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Rocca Paolina

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When visiting the Rocca Paolina, or what is left of it, one cannot but notice the impotence of the building and the strategic value it may have had in the past.

To this day we can appreciate the grandeur of the building, simply by visiting its interior thanks to a system of staircases and escalators built in the 1980’s.

Rocca Paolina was built in a rush between 1540 and 1543. The reason why Pope Paul III wanted it was not to protect the city from external forays, but to display the strength and power of a Pope who wanted to impose his rule upon the local lords, especially the Baglioni family, whose increasing degree of autonomy he did not appreciate. By building the Rocca he gave them a strong signal that the papal power was going to be defended at all costs, also from the very citizens if necessary.  Indeed, a popular uprising had just sparked against a recent tax increase (including the infamous duty on salt) imposed by the State of the Church.

The project was commissioned to Antonio di Sangallo. In his first drawings (kept in the Uffizi Galleries in Florence) the fortress was seamlessly embedded in the city without affecting its architectural balance. Unfortunately, such design was completely disregarded by Paolo III who, in order to show his muscles to the Baglioni, occupied part of their estate and also had a defensive trench dug all around the perimeter of the Rocca, causing great distress to the architecture of the city.

The fortress was erected on a strategical point that overlooked the whole city. The building is rather asymmetric – both for defensive and structural needs – and looks like the outline of a scorpion. From the two bastions in the corners, that open on Piazza Italia, the Rocca developed downhill creating a long corridor to the so-called “Claw”. This extension would facilitate, in case of siege, provision of supplies and escape towards the countryside.

As mentioned, once the construction works had been terminated, moats were dug all around the perimeter to make the building even more threatening and foreboding. These, together with other changes wanted by Pope Paul III with respect to the original project had a devastating impact on urban fabric of the surroundings. Several buildings and even entire villages were destroyed to make room for this endeavour (the village of Santa Giuliana, for instance). A total of 27 towers, 11 churches, 2 monasteries, a portion of the old Etruscan wall and about 300 houses – many of which owned by the Baglioni family – were demolished.

There following events never justified the construction of Rocca Paolina , but various sources report how it was integrated in various aspects of the city life.    There were also attempts to find new uses and purposes for it, but in fact a structural change was inevitable: it was partly demolished and its moats were filled. The demolition occurs in three phases: in 1798 by the French, 1848, and the decade of 1860 with the Unification of Italy. The reasons are many. Generally speaking it was regarded as an outdated structure that did not serve any real defensive purpose and obstructed the access to the city. Later, government institutions tried to improve their reputation with renovation works that would also create new jobs. All we have left today are the south-west buttress, the cellars and four cannons.

The structure is still used for exhibitions and shows. There also also some contemporary sculptures inside.

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