Forteresse de Salses was built between 1497 and 1504, at the order of Ferdinand II of Aragon. It was designed by engineer Francisco Ramiro Lopez, the king’s commander and artillery master, to block access to France from Roussillon. It was originally destined to replace a previous château, from which the town takes its name (Salses-le-Château). The earliest records of this château, situated on a neighbouring rocky outcrop, date back to 1007, and it was destroyed during a siege in 1496.
The Fortress of Salses is a masterpiece of military architecture, designed to protect against the recently developed metal cannonball. It is a prime example of the transition between the mediaeval château, with its keep and cylindrical towers with long curtain walls, and the modern fortress, with its rigorously geometric and part-buried structure. Its walls are around 10 metres thick, and the fortress is divided over seven levels served by a maze of corridors and multiple interior defensive chicanes. By virtue of the defensive plan, the fortress is divided into three entirely independent sections.
The entire system was strengthened by a vast dry moat and buffer zone and, to the east, south and north-west, by three separate, pointed towers that acted as additional, advance defensive posts.
The fortress’ location was selected because of the abundant local springs that would be useful during times of siege. It occupies a strategically important position on the main route between France and Spain, on a narrow strip of land between the Corbières mountains and the marshland bordering the lakes.
The fortress, which survived a fire in 1503 despite being unfinished, was the subject of multiple attacks by both the French and Spanish. It was besieged, changed hands in 1503, 1639 and 1640, and was finally conquered by the French in 1642 following a fourth siege. With the signature of the Treaty of the Pyrenees on November 16th, 1659, the fortress’ destiny was finally sealed, and it became the permanent property of France.
Given its distance from the border, the fortress subsequently lost its strategic importance and was threatened with demolition on several occasions because it was becoming too expensive to maintain. The fortress nevertheless survived and was repaired and transformed from 1691 onwards, under the supervision of Vauban.References:
Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.
Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.