Fort Belvedere, located on the southern hills of the Arno River (specifically, on the highest hill of Boboli Gardens) in the Quarter of San Niccolò, is often referred to as «the most beautiful terrace in Florence». It is the second largest fortress to be built in Florence and was once connected to Palazzo Vecchio via the Vasari Corridor. From here, Robert Langdon, the main character in Dan Brown’s Inferno, would have the best panoramic view of Florence, the city in which his adventure in Italy begins.
The sixth set out city walls, built in the 14th century, included a bastion on the side of the Gate of San Giorgio: a fortress dedicated to St. Mary was built on this bastion between 1590 and 1595. However, it is better known as Forte di Belvedere, due to the beautiful panoramic view of the city that can be enjoyed from this place.
By request of Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Fort Belvedere was built to serve two purposes: along with Fortezza Da Basso (located near today’s S. Maria Novella train station), it was conceived as a defence against invading armies, as well as a powerful instrument to keep the city in check; and secondly, to offer safe refuge for the Medici family in case of an internal uprising, through its direct connection with Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace.
The fortress was designed by Bernardo Buontalenti (although Giovanni de’ Medici, the Duke’s brother, was the official director in charge of its construction), the Florentine stage designer, architect, engineer, designer, and artist, who purportedly also invented the first modern ice cream, gelato, in 1565.
The fortress is characterized by its polygonal plan and by the small villa located in the center.
Michelangelo was Belvedere’s head engineer of fortifications. While an early version of the fortress was made of earth and stone gabions, Michelangelo engineered the vision of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici to support Belvedere’s strategic location and structure.
Before 1951, Fort Belvedere served as a military facility; in that year, the Italian Army donated it to the City of Florence. Few know that it was the site of some of Galileo’s greatest discoveries. Galileo visited Fort Belvedere to complete some of his most important studies in astronomy. In 1633, he moved to a villa in Arcetri, not far from the fort.
This fortress is a good example of Italian military architecture from the Renaissance: it contains elements with a pure military function (such as the inclined bastions), but also evokes propagandistic purposes. Fort Belvedere was conceived as proof of the Medici‘s power, as is suggested by the villa built on top of the bastions: this small building is clearly visible from the city, and its shape is unmistakable in the panorama of the hills on the southern side of Florence.
The opulent villa, Palazzina di Belvedere, was designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati around 1570. As the fort’s secondary purpose was to house the Grand Duke in times of unrest or epidemic, it was built as a comfortable, luxurious palace. It did not adhere to military purposes, housing the Medici family’s treasures in the bottom of a well inside the building.
After five years of renovation to improve its safety features, the fort was reopened to visitors in July 2013, welcoming residents and tourists with contemporary art exhibitions. It is regularly used for festivals and open air spectacles during the summer, and also provides one of the most fantastic views of the city.
Pictures by https://commons.wikimedia.org and notizie.comuni-italiani.it