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The Fortress of Fenestrelle A Historical Introduction and Synthesis of Restoration

Dr. Ashleigh Hogg, San Carlo Project Association, Fortress of Fenestrelle

I am honoured to represent the President, Dr Mario Reviglio, and the members of the San Carlo Project Association, into whose care has been entrusted one of the most unusual structures in Europe. It boasts the title of “Monument Symbol of the Province of Turin”, but is known to many as the “Great Wall of Piedmont”. Undoubtedly one of the most ambitious constructions ever built in Europe since the Renaissance, the Fortress of Fenestrelle, once forgotten and abandoned, is coming back to life!

This vast complex of more than 1 350 000 square metres in extension, runs for some 3 ½ km up a mountainside through an overall height difference of some 650 metres. To put this colossal edifice in perspective, the Pentagon, reputedly the world’s largest office building, is less than half of this in area, while its height from bottom to top is equivalent to the Eiffel Tower on top of the Empire State Building!

It was built to be invincible. To be honest, we will never know how true this was. Its fame was such that no attack was ever attempted. Begun in 1728 it remained active until 1947. Its military value was such that it is the only 18th Century mountain fortress in Piedmont not destroyed by Napoleon. My main theme today deals with how we brought this phenomenal monument back from a state of almost total loss to becoming a thriving touristic and cultural centre, unique within Piedmont’s Cultural Heritage. However, to

understand the reason for its importance, we need to step back in time, even before its construction, and look more closely at the political geography of 17 th and 18th-Century Europe.

Two major valleys run more or less westward from Turin towards France, the Susa Valley and the Chisone Valley, the more south-westerly of the two. Here, close to the ancient Dauphinate town of Fenestrelle, the valley narrows around a rocky spur where even today stands a 14th Century building – Chateau Arnaud – once the seat of the chatellains, the representatives of the Dauphins of Vienne, Counts of Albon, when the upper parts of the Susa and Chisone valleys were under their control.

It was at Fenestrelle, in the year 1690, that Louis XIV of France ordered the building of a fortress, mainly as a deterrent to the Dukes of Savoy, for centuries determined to regain possession of territory they considered to have been illegally sequestered by the Albons in the 2nd half of the 11th Century. The restitution of Pinerolo to Piedmont and the consequent relocation of the French border at Castel del Bosco, just a few miles below Fenestrelle, was the obvious reason for its construction, but its alleged purpose was “domestic”. Questioned by Vittorio Amedeo as to its purpose, Louis XIV himself stated that it was merely there to keep the “mutinous” Valdese Protestants under control. Thus although formally called “Le Fort de Fenestrelle”, the Sun King’s jeering remark made it generally known as “Fort Mutin”.

The small but determined Duchy of Savoy was compelled to defend its independence and sovereignty time and time again, mainly against the aggressively expansionist policies of its mighty neighbour – France, but also against both Spain and Imperial Austria. The independence of Piedmont was of


little importance to France, one of the super-powers of its time, and its territory was scarcely more than a convenient passage towards more significant conquests like the Duchy of Milan, originally Spanish but later Austrian. In this struggle between heavyweights, the flyweight state of Savoy survived mainly through a policy of shrewd political alliances. To avoid being absorbed by such powerful neighbours, there could be no such thing as a permanent alliance - these were made and changed with cynical political acumen. The Dukes of Savoy were well known for their ability to change sides at the right moment. They had a reputation for never ending a war on the side they started from! However they had little hesitation in committing their small but valorous army to battle throughout the 18th Century and their dextrous ability to “end up on the winning side” frequently saw them seated at the victory table, obtaining significant territorial gains as the result. In November 1700, the death of Charles II, the last Hapsburg King of Spain, precipitated a diplomatic struggle between Phillip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, and Carl of Hapsburg, son of the Emperor of Austria, for the vast and lucrative possessions of Spain. This soon led to what History calls the Wars of the Spanish Succession. Due to the “persuasion” of family ties (Vittorio Amedeo II, Duke of Savoy, had been obliged to marry Anne of Orleans, Louis XIV’s grand-daughter), Piedmont began the war on the side of the French. However, when secret negotiations between the Duke and the Austrians came to light, the Piedmontese army was sequestered by General Vendôme in 1703 at San Benedetto Po. The Duke’s reaction was to declare war on France and join the anti-French coalition headed by the Emperor of Austria, his uncle. As “punishment” for this “treason”, Vendome was instructed to invade Piedmont, quickly capturing a number of cities despite their spirited defence. The French army was numerically superior to the Duke’s, but the "rapid campaign" slowed to a snail’s pace with the tenacious Savoyan defence of everything which was defendable. British money and promises of Imperial help kept Piedmontese


hopes alive, while the Duke himself led numerous raids and skirmishes against the invaders. It became a war of attrition and an irritation to Louis XIV who failed to understand why his mighty army was making such slow progress. The capture of the Duke’s capital - Turin - was the main French objective, but this proved a difficult quest. In 1705, under the Duke’s personal direction, the heroic defence of the fortress of Verrua near Crescentino followed by the equally determined resistance of the city of Chivasso delayed the French for a full seven months and cost them thousands of men and the loss or damage to the majority of their cannons. On account of this, and despite Vendome’s vociferous dissent, the new French commander, the Duke of Aubusson, Louis de La Feuillade decided to go into winter quarters and await reinforcements, instead of marching on Turin, a mere 15 kilometers away. It was only in the Spring of 1706 that they finally laid siege to the citadel of Turin, only to find that the defences had been completely altered and improved since the previous autumn. Vast earthworks now obscured the walls of the citadel. The French battle plan, drawn up only the year before, was now obsolete, but the King wanted results, not excuses. De La Feuillade could delay no more – he had no choice but to commence the attack. The siege was one of the most important events in the city's history. It lasted for 117 days, but ended with a decisive Savoyan victory on the 7 th of September 1706 thanks to the arrival of an Imperial army under Prince Eugene of Savoy, Vittorio Amedeo's cousin. It was one of the most complete and crushing defeats a French army would ever suffer until Waterloo. The tattered remnants of the once proud French army, which had marched arrogantly into Piedmont such a short time ago now struggled back across the Alps towards their homeland, beaten and humiliated, leaving most of their equipment and over 5,000 dead and wounded to the Christian sentiments of the victors. The following two years saw the Savoyan and Imperial forces advancing up the Susa and Chisone valleys, retaking the French fortresses at Exilles and Fenestrelle, finally liberating the territory up to the watershed of the Alps. The


guns of the captured fortresses were re-oriented to defend against possible French invasion. The wars continued mainly in Spain and France, where the coalition army under the Duke of Marlborough continued victoriously over French forces, but it was becoming clear that no-one could win by pure military dominance. The only solution was negotiation. In the year 1713 the city of Utrecht became the place where history was made – the great powers argued, bargained and horse-traded – the borders of Europe were redrawn, territory changed hands, Spain became Bourbon, Philip of Anjou became King of Spain and Vittorio Amedeo became King of Sicily. The former Spanish island of Sicily was conceded in virtue of his claim to the throne of Spain while the upper Susa and Chisone valleys were formally assigned to him by right of conquest. Fenestrelle became part of the new Kingdom.

Genesis of the Fortress. On the 13th of August 1713, at the Parish Church of Fenestrelle, the local inhabitants took an oath of loyalty to their new "King of Sicily" and his descendants. These lands were once again Piedmontese, but the French had by no means swallowed their defeat, and constantly schemed to regain the "vallées cedées" (lost valleys). Vittorio Amedeo thus entrusted his Principal Military Engineer, Antonio Bertola, with the task of reviewing the defensive structures of the recently retaken valleys. Given the limited funding at his disposal, Bertola could do little but reinforce the former French forts Mutin and Tre Denti to better respond to French attack. It was during this period (1718) that the first of the Piedmontese redoubts, the famous "Devil's Garret", a panoramic and windswept lookout point above the Tre Denti fort, was built.

This is also the period when Bourbon Spain attacked and retook Sicily.


Without a navy of any size, Vittorio Amedeo had few options. Trying to retake far-off Sicily was not one of them. He was forced to negotiate with the Austrian Emperor for the island of Sardinia, already partly held by the Spanish, and with heavy debts owing to Austria. Despite these negative aspects and Austrian reluctance, title to the island was transferred from Austria to Vittorio Amedeo who relinquished his empty title of King of Sicily and was invested as His Royal Highness, King of Sardinia in 1719. The question now became: How long before France marches down to retake the “vallées cedées” following the example of their cousins and Sicily? Antonio Bertola had no doubt that the defences of Fenestrelle were insufficient to hold back a French attack for more than a few weeks and drafted a project for a large fortress which would completely bar the valley. For mainly financial reasons, this plan was not put into action until ten years later, when the King finally admitted that Fenestrelle was too vulnerable to leave as it was and instructed the new Principal Engineer, Ignazio Bertola, Antonio Bertola’s son, to formulate a suitable plan to close off the Chisone Valley once and for all. The young Bertola completely reviewed and improved his father's Chisone project, and presented the King with his plan for the great Alpine barrier that was to become the Fortress of Fenestrelle. The 8th of October 1727 saw the formal presentation of the Statements of Work for the construction contracts; work began in March 1728, and setting the standard for future years, proceeded until November, when despite the need for speed, weather conditions necessitated closure of the sites until the following spring. The working day was from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. As promised by Ignazio Bertola, the first garrison was in position by 1730. During the course of the next 60 years, a workforce of about 4000 people built this cyclopean giant of a fortress. Its epic proportions soon began to take on the form that Bertola had envisaged. The Great Wall rose to embrace the entire mountainside from Fenestrelle to the top of Mount Pinai at 1800 metres above sea level. Its armament was considered prodigious for the times, with 158 cannons

arraigned in a spectacular series of fortified gun positions extending upwards from Fort San Carlo, originally the lowest part of the complex, in a breathtaking series of titanic steps, redoubts, batteries, curtain walls and bastions all the way to the Elmo Redoubt of the Delle Valli Fort. This dominates the entire area thanks to the 360 degree coverage provided by its strategically sited cannons.

Work began at the top, deforesting the mountain then forming the giant steps of its foundations and excavating more than 5 million cubic metres of the green serpentine rock to build the three upper forts. Four gigantic defensive trenches spanned by bridges are visible signs of the herculean efforts involved in the process of building this invulnerable barrier. Only the best materials were used, and every natural feature was used to the best advantage of military functionality. Carefully chosen angles and gun positions ensured total coverage of the valley and its accesses. The harsh winters and the altitude made snow an ever-present problem – solved by what may possibly be the longest stairway in the world built into the curtain wall itself. This runs all the way from the parade ground of the lower fort, the area called Fort San Carlo, to the centre of the upper fort over 3 km away. It takes a fit man about an hour to climb the 4000 steps to the top. For those of you who recall the annual foot race to the top of the Empire State Building, its 1752 steps would take you to about the Santa Barbara Redoubt - half way to the top of Fenestrelle. Curtain walls, storehouses, bastions, redoubts, workshops, water supplies, wells, access roads, tunnels, bridges, a chapel, powder houses, a forge, a VIP entrance with stables and apartments, barracks, Officers quarters, a Palace for the Governor, a Church, semaphore and optical signaling points all formed part of the project. Construction concluded with the completion of the barracks in San Carlo, the Governor’s Palace and lastly the Officer’s Pavilion, formally opened in September 1789. It was the pride of the Kingdom of Sardinia.


It was built to resist siege for at least 6 months. This was slightly longer than the “logistics window” between any two winters in which a French army could cross the Alps (normally no earlier than May), organize its supply chain, march into position, prepare its own defences against counter-attack, successfully conclude the siege and be inside the fort before October. If this could not be guaranteed, a strategic withdrawal was necessary before the winter rains and snows prevented it from recrossing the Alps and almost certainly losing its artillery as well as a proportion of the army. At least that was the theory. It assumed that the attack would come down the valley, the shortest distance from France to Turin. But in 1796, Napoleon’s army didn’t come down the valley. It crossed the Maritime Alps lower down, won decisive battles against incompetent Generals and captured Turin without a seige. The Kingdom was annexed to France. The humbled King Vittorio Amedeo III, inept grandson of his illustrious namesake, instructed the Governors of the Piedmontese fortresses to surrender without combat, as ordered by the French. Like the other major Savoyan fortresses of Chambery, Bard, Exilles, Demonte and Brunetta, Napoleon ordered the demolition of Fenestrelle. However, its sheer size, along with a genuine belief in its invulnerability (and its suitability as a prison), caused the very man charged with its destruction, Napoleon’s friend and fellow artillery-man, General Marmont, to risk his career and speak out in its defence. It is to Marmont that we are indebted for persuading Napoleon to reverse his decision to demolish Fenestrelle, leaving it as the sole surviving example of 18th Century Piedmontese mountain fortifications today. A French garrison took over in 1797. They had the curious honour of being the only ones to ever fire at an enemy! In 1799, the Russian General Suvarov, at the head of a Russian-Austrian army recaptured Turin and pushed up the Chisone valley. He was halted by warning shots fired from the highest point of Fenestrelle. He turned back without ever attacking the fort, having seen its size and defences.


Among its other “virtues” Fenestrelle made an ideal prison, being remote and desolate (roads had never been built beyond that point in order not to facilitate French invasion). It became the 9th Bastille of France. Its most notable “guest” in the period of Napoleonic occupation was Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca, Secretary of State to Pope Pius VII. His “crime” was allegedly having persuaded the Pope to excommunicate Napoleon following his insistence for a divorce from Josephine de Beauharnais in order to marry Maria Louise of Austria. Pacca underwent the strictest of solitary confinement in a small chamber in the Officer’s Pavilion from 1809 until 1813. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, the Fortress was returned more or less intact to the new King, Victor Emanuel I. Basic maintenance and some restoration work took place. A courtroom was established in what had been Cardinal Pacca’s chamber to try “collaborators” and Jacobins. It was only in the 1830’s under Charles Albert, that further significant work began. The patchedup and inefficient Fort Mutin was demolished to build a new redoubt, named in honour of the King who gave Piedmont its much-wanted Constitution. The “Carlo Alberto” Redoubt was completed in 1850, the year after his abdication in favour of Vittorio Emanuele II following the Battle of Novara, the last of the humiliating series of defeats inflicted on the Piedmontese army by the Austrian Field Marshall Radetzky during what is known as the “First War of Independence”. The Kingdom of Sardinia was allied to France during the 2nd and 3rd Wars of Independence and the Unification of Italy, but then once again France became the enemy. The 1870’s saw the years of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria and further improvements to the Fortress, mainly to armament, but with no radical changes to the infrastructure other than the substitution of a number of open emplacements with enclosed structures called casemates to house the new, more powerful guns, typically the GRC 120 and GRC 150 RET. These were cast iron, breech loading 119 mm and 149 mm cannon with rifled barrels.


The advances in armament technology, in particular, the advent of the rifled barrel and delay fusing of explosive projectiles sounded the death-knell for traditionally-built fortresses. They became vulnerable on two fronts – attack from a distance and the inability to resist penetrative explosive shells. The rifled barrels (finally) permitted long-distance precision, rendering useless the close range defences which had precluded heavy artillery attack in the past. Unfortunately, Bertola had not been able to foresee the use of high explosives. The walls were built to withstand impact damage, hammer blows by the solid shot or even the explosive mortar-launched “bombs” – hollow cast-iron spheres filled with gunpowder and triggered by a slow-burning fuse. Impact resistance was provided by the nature of the structure – large blocks on the outside, smaller, flat, overlaid plates within, bonded by mortar, allowing a certain degree of compression and impact absorption before ultimately being forced to collapse gradually under the hammer-blows of the attack. This characteristic of all early fortresses demanded enormous resources from the beseigers, but given tenacity, would ultimate cause the demolition of part of the wall, allowing either an attack through the gap or in many cases, justified the capitulation of the defenders when the gap exceeded a certain size. The “modern” delayed fuze allowed the projectile to penetrate some distance into the structure before it exploded. The result was catastrophic - almost instant demolition. The combination of long range accuracy and explosive warheads could not be resisted by traditionally-built fortresses, and a series of satellite fortresses, such as the Serre Marie, Gran Serin, Gran Costa and several others were built around the main Fenestrellian complex. Their purpose was to oblige the enemy to deal with many “active” targets and consequently to enlarge the defensive capabilities of the valley as a whole. These new fortresses were also typically multi-level, with gun emplacements one over the top of the other, to provide a higher firepower for any given size of fortress, in line with the “modern” philosophy proposed by Montalambert.


The First World War saw another change of alliance, once again with Italy allied to France and heavy fighting in the Venetian Alps against her former Alliance partners - Austria. Fenestrelle, in the West of Italy, never directly saw action in the First World War, but a far-off event caused a radical and irrecoverable change to the fortress. In September 1917, a surprise 50-kilometre thrust by the Austrians completely over-ran the Italian lines near Caporetto, causing the loss of most of the Italian artillery. Frantic preparations were made for a “last-ditch” defensive line on the Piave river. Artillery for this was sequestered from all available sources. The mighty guns of Fenestrelle finally saw action – not against France in an Alpine valley, but against Austria in the Dolomites. Neither the guns nor the artillerymen ever returned to Fenestrelle. The cold bleak walls of the fortress once again became silent witness to human suffering. Hundreds of prisoners, mainly deserters, filled its buildings, transformed into cells. The last of the prisoners were released in 1924. The Second World War saw the fortress used by the partisans of the Autonomous Chisone Valley Brigade, bombed by the Germans and heavily damaged by explosives placed by the partisans in their attempts to prevent German encirclement during the combined SS and Fascist attempts to wipe them out during Operation Nachtigall (Nightingale) in the summer of 1944. However, it survived the war, and once again became home to the soldiers of the Alpine Regiment – but not for long. The 1947 Treaty of Paris following the end of the war underlined that France has not forgotten about Italy’s attempted “stab-in-the-back” invasion in June 1940. Among other things, all Italian military establishments within 25Km of the redrawn frontier with France were to be obligatorily suppressed. And so the 200 year-old fort of Fenestrelle, within this arbitrary limit, was decommissioned and abandoned. It may be hard to believe, considering its dimensions, but even this immense giant was vulnerable! Not against the assault techniques it had been built to resist, but against what might best be described as human superficiality. Which


meant that this immense fortress became simply a gigantic warehouse of building material for anyone who wished to come and take it away. The decades which followed its decommissioning in 1947 saw one of Piedmont’s priceless heritages relentlessly ransacked by hordes of predators and vandals as it lay defenceless, tormented and to all intents and purposes, abandoned by the very authorities under whose charge it ostensibly lay. Wartime damage and the subsequent widening of the state highway left the Carlo Alberto Redoubt half-demolished, offering little clue to its mighty ancestry. A huge breach and tons of rubble was all that remained of the 7th rampart. To be truthful, very few people, particularly the politicians, cared about the fortress any more. Abandoned to its destiny, it was just a relic of former authority, despised and plundered by many of the local people. On the slopes of Mount Pinai, Nature had begun to reclaim its own. Fastgrowing vegetation made a frontal attack, soon overwhelming the open ground and embedding its roots between the stones which had been painstakingly laid by earnest men with skills greater than those of their descendants. Like in “Sleeping Beauty”, the trees surrounded and hid the walls from sight. The once-mighty fortress just disappeared. The 'Great Wall of Piedmont', a theoretically invulnerable construction, built to withstand every possible kind of attack known to the greatest military strategists of the 18th Century, the greatest defensive structure ever built in Europe, seemed relentlessly and inexorably condemned to oblivion. This incredibly vast architectural masterpiece, built by the sweat of generations of nameless craftsmen and humble labourers, found itself disdainfully considered as trivial by the new class of post-war politicians, many of whom scarcely knew (or cared) where it lay on a map, becoming an embarrassing and unwanted orphan practically overnight following the conclusion of the 2nd World War. The last King of Italy lost his kingdom in the 1948 referendum which made Italy a Republic. Everything associated with Fascism and the Royal House of Savoy became despised and denigrated.


The decades passed. The fortress was relentlessly plundered for its precious materials – roof stones, paving stones, timber beams, ironwork, stairways, handrails, fireplaces – anything of saleable or useable value. The forest advanced, gaining ground, invading, reclaiming its own, thrusting roots deep into the stonework, opening passages for rain and the melting snows of the Spring to penetrate. These became icy wedges which levered and split the stones as the night-time temperatures fell below zero. Desolation and dampness reigned supreme. The fortress was lost and largely forgotten, becoming a pharaonic adventure playground for local youths despite parental admonishments about the dangers and risks which lurked within. But perhaps unlike their parents, some of these very youths, and some of their friends came to realize that this immense construction was part of their heritage, part of their history, something which merited much more than just being known as “the ruins of the Fort”. And so an idea was born – an idea which was scorned and denigrated by many of those who saw it as an interruption of their “right to pillage” fortress? And so the idea of an Association to save the fortress began to take shape. This was the embryo from which the San Carlo Project Association was born. To be honest, this kind of idea only comes to those without the faintest idea of what such a task involves. You need to be unconscious of the scale of the work, the physical effort it will involve, the enemies it will generate, the time it will take. Amongst them there needs to be a “driver” – someone with the enthusiasm and ability to work like a slave, overcome the difficulties, encourage others to take part, recruit volunteers, research the history and not least, have the administrative skills to turn an impossible challenge into reality. In the course of the years, hundreds of volunteers have given their contribution. Their work has transformed Fenestrelle into what it is today. But one person stands head and shoulders above the others, for she was, and still

– why not attempt to “recover” the

is, “The Driver”. Without her, this Fortress would almost certainly be just another ruin, instead of being the thriving, vibrant entity we have come to know and appreciate. Piedmont in general owes a significant debt to this resolute, determined and above all, totally honest lady, Mara Celegato, who has dedicated her life to saving the Fortress of Fenestrelle from destruction. Her continuity through the tenures of our Presidents – Marino Samuel, PierGiuseppe Manassaro, Juri Bossuto and Mario Reviglio, has been instrumental in this magnificent achievement. The physical restoration is not an end in itself but should be seen more a means towards the cultural and touristic development of the area. It started slowly in 1990. The pioneers were mainly from from the Pro Loco of Fenestrelle – young people, idealists, dreamers, but with indomitable spirit and a determination to do what they could to salvage the fortress from an inglorious doom. The scale of devastation was almost beyond belief. Their efforts might seem like using a teaspoon to empty an ocean. Without sponsorship or formal backing, they self-funded their entire work, including buying the necessary tools. One by one the many difficulties and dangers were overcome, including tree-felling to clear pathways. Following basic work to ensure safety, the first itineraries were planned and the first visitors were shown round the limited area which was possible at that time. Families and friends were “press-ganged” into helping and the considerable amount of hard physical labour began to show results by the end of the season. Safety is one of the primary objectives! This became tragically evident when, despite the signs which prohibit unauthorized entry, someone entered, slipped and fells to his death. A Local bye-law was promulgated: Visitors are only authorized if accompanied. Even today, and despite vastly improved safety features compared to those of the early days, this rule is justifiably practiced for any excursions beyond the area of Fort San Carlo in the interests of the visitor.


It is evident that formal authority must be involved, particularly as the fortress technically still belongs to the State, so approval was sought for opening the fortress to the public. To faithfully detail the actual work that went into this would take many hours, so permit me to provide a thumbnail sketch on a year by year basis: 1991 Work parties were organized again, and approval was given by the State (Superintendence of Finance and Ministry of Culture) to opening the Fort to the public. Local politicians gave their support. The parade ground reappeared, following the removal of tons of soil and debris. A certain amount of interest was being generated, and this required to be channeled into improved planning for the following season. 1992 The first brochures were printed, and local press and TV provided some coverage. Such publicity was more than welcome, and the first “café” and toilet facilities were constructed. Word was beginning to get round, and a considerable number of interested visitors were shown round during the course of the summer and autumn. A few of these offered themselves as volunteers. New blood is always welcome – there are hundreds of things to do, from minor repairs to serious reconstruction, all carried out with diligence under the careful guidance of those with the necessary skills. 1993 The State gave approval to cut down the trees that were damaging the buildings and curtain walls. This is one of the most serious problems we are still facing. Even with the authorization, many trees are in dangerous, hard-toreach places and can only be reached with considerable difficulty. Educational courses in Environmental Studies took place with the patronage of the Mountain Community. We set up an Insurance policy for visitors. Tullio Contino authored the first book on the Fortress following considerable research in the state and military archives. This set the scene for further research, and is still one of the primary works available on the fortress. As part of the plan to encourage people to think of the fortress as somewhere to visit for pleasure

purposes, our horizon expanded to comprise the arts – primarily music, and the first musical concerts took place during the August holiday period. The first full-day visits round the fortress were organized. This was then an adventurous trip involving some climbing and ropework, and is not for the unfit nor the faint-hearted! On the formal side, a formal recovery plan was drawn up and presented to the authorities.

1994 A Convention was stipulated with Municipality of Fenestrelle. Clean-up began with the gigantic ovens of the high fort. These had been filled with debris and rubble. To our astonishment, we found them to be in nearly perfect state inside. They are peculiar because the rear of the ovens are accessible for maintenance, and served as part of the heating system of the fortress. The first theatrical presentation was staged, in front of a surprisingly large crowd. People began to come to visit the fort in ever greater numbers. A technical report was prepared in conjunction with the Mountain Community for urgent repairs. Noting that 20 million lire had been made available by the Piedmont Region for the Fort of Exilles, the report is submitted to the Region and a sum of 3 million lire is granted. Thanks to a local impresario, a drawbridge for the entrance to Fort San Carlo was built and installed. It is a perfect replica of the original, based on the plan still available in the State Archives in Turin. 1995 This was the year of the “Interreg II” programme. The Region, the Orsiera-Rocciavrè Park, “Energie S.p.A” of Bolzano and others contributed more than 20 million lire. This sum allowed the initial recovery of the Governor’s Palace, the Church and the ground floor of the Officers’ Pavillion. It was a major step forward in the development of the fortress as a tourist attraction. Combined with the “new” drawbridge, the impact on visitors was considerably improved, making an enormous difference in their perception of the fort, now no longer a “ruin” but a living, functional entity, full of fascination and attraction.


Needless to say, other restorations were ongoing, thanks to the never-ending enthusiasm of the small army of volunteers who manage to remove all the debris from the well in the Officers’ Pavilion and restore the original water conduits running down from the Tre Denti Fort, some 200 metres higher up the slope. It is interesting to note that a simple but effective pressure reduction system had been incorporated by the original builders. This is still in use today. During the course of the cleanout, a remarkable discovery was made – a “secret” cistern lies immediately ahead of the well cistern in the cellar of the Officers’ Pavillion. This is not on any of the official maps and raised much speculation as to its function. The subsequent discovery of an access flagstone seemed to indicate that this cistern could be used if the well itself was deliberately sabotaged or contaminated. Simultaneously, and thanks to the participation of the editor Roberto Marra, the first edition of the “Fenestrelle Book Fair” was held for almost the whole of August. This attracted many summer visitors, and has become a regular August feature at “Le Fenestrelle”.

1996 Building on our initial experience, the 2nd Book Fair took place again in August, this time associated with theatre productions, more tree-felling, installation of fences, improvements to pathways, cleaning up and restoring parts of the external stairways. Finally we managed to clean up the crypt of the church. In its time, this had been converted to solitary-confinement cells for prisoners, and gave access to a curious chute system connected directly to an underground morgue. Towards the end of the year, a grant from the Province of Turin allowed the installation of an illumination system, but the inauguration was held over until the Spring of the following year.

1997 The inauguration of the illumination system turned the awakening giant into a beacon whose geometric beauty still amazes travelers as they come down the valley. Some 100 or so floodlights bring the lower third of the fortress, a series of titanic steps formed by the 28 miniature fortresses which characterize the lower part of Fenestrelle, cascading down the mountainside


into sharp nocturnal relief in seeming endless succession. We staged the first night visits, turning exploration into adventure and found time to write the first “autonomous” book (La Fortezza di Fenestrelle) produced by members themselves. Always attentive of our social function of attracting and where possible providing employment, we entered into a convention with local authorities to employ people in “socially useful” tasks. These people, otherwise unemployed, have done a significant amount of work at Fenestrelle with diligence and skill – grass cutting, pathway management, general handiwork, safety improvements, minor maintenance etc., - just some of the dozens of small tasks which need performing in an edifice of this size every day. We are proud to have been able to share our dream with them and hope we have given them back their self-esteem for their accomplishments. The unstinting efforts of the San Carlo Project Association to find sponsors for the multitude of restoration projects bore fruit when Province of Turin, signed a convention with the Association for the conservation and promotion of the Fortress. Funds were requested from the Region of Piedmont to re-roof the Officers’ Pavillion. It would be several years before the re-roofing was finally achieved, but it was worth anticipating the result of the overall restoration of the Officers’ Pavilion from a near-derelict shell to the handsome edifice of today.

1998 Basic needs were not forgotten, and a new set of toilets were built with funds provided by the Province of Turin. Alberto Angela and his staff visited the fortress where they made a TV documentary for “SuperQuark”. This had a significant publicity effect, has been repeated a number of times, and many visitors have mentioned that their stimulus to visit the fortress was triggered by the programme. A further 40 million lire were budgeted by the Region for the continuing cultural-touristic activities. The crypt of the church was completely redecorated as a theatre area.


A request was made to the Province of Turin that Fenestrelle should be accorded the honour of “Monument Symbol” of the Province. 1999. With a unanimous vote on the 7th of April, the Turin Province Council nominated Fenestrelle as its “Monument Symbol” . The first 200 million lire (about 100.000 Euro) were assigned for the roofing work of the Officer’s Pavillion. A second tranche of 200 million lire was made available at the end of the year. Various steel gates were installed at strategic points to impede unauthorized visitors. Fort San Carlo was provided with a 25kW electricity supply. 2000. The new roof of the Officers’ Pavillion was installed. Continuous recovery of damaged stonework, tree cutting, safety fences, bridge-building took place. Future improvements such as the restoration of the Main (Royal) Entrance were planned. It is worth mentioning that long-term planning is essential to our operation. A restoration project on this scale needs a significant amount of funding, most of which is government money, one way or another. And this means careful planning, attention to detail, scrupulous honesty and a high degree of competence, recognized by those who hold the purse strings. As a certain number of former visitors are attracted to the idea of showing others round the Fortress, we began to hold courses for guides. This has proved an excellent solution, benefitting not only the new guides but also the “older” guides who are doing the teaching. The young guides also have practical training, in company with the regular guides, allowing them to see that no two groups are identical and how group management is achieved. For us it is essential that our visitors return home feeling that their day has been worthwhile, that as a minimum, we have lived up to their expectations. We depend on word-ofmouth publicity, which our visitors provide. This is why we train our guides so thoroughly. We re-organized the concept of the night visits on a monthly basis, calling them the “Tales of the Ancient Walls”. These are conducted in period costume, mainly reenacting episodes from the early 1800’s, during the period

of the Napoleonic occupation of Piedmont. These itinerant and highly spectacular visits have become so successful that we need to impose a limit on the number of guests who would like to participate! 2001 We began an ambitious but essential project to enlarge our now toosmall café. Corvèes (or work parties) were set up and we began the search for the materials, seeking to recover the original paving flagstones from within the most damaged of the soldiers’ quarters. These were carefully removed and manhandled in relays down several flights of steps to the outside of the building. Each stone is about 10 cm thick, generally about 90 cm long and about 70 to 80 cm wide. On average, a stone like this weighs about 120 kilos. Having found an authentic floor, the new walls were built using stone from partly demolished, non-recoverable buildings. An excellent copy of a “capriate” roof beam structure supports the stone-tiled roof. It was a big improvement, and well worth the toil and effort. The Summer Book Fair sponsored by the book company “Piemonte in Bancarella” is now a regular event with thousands of visitors, flanked by theatrical and operatic productions. 2002. Consolidation of the roofwork of the Belvedere Fort at 1800 metres was essential, since the winter snows had shifted some of the roof stones. This was quite a big job, needing volunteers from the local mountain rescue team in safety harnesses working at 40 metres above the ground level. Safety for our visitors has always been paramount, and we regularly check that all pathways on our visit routes are free from danger. The covered stairway also needed some attention to repair ice damage. As you can understand, even routine maintenance on a structure as large as this needs a considerable number of helpers. Scouts come for summer camps and do an incredible amount of useful work, even cleaning up and rebuilding some of the damaged internal stairways. 2002 was also the year when finally, after many years of hard work to first prevent total destruction and then much care and attention to begin its authentic recovery, our Association was formally granted a 20-year concession by the Italian Government for the cultural use and maintenance of the fortress.

2003. Once again we were indebted to the Scout teams who did continuous work to consolidate the 2500 steps of the “Scala Reale” from the Tre Denti to the Belvedere fort. We encouraged some military folklore groups to perform a “Siege of Fenestrelle” with cannons and muskets. Events like this draw considerable crowds, which is all good publicity for us. The siege itself was, of course, an invention of ours. We know full well that the fortress has never come under siege by anyone in its entire history, but particularly when the attack and defence activity continues well beyond dusk, the flash and bang of cannons and muskets and bands of soldiers in period costume attempting to storm the buildings makes for interesting entertainment.

2004. Thanks to the significant amount of necessary funds being made available by the Province of Torino and the Piedmont Regional authorities, work started on recovery of the Main or Royal Entrance and its external stairway. This was one of the largest recovery attempts in the entire fort, and took over a year to complete! In April of that year, the Fortress was used for the Oath-taking ceremony of the 1st Regiment, Nizza Cavalry, at the end of which, John Elkan, grandson of Giovanni Agnelli, was accorded the title of “Honorary Dragoon”. 2005. The opening ceremony and inauguration of the Main Entrance was attended by a large number of people, all keen to see what had been done and to admire the magnificent job which had been done. We now have a large area for use as a conference centre and the Fortress is beginning to get back into shape. However, much work remained and we ended the year by cleaning up the Western Tennailes and the terracing behind the Officers’ Pavillion. 2006. This was the year of the Winter Olympics. We received a huge amount of publicity due to TV coverage, mainly from the CBS and the Austrian Broadcasting teams.


During this period, the fortress was honoured to host the Canadian artist Gordon Halloran and his “Painting with Ice” exhibition. We also found the time to clean out the main well at the Delle Valli fort of all trash and debris which earlier looters had left.

2007. A significant improvement to our “maquillage” took place when all three roofs of the garrison quarters in Fort San Carlo were taken down and rebuilt. During this renovation, the heavily-damaged Engineers’ store-house was repaired and completely recovered. It now houses a “Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments”. 2008 In a moving, poignant ceremony, a memorial to the thousands of prisoners of war, soldiers of the Bourbonic Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, who “disappeared” at Fenestrelle during the “Unification of Italy” in the 1860’s, was unveiled by a surviving member of the Bourbon family. This memorial plaque has been installed in perhaps the most fitting place for it – in one of the terrible prison cells one used to hold these prisons, whose “crime” was to reject the offer to change sides! Towards the end of the year, the main drawbridge at the Delle Valli fort was also completely rebuilt. The security of the main entrance at the “Temple” (so-called due to its form) is now vastly enhanced. A number of wooden placards have been placed to identify various aspects of the upper fort.

Current programme of work and activities The latest achievement is certainly the façade of the Church. This has been considerably restored, making a vast difference to its appearance, and certainly improves the look of the parade square. Despite everything we have accomplished to date, we feel there is much much more to do, and so we constantly seek worthwhile projects and their funding. We come under strict control by various authorities, so we can really only propose. The decisions are then political. At present the Province of Turin is

working on its own project which contemplates a flying bridge to cross the road from the Carlo Alberto Redoubt into the cutting below San Carlo, and the installation of a wooden pavement up the old carriage road to the Main Entrance on the Mentoulle side. While not being much practical use to the fortress as a whole, it is an interesting idea, and may bring other visitors. Of the useful things to do, the “original” Fort Mutin is receiving a lot of attention by our volunteers as are certain areas of the Delle Valli Fort. Overall, this highest part of the Fortress is badly in need of work to consolidate its structure and prevent damp infiltration from destroying its structure. There is much rebuilding which could be done, and the pillars of the “Ponte Rosso” (the Red Bridge) which crosses the largest of the four defensive trenches which separate the three elements of the upper fort need attention. Perhaps our largest problem, and a relatively easy one to solve, is the number of trees now growing in the walls. These send their roots down into the structure, opening passages and letting water in. This freezes in the winter, damaging the structure. Suitably skilled and equipped volunteers could deal with this before the damage becomes catastrophic. It would also be nice to rebuild the troops’ washing areas and clear away the rubble from many of the internal stairways, perhaps even renovate the upper part of the bastions below the Tre Denti. Every time I take visitors around I see other things to do, but I’m sure that little by little, with the care and determination which is characteristic of the San Carlo Project Association members, we will achieve what we set out to do – renovate “our” Fortress, and allow it to become a focal point for tourism in the area, generate local pride in this achievement, use it as a pedagogic instrument, an interesting and practical vehicle to supplement the “History” which is taught in schools, bringing it alive through these ancient walls. So far we believe we have gone in the right direction, tomorrow will tell if we have been right. The main marvel of the majority of visitors is that this giant receives so little publicity. Although we have a fine web site, most people get to know about it through friends or acquaintances who have visited us earlier. To a certain extent this is gratifying – it means that our visitors go home with positive

memories, tell their friends and thus become our publicity. It also means we need to do more. Perhaps in its way, this document itself will “spread the word” even further, and it only remains for me, therefore, to encourage you to come and visit the Fortress of Fenestrelle, to see for yourselves what it is today, imagine what it could become tomorrow, immerse yourselves in living History, feel what it is like to step back in time, marvel at the sheer dimensions of its defensive structures, savour the gymnastics of the “Royal Walk” as you toil up the seeming endless stairways, visit the various museums and exhibitions within I am sure it will be for you, like for many others, a truly unforgettable experience. © Ashleigh Hogg 2009 The author: Ashleigh Hogg is an aeronautical engineer, historian and researcher,
particularly with regard to Piedmontese history. He is a member of the San Carlo Project Association and has regularly conducted visitors around the Fortress of Fenestrelle since 1999. He was a consultant historian for the international TV crews during 2006 Winter Olympics, the Technical Director for the “World Air Games 2009” Organization and is currently the Product Support Director for Aeromnia. This presentation was prepared for an International Conference entitled “Protecting the Cultural Heritage: From Risk to Security” hosted by the St John International University in June 2009.