Fortezza da Basso history and curiosities

Fortezza da Basso is a major exhibition complex in Florence. It is owned by Firenze Fiera, which runs the three exhibition centers of the city: Fortezza da Basso, Palazzo dei Congressi and Palazzo degli Affari, all very close to each other and located near Santa Maria Novella station.

To be honest, Fortezza da Basso is actually not a “pretty building”: it is an impressive military construction with grim walls and dominated by an (equally gloomy) massive tower. Nothing to do with other XVI century buildings, where at least towers were raised and the mightiness of walls was mitigated by battlements.

Florence’s Fortezza has such a bad and austere look, just because it had to strike fear. Indeed, it was built in the mid 1500s, when the Medici family came back to Florence after the experience of the Florentine Republic, which thing had ousted the historic family from the city: Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, he engaged himself in the restoration, with a siege that bent the same Republic.

Back in town, the Medici family built the Fortezza (“fortress”) designed by architects Pier Francesco da Viterbo, and Antonio da Sangallo.  The construction has cost the city money and tears, and was built with that grumpy aspect just to intimidate Florentine rebels.

In the course of its history, the fortress has been an excellent example of fortified military architecture (pretty useless though, since it never suffered military attacks), a prison and an arms factory. Since 1967, Fortezza da Basso is an exhibition center, that hosts a huge number of Florence trade shows, and spreads over about 100,000 square meters, half of which are covered. In the course of time, it has undergone major restoration and modernization, in order to serve as a trade fair: in 1977, the Spadolini Pavilion was opened, while the Cavaniglia Pavilion dates back to 1996.

Curiosities about Fortezza da Basso

Like all medieval buildings, also the Florentine fortress has its secrets and its curiosities. The most important ‘mystery’, yet to be verified and fully discovered, regards the gallery within the walls running along the perimeter of the building. The tunnel, now closed to the public and in a state of partial abandonment, was used by defenders to counter enemy attacks. Legend has it that there is a secret passage from the gallery of Fortezza da Basso that crosses the city underground and leads to the Forte di Belvedere, to the highest point of the hill where the Boboli Gardens are.

Another interesting curiosity has to do with the lightning protection of the fortress. Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, in fact, was aware of American scientist Benjamin Franklin’s theories, who was a contemporary of his in the XVIII century. At that time, Franklin’s work made a huge contribution to the study of meteorology and electricity, with the invention, among other things, of the lightning rod. Hence the Grand Duke wanted to protect his buildings in Europe, and in particular those with major stores of gunpowder, by using Franklin’s new tricks. Of course, also Fortezza da Basso was sheltered from the wrath of the Gods thanks to huge iron bars that channeled the power of lightning directly into the ground.

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