Portoferraio, in the middle of the 16th Century, was given to Granduca Cosimo de'Medici of Florence by King Carlo V, and he immediately set his best architects to work to build an impressive fortified city, to defend the Tuscan and Ligurian coasts from the Turks. This city was to take his name: Cosmopoli.
The most important parts of the fortifications are the forts Linguella, Stella and Falcone; the wall that protected the city with only two entrances (one landward and one seaward) and the series of bastions and ramparts that protect the city from landward invasions.
Originally, this wall had no windows or doors and the only entrance into the city was the Porta a Mare. In the 18th Century, the seafront road was created to allow foot traffic into the port. The Porta a Mare, or Gran Guardia used to be closed each night to prevent people and goods from entering. Once inside the old city, there are many steep and staired streets that take you up to the other fortresses. Next to the Ape Elbana hotel there is a particularly narrow staired passageway that goes straight up to Forte Stella.
Forte Stella gets its name from it's star-shaped layout. Overlooking and protecting the northern and eastern shores, a lighthouse was added in the late 18th century to guide and invite visitors and trade to the island. Once the home to workers of the Portoferraio steel plant, which was transferred to Portoferraio after the Second World War, today Forte Stella is mostly privately owned, though still open to the public.
Exiting the fort and proceeding along the road, past Napoleon's villa, we head over towards Forte Falcone sitting atop the highest point of Portoferraio.
This fort boasted an innovative countermine system, a series of underground tunnels built inside the perimeter of the fortress with gun emplace-ments to prevent underground and close range invasions. This fortress was later enlarged several times and today houses a museum dedicated to the birth and development of Cosmopoli. Other than the underground tunnels and museum, there is a lot to explore and from here we can access the series of interconnected bastions that close the circuit of the city walls at the only landward entrance to the city, the Porta a Terra.
On the way down, through tunnels, staircases, and ramps you can imagine camps of soldiers sleeping in tents, cannons positioned in every rampart, horses pulling carts up and down the ramps and piles of cannon balls in every corner. On one of the lower levels, the old gunpowder storeroom has been renovated and is now a delightful wine bar, run by Slow Food. Beautiful panoramas and quiet green parkland abound along this pleasant walk through Portoferraio's fortifications.
Disabled access: No
Cover image credit: Danny Colangelo