Leonardo in Piombino

Leonardo in Piombino

Leonardo was summoned to Piombino in 1502 to serve as the military engineer to Cesare Borgia, and in 1504 to work for Jacopo IV Appiani. Among the many drawings and projects that he produced during this period, of particular interest are the plans for the Citadel, the Ravelin of Porta a Terra, walls and bastions to reinforce the town’s defenses, a new quadrangular fortress and tower, underground passageways, and projects for a new port and the Rocchetta nella Piazzarella (today Piazza G. Bovio). It is probable that of all of these projects only two were actually realized at the time – the walls and defensive fortifications facing the Citadel (which served as the ruler’s residence) ­– while construction began on one of the two towers for defence of the castle and the citadel.

  • The city of Piombino has had a long and eventful history. Rising from the ashes of the ancient Etruscan civilization, the town survived through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, until it established itself as a principality, and it is in this form that it joined the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1815. It is known that Leonardo da Vinci spent time in Piombino on two separate occasions. The first was in 1502, at the behest of Cesare Borgia, who briefly ruled the territory and sent him there to study projects for the development of the area. His second sojourn, in 1504, was dedicated the reinforcement of the town’s strategic defenses at the request of the city-state of Florence.

  • The city walls of Piombino were a point of particular interest for Leonardo. While for Cesare Borgia he concentrated primarily on two projects – the reclamation of the marshlands surrounding the town and the improvement of the road network that connected Piombino (an important port on the Tyrrhenian Sea since Etruscan times) with the rest of Tuscany – for the rulers of Florence he made a study of the town’s strategic defenses.

  • From his notebooks it is clear that on his second visit to Piombino Leonardo examined in great detail the town’s defensive walls and its castle (which was later subsumed in the walls of the fortress), and this led him to propose various significant structural additions and modifications. The fortress complex has since undergone numerous transmutations (in the mid-19th century it was taken over by the state, which used it as a prison for many decades) and today, after a thorough-going renovation, it houses a permanent museum and space for temporary exhibitions.

  • Leonardo also had occasion to study the modest port of Piombino during his second sojourn. He clearly viewed it as a weak point in the coastal defenses of the territory, and suggested that a fortified bastion be built overlooking the port, a sketch of which may be found in one of his notebooks.