Fortezza da Basso

The Fortezza da Basso is the largest fortress in Florence. In order to save people from confusion with the Forte Belvedere, which stands on a hill to the south of the river, da Basso is also known as the ‘lower fortress’. Duke Alessandro Medici had the fortress built by the architect Antonio da Sangalo. The fortress was intended to protect the Medici from political opponents, yet ironically, just a few months before the fortress was finished Alessandro was stabbed to death. The murder was ordered by his cousin Lorenzino Popolano de Medici, known popularly as the ‘Bad Lorenzo’. After the murder, the body of the duke was wrapped up in a carpet, smuggled out of the palace and secretly buried in the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Soon after Lorenzino publically announced that he had ordered the murder of the Duke for the good of Florence. The Fortezza da Basso, having failed to protect its creator, was repurposed as a prison. One of its most famous captives was Fillipe Strozzi, a scion of the fantastically wealthy banking family that produced the Medici’s greatest rivals. It was they who organised and financed a failed uprising against Cosimo I. When Fillipe, who considered himself to be the last true republican of Florence, was interred in the prison, he decided to do as the Romans did and, rather than await his certain execution, took his own life. Today the Fortezza da Basso has been once again repurposed, and is now one of Florence’s most important cultural centres, providing accommodation for exhibitions, concerts, congresses and international conferences. One of the small piazzas surrounding the fortress was built in 2004 to honour the memory of the children who lost their lives during a terrorist attack on a school in the Russian city of Beslan. The square is named simply ‘Piazza Bambini di Beslan’.