Not even Fort San Martino escapes this constant which binds all fortifications to the natural environment, which conditions them to a certain precise and unmistakable morphological situation of the ground and which makes fortifications rise and resurrect in time always on the same place. It is a construction realized with modern concepts, a fortress that seems to have no relationship with the ancient turreted castles.
A very distant news of a fort in S. Martino di Albaro comes from Stella. In the long account of the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines, which had engaged the two factions for almost three lustrums, from 1317 to 1331, we read that on May 28, 1322 the “Intrinseci”, with a large retinue of foot soldiers and knights “went to S. Martino degli Erchi (the ancient name of S. Martino d’Albaro) and strongly battled against the tower of the said place”. Even if we would like to locate this famous first tower at the point where the Fortress stands, it is impossible from that passage in the Annals to pinpoint its precise location. But that this was the Altura dell’Olivetta, also called the Hill of Papigliano and not that constant law that links the tower of the Erchi to a precise territorial situation.
A more exact reference to the place of Papigliano, i.e. to the hill where the Fort stands today, can be found in the long report that Michele Codeviola made to the Magistrate of Fortifications on 13th December 1771 in which he explained the importance of the positions of Fort Diamante, Quezzi, Richelieu and Santa Tecla and recommended the construction of a fifth Fort on the hill of Papigliano, which could have better defended the hill of Albaro and prevented the conquest of the small village of S. Martino.
In that great tactical chessboard that became the territory around the city during a siege, the place where the Fort stands today was used to control the pass towards those heights and depressions, which just a century ago dominated the fortifications of the Low Fronts of the Bisagno and from a low altitude of 97 meters above sea level the highest in a radius of 1500 meters barred the way to the sea, towards the landing places of Sturla and San Giuliano, through the Puggia valley.
The Fort was built, like the one of San Giuliano, according to certain concepts of military architecture which were based on the presence of the new and modern long-range heavy artillery and, in part, excluding a type of attack and close defense, in which the bastion, just half a century before, was the predominant and indispensable element of the whole complex.
In the almost rigidly square shape of the construction, in the overhang and in the thickness of the perimeter masonry, we can already guess what will be, in a short period of time, the actual shape of the reinforced concrete redoubt. Since Fort St. Martin, as well as a nerve point of defense was designed to accommodate a large number of soldiers, was provided with a functional barracks and released with its own fence, from the square plan of the entire fortification.
The barracks were designed and built as a rectangular three-storey building, inserted on the west side of the fort, with the entrance divided from the outside by the drawbridge and with the two sides defended by the only two “horn” bastions, almost traditional in shape. On the four sides of the perimeter, the Fort is surrounded by a deep and wide moat, rounded at the corners and in the wall of which a patrol gallery runs at half height, with loopholes for the guns every two meters.
Construction began in 1817 immediately after the annexation of Liguria to the Kingdom of Savoy and continued until 1832. The first drawings of the project, elaborated by the Corps of Engineers in those fifteen years, and the subsequent ones of relief and restoration, all indicate the same final form in the arrangement of the outer enclosure, the moat and the barracks, and differ only in the internal distribution of the shed parts and the artillery emplacements.
The large central parade ground was divided by the longitudinal and transversal constructions of the stables and depots into four distinct sectors. Against the two walls, the southern one and the eastern one, the large embankments for long range cannons were placed, while on the northern side, less exposed and overlooking the valley, a battery of lesser capacity, but no less effective, was prepared. While for its architectural details the Fort is undoubtedly a realization of the new school of Engineers that was being formed in Liguria since the beginning of the 19th century, the concrete idea of a fortification at Olivetta di Groppallo presumably dates back to the Napoleonic era. A detailed plan of the area was compiled by the Military Authority in 1806; at the point where the first sketch, perhaps the first draft of the Fort, was drawn, there was a platform, an embankment probably built for defense purposes and indicated in the drawing “as plateau de l’Olivetta di Groppallo”. In the same table, the drawing of a large bastionate work in which the Olivetta rampart constituted only the central nucleus was then sketched in pencil and subsequently erased.
The idea certainly had no practical consequences, so much so that a diplomatic report of the Savoy State reported (after describing the new Fort and praising its defense) … ces deux forts (S. Giuliano e S. Martino) se tiennent par Santa Tecla au grand systéme de Défence de ce coté du Bisagno, s’ils avaient existé en 1814 nos troupes avaient été empèchés de s’établir aux environs de la place et d’y lancer des obus.”
The Fort, in the vicissitudes of its years, always remained under the Military Authority and was ceded to the Civil State only after the last war, which suggests a long series of restorations, renovations and adaptations to new needs. These works, of which we know only the macroscopic ones carried out in reinforced concrete during the last war to create eight emplacements for the anti-aircraft, are difficult to verify without an accurate inspection inside the construction, today practically very difficult, since to prevent the access to vagrants and stragglers the drawbridge was demolished and on the only arch of entrance, a barrier in masonry was raised.
(Taken from: “Fortifications of Genoa” by L.C. Forti, Stringa Editore Genova)
(Taken from “I forti di Genova” Sagep Editice)