“It has a most irregular layout based around its four asymmetrical bastions, which they were forced to build in this manner as a result of the uneven hilltop, but also to exploit the old town walls.” Odoardo Warren, 1749

There has probably been a fortress on the hilltop overlooking Cortona since the 5th or 6th century BC, when the original Etruscan walls followed a course which roughly corresponds to the existing perimeter walls of today. However the first historical records describing a ‘strong and beautiful fortress’ date back to 1258 AD. Having been plundered and sacked several times during the wars with Arezzo it was sold to the Florentine Republic in 1411, together with the entire city of Cortona, although reconstruction work only began in 1527. The first task was to connect the fortress to the town walls, thereby creating a pentagonal-shaped, internal courtyard.

But it wasn’t until the middle of the 17th century that it took on its present appearance, at the time of the heavy militarisation of the De Medici territories. In 1556, on the order of Cosimo De Medici the 1st, construction work began on the four bastions and the ravelin under the guidance of engineer Gabrio Serbelloni and architect Francesco Laparelli, both of whom also collaborated on the design of the fortifications of La Valletta harbour on the Island of Malta.

Throughout the 16th century the introduction of modern artillery necessitated the gradual replacement of the inadequate, mediaeval, perpendicular walls, with the new bastion fortification design, suitable for withstanding direct assault by new siege cannons of modern European armies. This revolutionary construction technique alternated curtain walls with bastion towers (initially rounded, but subsequently polygonal-shaped) based on a geometrical study of the trajectories of cannon balls. The combined mass of the bastions, thick stone walls and sloping earthen banks helped to resist the force of a heavy artillery barrage.

Come what may, the newly-designed Girifalco Fortress was never actually e ployed in battle. Then in 1766, with the advent of the Lorraine dynasty, it was finally disarmed and sold to the Community of Cortona which used it as a town prison.

Subsequently, after the demise of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1860, it was ignominiously used as a stockade for timber and stone. However, during WWII it was destined to be the home of 250 children whose parents were exiled abroad, and as a strategic observation post for German radio operators, who were eventually kicked out to accommodate liberation troops of the allied forces.

Further restoration work was undertaken in 1959 and 1969, enabling visitors to view the keep and the internal courtyard, while reconstruction of the bastion of Santa Maria Nuova was concluded in 2010 with the installation of a service elevator to help improve accessibility for a variety of purposes.

Text and graphics by Aura Gnerucci, Maria Teresa Idone and Dania Marzo
Elaborazione dagli esiti del laboratorio di tesi interdisciplinare sul tema della fortezza del Girifalco, svolto presso la Facoltà di Architettura di Firenze e coordinato dai Proff. Giacomo Pirazzoli, Amedeo Belluzzi, Pietro Matracchi.

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