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  • Forte di Fenestrelle

    By Anthony Parente

    Forte di Fenestrelle
    The Forte di Fenestrelle dubbed the "Great Wall of the Alps" is an architectural and engineering military marvel built along the Italian Alps 96.5 km (60 miles) west of Turin in the Piedmont region. This colossal fortress is over 3 km (1.86 miles) in length with a total of 1,350,000 square meters (333.5 acres) and a difference of 600 meters (1968.5 feet) in height used to block the Chisone valley against foreign invasions.

    Under the request of King Vittorio Amedeo II engineer Ignazio Bertola began construction of this fortress in 1728. One hundred and twenty-two years later construction ended becoming the largest alpine fortress in Europe. This is not one single fort it is a fortified complex consisting of eight defensive works, which include three forts (San Carlo, Delle Valli and Tre Denti), three redoubts and two batteries. What makes this fortress so impressive is that the entire structure is connected by a 4000-step covered staircase protected by a two meter (over 6.5 feet) thick wall. Effectively concealing troop movement and protecting them from enemy fire. In addition there is a 2500-step uncovered stairwell that was called the "royal walk" as it was favored by they royals as the walked the compound.

    The fort was more than a military garrison it was also used as a state prison. High profile figures, military officers, clergy, noblemen and common criminals were housed in this prison. Notable prisoners include Joseph de Maistre, theorist of the Counter-Revolution, Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca and Pierre Picaud, who was the inspiration for the main character in Alexander Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo. The inmates had to suffer extreme weather conditions giving it the nickname the Siberia of Italy.

    Following World War II, the fortress was abandoned and eventually vegetation slowly started to erode the walls and invade the complex. Fortunately, in 1990 L'Associazione Progetto San Carlo- Forte di Fenestrelle Onlus (The Project San Carlo- Forte di Fenestrelle Onlus Association) was created to help restore the fortress and make it accessible for people to tour.

    Whether you are a militaty enthusiast or not this fortress is worth the trip. Visit the Fort di Fenestrelle to learn more about this architectural wonder and see the various tours they have.


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