I mean a real fort.
A real OLD fort.
Look no further than Fortezza di Santa Barbara. This medieval fort is located in the town of Pistoia, which is approximately a 30-35 minute drive from Florence.
The fortezza (fort) that you see standing today was built starting in 1539 by order of Cosimo I de'Medici and is on top of the site an even older fort that was built in 1331 by the Florentines. That original fort was destroyed for the most part by the people of Pistoia in 1343. Some of the ancient structure still exsits, however, such as the tower, which was integrated into the present fort.
|The ancient tower peeking out from behind the walls and walkways|
The fort was disarmed in 1734 by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo. Among later uses for the fort were barracks and a military prison.
A sad bit of history that took place at this fort: in 1944, during WWII, German soldiers shot and killed four young Pistoiesi.
After many years of ruin, the Soprintendenza ai Monumenti di Firenze began restoring the structure in 1970. Ten years later, it opened to the public, and remains open today, free of charge.
It is really interesting to walk around this ancient fort. It's located at the Southeast corner of the city walls, and relatively easy to find and get to. The price of admittance is right: 100% free! Just watch when you go, because it's only open for a short few hours - 8:15am until 1:30pm. If you make an appointment ahead of time, you can get a free, guided tour of the grounds. (Appointments tours only take place Tuesdays thru Sundays at 10:30am)
When we visited the fortezza, we had the entire fort to ourselves. We showed up in the middle of the week just 15 or so minutes before they were scheduled to close. It was a whirlwind tour, running around all of the walls and poking our heads into all of the little buildings that we could, while I clicked away with my camera. We are definitely going to have to come back for another visit when we have more time!
|The "front door" of the fort, with the Medici family crest above the door|