The fortress’s long history began in 1250 and finished with the Medici.
The Fortress of Cerruglio is located in the current village of Montecarlo, overlooking where the plain of Lucca and the Valdinievole meet. It was built by Lucca as a territorial observation and control point, and as a communications outpost, especially for the movements of armies. Once part of the network of watchtowers, it was related to the nearby – and no longer existing – Montechiari Tower to the north and to the Porcari Tower to the south of the hill.
It could advise Lucca of the arrival of enemy troops in one-and-a-quarter hours, making it a valuable safeguard. For this reason, the city of Lucca decided to expand the original core of the semicircular fortress dating back to 1250, which stood isolated on the hill. It was first expanded between the late 1200s and the early 1300s, with the construction of two towers connected by stone walls to form a triangular structure. The towers were called St. Barbara (where they kept their ammunition) and “Apparition”. The latter name is owed to a miraculous event: the miraculous apparition of the Madonna del Soccorso who repulsed their enemies during a clash with Pisa. This new structure took the name of the Fortress of Cerruglio, from the oaks prevalent in the area. It also became a rest and supply point for troops during movements.
The building acquired an international flavor as it was the center of numerous military disputes between Lucca, Pisa, and Florence. Among the many episodes was the battle of Altopascio in which Castruccio Castacani defeated the Florentines and established his own headquarters in the fortress.
Upon his death in 1328, there was a major event in which Lucca asked for the help of the troops of Louis of Bavaria to go to Pisa’s rescue. However, eight hundred German knights deserted as they had not been paid. Under the leadership of the Duke of Brunswick, they headed towards the Valdinievole, took possession of Vivinaia (a fortified village, now disappeared) and the Fortress of Cerruglio, settling there for a year. In effect, this group of armed Germans under the command of Marco Visconti, first the negotiator for Lucca and then their prisoner, had constituted a kind of “state” under the protection of the saint from Cappadocia. It took the name of the Company of the Cerruglio, later changing it to the Company of Saint George, the first company of Italian mercenaries, paid for time as well for the type and quantity of weapons and men.
Despite its reputation of being impregnable, the castle fell under Florentine jurisdiction in 1437. From here on, as a result of Siena’s threats to Florence, the Medici carried out the last expansion, bringing the structure to its current size and identifiable by the new walls that connected to the existing ones and a new front with a drawbridge towards Montecarlo.
The village was founded as an administrative solution for the exiled population, after the destruction by Florence in 1332 of the nearby castle of Vivinaia, known as the Marchesato and owned by Matilde of Canossa. The name Montecarlo comes from “Mons Karoli”, in honor of John of Bohemia’s son Charles who freed Lucca from the Florentines.
In 1775, Grand Duke Leopold II of Lorraine disarmed the fortress, which had bombards, several cannons, small springalds, and two hundred muskets (of which one hundred were permanent and one hundred were in a maintenance rotation at the Pescia smithy). As a result of being put on the auction block, the complex was bought by the Florentine Vettori family, and subsequently by the Gennari family. The property then passed in the early 1900s from the latter to Egisto Cecchi from Livorno, a close relative of the current owners, and co-owner of Livorno’s Giusti press, which had published some of Giovanni Pascoli’s works. In poor condition, with the upper part of the “Torre Grossa”, Large Tower also having collapsed due to structural movements dating back to the Medici expansion, Egisto Cecchi began the repair work that ended with the restoration of all the walls and the tower itself. The parade ground was later cleared and replaced with the current Italian garden.
Within the Tuscan panorama, this fortress is a successful example of the union between private investments and public interest, with a substantial commitment on the side of the philological recovery, to be discovered and developed.
FAI Giovani Pistoia