Evolution of the Forts of Genoa

In the first half of the 18th century, the forts of Genoa included only some coastal batteries, the Castellaccio and the last two city walls. Following the Austrian siege of 1747, it became clear that the walls alone were not enough to the defence of the city. It was necessary to erect other forts detached from the walls, so as to prevent enemies from approaching and seizing them, and ultimately entering the town.
In 1747, the Swiss Inspector General of Fortifications Jaques Sicre, along with a group of military engineers, devised a new defensive line detached from the city, with the Forts of Quezzi, Richelieu, Santa Tecla and Diamante.
During the Napoleonic period (1801–1814), the Imperial Corps of Engineers ordered for the further development of these forts, and for the planning of others (which were never built, though). After the fall of Napoleon (April 1814), the city and the few existing fortifications were occupied by the British coalition troops, commanded by General William Bentinck, who on 26 April formed a provisional government.
During the Congress of Vienna, Liguria was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia.
In May 1815, before leaving the field to the Piedmontese troops, Bentinck was developing a plan of works on the fortifications, divided into three “eras”.
The importance of equipping Genoa with numerous fortifications was also justified by the fact that, in case the government was forced to relocate to Sardinia, the stronghold could offer a safe and well-defended place for the relocation.
An 1817 report describes the perception of the city from the military point of view: “The City of Genoa, the fortifications…enclosing the city, should not be considered as a simple war stronghold …The city must rather be viewed…as an important place of retreat for the Royal Troops, which, in the case of war …must …recede, leaving in the Squares the forts of the States of S. M., the necessary garrisons for their safety, in which case the remaining army going back to Genoa and occupying the fortifications, positions and walls, …may defend itself against four-times as much strength, to change with ease and to its advantage the nature of the War, that is, to go…on the offensive…“.
The completion of the fortifications, therefore, occurred in the period of the Savoy. The work undertaken by the Royal Corps of Engineers of Sardinia were innovative, as special attention was paid to the barracks, which often emerged from the walls: a distinguishing feature of the Fort. Architects created small, “semi-circle” windows to solve the problem of the disposal of the stagnant firing fumes inside the casemates. In many cases, though, these were not enough to ensure a quick smoke evacuation, and the opening of other windows was thus necessary.
The Genoese forts were rarely put to the test by the enemy: during the siege of 1800 (between 6 April and 4 June) by the British and Austrians, the fortified city of Genoa only surrendered due to starvation.
In 1849, during the uprisings against the Piedmontese, it only fell because of the disorganisation of the defence: had all forts been well defended, General La Marmora and his troops would have never been able to enter the city, settle in San Benigno and from there bomb the population on Easter Sunday.
After the outstanding technological development of the artillery, thanks to the introduction of rifled and breech-loading cannons, the advent of air attack and the use of a more resistant concrete in new fortifications, the 19th-century Forts made of stones and bricks became completely unnecessary, as they had been built in defence from archaic cannon balls. At the end of the 19th century, many were thus abandoned. Some old forts were still used in 1907 for the great manoeuvres, and many as a prison for Austrian soldiers in WWI.
In the meantime, under Royal Decree no. 835 of 6 August 1914, they were excluded from the category “State fortifications”, and passed from the Army’s public property to the State’s property.
From the summer of 1927, many of these forts were equipped and used by the Italian counter-air defence (passed largely to the Germans after 8 September 1943), to be finally abandoned at the end of the conflict.