Situated on the coast, in the centre of Versilia, Forte dei Marmi was founded by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo at the end of the eighteenth century. It was designed to fulfil two functions: customs and defence. As its name suggests, its history is linked with the Medici policy of exploiting the territory’s rich marble deposits. In 1513, pope Leo X assigned the area corresponding to the Capitanato of Pietrasanta to Florence. Thus, the quarries of Seravezza became the centre Versilia’s new economy.
As a sign of this prominent position, the pope obligated Michelangelo—who was working on the façade of S. Lorenzo in Florence—to use marble from the new deposits instead of Carrara marble. At the same time, the pope equipped these structures to meet production needs. During the seventeenth century, as the port of Motrone was considered too far away, the area of Forte dei Marmi became a warehouse for quarry stones that were brought down to the coast along the new road from Querceta. Interestingly, this region’s few inhabitants were called ‘magazzenesi’, (warehousers) at least until the Lorena dynasty built the fort.
In the Middle Ages, defence of the Versilia coast—where the towns of Pietrasanta, Forte dei Marmi and Seravezza currently lie—was a priority for the governments of Lucca, Pisa and Florence alike. All of these powers were intent on developing their commerce by land and by sea. Under the control of the Medici family first and the Lorena later, the coastal area developed rapidly, thanks to the construction of a road network and towns. Drainage works were also completed and the area’s ports were fortified. Pietro Leopoldo carried out social and economic reforms in his State after the long period of stagnation the area experienced under the last Medicis.
The Grand Duke personally visited the Versilia region several times and recognised that it was necessary to build a fort precisely where Forte dei Marmi stands today, between the tower of Cinquale and that of Motrone. In 1785, the Grand Duke wrote that the fort should ‘defend the coast and provide barracks for the soldiers’. Construction work began, and in 1788, the fort had its first keeper, lieutenant Niccola Leonetti. In 1794, the soldiers stationed there had to ward off an enemy ship passing in front of the marble wharfs.
The fort now accommodates the Satire and Caricature Museum and the local post office.
The fort is public property and it is open to visitors.
From the A12 motorway, take the Versilia exit. Turn right and continue until you reach the third traffic light; turn left until and after about 1.5 km, you’ll reach Piazza Garibaldi where the Fort built by Grand Duke Leopoldo I now stands.
From Via Aurelia: Drive up to Querceta and when you reach the traffic light at the crossroads with Via Federigi, proceed towards the sea. After about 5 km, you should reach Piazza Garibaldi at the centre of Forte dei Marmi, where you’ll find the Fort of Leopoldo I.
For those travelling along the coastal road: reach the Forte dei Marmi wharf and then turn inland: After about 100 m, you’ll arrive in Piazza Garibaldi.
By public transport:
Both Clap and Lazzi buses or the Versilia shuttle will take you to the town.
Train: Get off at the Querceta station.