors, Liguria and Tuscany, the story of Sarzana takes its first steps from the late Middle Ages, alternating various administrations and often suffering the political pressure of its neighbours. Listen to the Sarzanello audioguide 1 to enter the events that determined Sarzana’s history".

Castruccio Castracani

We will see the various construction phases that brought the castrum of Sarzanello to take on its current form later on, but in the meantime we can anticipate that the fortress, controlling a fortified settlement in a dominant position as to the Magra plain, an area of transit and important commercial traffic, was constructed by the Medicis and ended by Genoa. What was said earlier could, however, clash with what tradition calls “the fortress of Castruccio”, as if its construction was attributed to this person.

Who was Castruccio Castracani? The first thing that comes to mind is that he was maybe an illustrious person from Sarzana. Actually, Castruccio Castracani was not from Sarzana but from Lucca. He lived between the 13th and 14th centuries, and came from a family of rich Lucca merchants. At sixteen, he was already in the family line of business and when his family was exiled because of the disagreements between Guelphs and Ghibellines, he travelled a lot.
He lived in England with some merchants from Lucca, took up arms and followed various military campaigns, in which he manifested his support for Emperor Arrigo VII.

The success that overwhelmed him upon his return to Italy was mostly tied to his excellent relationship with Imperial power, in part connected with the events that took him to the Dominion of Lucca when Uguccione della Faggiuola, his lord and ally, was banished following a revolt in the city supported by Pisa.
If the conquest of Lucca by Uguccione previously took Lunigiana into the sphere of influence of Lucca, and removed it from the power of the Guelphs, when Castruccio was legitimised by the Emperor to be the proud holder of the titles of Lord of Lucca and Viscount of the Bishop of Luni he could present himself in the village of Sarzana as vicar, defender and protector of the community, subtracting it from the tensions created by the Malaspina family and Pisa, which both had their gaze on it.

The taking of power in Lunigiana allowed the Castracani family to follow their objective of expanding to unite the current Tuscany into a single state, an achievement that was not hindered by any of the villages. Some committed themselves spontaneously, while others were taken away from Spinetta Malaspina, property that was legitimised in 1320 by Emperor Frederick III.

The question of whether Castracani did or did not build the fortress can certainly be excluded for various reasons, among which the documents mentioned previously, which attribute the foundation to the bishops of Luni, but above all because of an incorrect interpretation of an episode, according to which in 1317 to defend Sarzanello from the Pisans, Castracani demanded the erection of a wooden fort, a “battifolle” in military terminology. By reading the account more carefully it becomes clear that the battifolle was erected nearby, not in Sarzanello, and it can probably be associated with Battifollo, a hamlet in the municipality of Arcola.

Even if he was not the founder of the fortress, the relations with the people of Sarzana were positive, and we know that he often resided in the episcopal mansion of Sarzanello being the bishop’s viscount, and he demonstrated his gratefulness for being accepted willingly as its lord by granting loans and privileges.

"Sarzanello, castrum Sarzanae, or Castruccio Fortress? Listen to the Sarzanello audioguide 2 to learn the correct name of this splendid and perfectly preserved castle in Lunigiana".

Towards the Modern age

Visiting the fortress of Sarzanello means having the possibility of closely studying a complex defensive structure, with different defensive elements that can still be seen. These elements are tied to the Medieval military tradition but there are also more modern things, suitable for resisting firearms, which started being used in the 15th century.

The construction of the fortress was anything but fast. At the time of its establishment by the Bishop of Luni it was only a fortified bridge house with a Medieval tower, granary, mansion with loggia and some houses inside the surrounding wall.
This type of village is certainly known in eastern Liguria, where similar fortresses existed in Fosdinovo, Bolano, Vezzano superiore and Caprigliola.

Sarzanello did not vary its structure for a long time, indeed even though the Bishop’s authority went through high and low periods, it was certainly not placed in discussion, and he continued managing his property without needing to modernise the fortresses, which were perfectly suitable for their function.

The change occurred inexorably in the 15th century, partly caused by the arrival of firearms that made the walls, battlements and shape of the fortifications extremely fragile. But this would be nothing had it not been joined by a period of particular tension that erupted with the war of Sarzana, the showdown of Florentine and Genoese ambition.

After the Florentine victory it was Lorenzo De Medici who occupied Sarzana and developed the defensive equipment. Work began in 1493, when the Cittadella work was finished. The Cittadella was more urgent because the castle was to become the official fortress of the city of Sarzana. We do not know how it looked before, but we do know that the towers were replaced by low and angular bastions to give a wider view and make attacking more difficult. The curtain became oblique and the walls much thicker.

In 1494, when the castle was given to Charles VIII, it had already started taking on its current shape, with a 60 m-side large triangle with circular corner towers. The main tower and the crowning of the wall curtains were still missing.
The transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern era had not yet finished.

The old Medieval tower resisted, but it was only encased in the curtain when the fortress passed to the Bank of Saint George. The Bank finished construction, equipping the defensive system with a ravelin to defend the entrance and the keep crowned by machicolations. It also rearranged the outdoor soil, modelling it into escarpments.

"The perfect condition in which we find Sarzanello means we can analyse its structure and identify how it evolved over time and by whom. Listen to the Sarzanello audioguide 3 to understand if in the end, even though in the province of La Spezia, the fortress should be defined as being more Tuscan than Ligurian".

Sarzana, many centuries of history

From the fortress of Sarzanello you can enjoy a full and beautiful view of Sarzana. It is a complex city, created as the natural heir of the great Luni, and destined to a fundamental role in the history of the Valle del Magra.

"Listen to the Sarzanello audioguide 4 and you will appreciate the history of a city that has been present for more than one thousand years and which, between many dominators, has always maintained its own proud identity".

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