Fort Castellaccio

The walls of the fort include the 19th-century Tower of the Specola (1817-1820).

The first definite records of a defensive building in this location date back to 1319, when the Guelph constructed a castle with “walls and ditches”. In 1530, the old fort was restored with some changes. In 1633, with the construction of the New Walls, it was decided to demolish it; however, it was partially maintained, used as powder magazine and barracks for a small garrison of soldiers guarding the walls. Unfortunately, no information is available on the actual structure of those constructions. The 18th-century Castellaccio was instead composed of two parallel barracks with wooden floors, that contained the living quarters, kitchens and warehouses leaning against the fence of a large powder magazine. In the southern part of the fortress, there still were the remains of the ancient castle, reduced to a few masonry pieces or the foundations.

The major changes began after the annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia. In 1818, a proposal was submitted to renew the 18th-century fort, which was completely demolished and rebuilt on the same site starting from the same year. Around 1827, the works were interrupted, but resumed soon after, following a different project. However, the walls already erected were not demolished. In the inner area of the complex, there are still the remains of this never completed fort. The new Castellaccio was an independent fortress, with the dual purpose to both protect the city and quell all riots. The barracks had two floors and a basement; in the latter, there were two furnaces with 320 rations of capacity each.

The Tower of the Specola (observatory), an unusual red brick building visible from many parts of the city, was erected on a rock where death sentences were carried out since 1509 (hitherto, they had been carried out in the Lanterna area). The forks were composed of four stone pillars supporting transverse axes, with chains to hang the bodies of the condemned. The Specola was built between 1817 and 1825 as part of the complex “Castellaccio” (consisting of the Fort and the Tower). Between 1830 and 1836, the two works were incorporated into a single rampart with a single access. The interior of the tower has two floors, plus a basement with a cistern. The supporting structure is composed of six large pillars; the steep staircase has been carved in one of them. The large upwards extension standing out on the roof was built between 1911 and 1914 by the Navy Hydrographic Institute, to host a meteor and aerological observatory and its staff. The tower was abandoned in 1969, later used as a storage facility and now as an archive. .

Between 31 May 1875 and June 1940, a cannon shot was fired every day at noon from a casemate on the corner of the outer walls. Electrical contact was given by a pendulum, still functioning, located inside the Fort San Giorgio, home of the Hydrographic Institute.

During the uprisings of 1849, the Piedmontese soldiers were barricaded within the complex: isolated and without orders, they gave up the fort to the rebels. The latter, barricaded inside, tried to slow down as much as possible the occupation of the city by the troops of General La Marmora, firing continuous rounds against San Benigno and the Palazzo Doria (occupied by sharpshooters). However, the Piedmontese kept spreading; many abandoned the Fort, lowering themselves from the walls. After the yield of 10 April, the Fort returned to the military authorities. During World War I, the Austrian prisoners were kept as prisoners here. Already in 1929, it became the seat of a wireless station.
  • Fort Castellaccio and  Tower Specola
  • Fort Castellaccio and  Tower Specola - old photo
  • Fort Castellaccio and  Tower Specola - planimetry