VINADIO, The Albertinian Fortress

The history

Today anyone arriving in Vinadio is impressed by the imposing bulk of its Albertinian Fortress, which characterises a large part of the historic centre of this town. King Charles Emmanuel III had already thought of strengthening the defence system of the Stura Valley in 1744 during the war against the Franco-Spaniards, but it was only at the end of the century that the final decision was made and King Charles Albert chose Vinadio as a strategic location to be fortified. The barrage was not only used to both defend and control the transit along the Stura Valley, but also along the other side valleys connecting Italy to France. It was designed by the engineer named Barabino, with interventions of two other engineers Mr. Chiodo and Mr. Racchia. Even the parish church dedicated to San Fiorenzo risked being demolished and it was only spared thanks to the intervention of the sovereign himself. Today in its right aisle we can still see a plaque, which was placed there as a memorial and thanksgiving. Nevertheless, as many as 42 houses as well as the cemetery and the confraternity of St. Anne were sacrificed. The construction of the fortress started on 24th August 1834 and went on until 1847. It was indeed a construction site of gigantic proportions as it employed up to 4,000 people mainly from the Biella and Bergamo areas. The final result of this massive work is a fortress that today is considered one of the best examples of engineering and military technique and which is second only to the Fenestrelle Fort in Piedmont. The overall length of the walls is about 1,200 metres and in some places the height exceeds 18 metres with a thickness of 2 metres at the base.
It must be said that the gigantic complex was never the scene of any major war events. By the time the building was completed, the enemy front had moved towards Austria. The subsequent political events led the Savoy kingdom to sign an alliance with the French and, as a consequence of this, the fortress was not armed. In 1862 it was used as a prison for the Garibaldinians, who had been stopped on the Aspromonte to prevent them from marching on Rome. In 1939 the fortress was partly reactivated as a barrage at the bottom of the valley.

The fortress and its defence system

It is divided into several fronts: the Upper Front consists mainly of pillboxes and artillery defence posts; the Attack Front is located along the main access road to the Maddalena Pass and insists on the town centre, where cannons, howitzers and other artillery pieces were deployed. It is surrounded by a double moat that can only be crossed by drawbridges. It is served internally by three levels of walkways and connecting corridors.
In the 1880s, after the signing of the Triple Alliance, Vinadio had to adapt to the new demands of territorial defence, which was then necessary in light of the technical evolution of both artillery and military strategy. The two external batteries of Neghino and Sarziera were built, thus extending the radius of action from three to five kilometres. The works were then further strengthened by the construction of other defensive posts and shelters in the side valleys.
Today, numerous paths and trails lead to the military structures that were added to the Albertinian Fortress over time: the Piroat battery was built in 1897: it fielded six cannons and was equipped with two shafts communicating via a system of hoists with the underground storerooms; from here, a tunnel of over 100 metres led to the charge workshop and powder magazine. The Serziera battery was built between 1885 and 1887, it was equipped with gunports aimed at Valle Fredda on one side and at Vinadio on the other. But the most interesting part is certainly the Neghino fort, an elliptical masonry structure on two floors. It was built in 1875 in order to defend the Neraissa valley. As it was entirely enclosed by a moat, it was accessed by a drawbridge. It was armed with howitzers, but the loopholes were walled up after the war when the structure was used as a shelter for shepherds.

The fortress today

In the 1950s, the complex was decommissioned by the military administration and abandoned. After some major restoration work, the Fortress has once again become a cultural identity site thanks to the contribution of the Piedmont Region, the Municipality of Vinadio, the Marcovaldo Cultural Association (until 2016) and the Artea Foundation (as of 2017). Today it hosts several permanent exhibions with multimedia installations and tours for schools and families. “Montagna in movimento” offers an interpretation of the mountain as a living and dynamic space, a place of encounter and frontier, as opposed to the vision that sees the Alpine world as a peripheral space destined to extinction. The “Messaggeri alati” exhibition is also of great interest as it aims to recover the history of the military dovecote that the Fortress housed from the end of the 19th century to 1944. Interactive video installations bridge the temporal leap from notes carried in flight by carrier pigeons to the virtual text messages of today's mobile phones, reminding everyone that we live in a world still wounded by war, in which a dove becomes the symbol conveying a message of peace.


Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translation: Europa 92
Copywrite and research: Laura Marino


ATL del Cuneese


Raffaella Degioanni