Aiming to consolidate his power throughout Tuscany, Duke Cosimo I dei Medici pursued a promotional policy of great public works throughout his long reign. Among these projects and for obvious reasons, defense construction was given absolute priority; in fact, in this period, many of the fortresses in the lands belonging to the Tuscan Grand Duchy were built or strengthened.
The master architects of these great works included, among others, Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo, Giovanbattista Bellucci and Bernardo Buontalenti. These last two were among the most qualified architects in this sector and, in different moments and with different solutions, they were responsible for the Renaissance renovations of the old Pistoian fortress of Santa Barbara.
Popular legend which has been accepted by local historians says that in medieval times the fortress - built by the Florentines in the first half of the fourteenth century during the reconstruction of the city walls, was called San Barnaba because of its vicinity to the Chapel dedicated to that saint. Only later was it given the name of Santa Barbara.
During the Renaissance period the fortification was first enlarged, with a project overseen by Bellucci who was responsible at that time for redoing the city's entire defense system. Bellucci's work was based on a project by the architect Nanni Unghero who had planned a quadrilateral structure with bastions at the four corners and a deep ditch running around the perimeter, with no decoration of any sort.
Later Bernardo Buontalenti incorporated this construction into a new bastion connected to the city walls thus giving the fortress the imposing look that it still has today. In all its history the fortress has only undergone one attack, in the mid seventeenth century when the Papal troops attacked Pistoia but were held back by its strong bastions.
At the end of the 1700s the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo decided to disarm the fortress as part of his wide program of reform. Although it lost is role as a fortification to defend the city, the Santa Barbara fortress maintained its military function first as a barracks then as a prison and an army administration headquarters.
Today important restoration projects are trying to redeem this great city monument from its state of abandonment.
Comune di Pistoia