Cosmopoli?

June 23, 2015 / Places
Portoferraio, Tuscany

History has no shortage of towns being named after their founders… Alexandria in Egypt, Constantinople, Washington, etc. There’s another one to add to the list, lesser known as its name has since changed, but at one point Portoferraio (Iron Port, due to Elba’s millenarian role as an open air mineral and iron quarry) was called Cosmopolis.

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While it sounds like something straight out of a cold-war, Soviet space program director’s imagination, the truth is that Cosmopolis was named after (actually, by) Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

In the complicated and tumultuous Italian Wars of the 16th century fought between the French kings and the Holy Roman Emperors, Cosimo became a close ally of the Emperor. This freed the Emperor to move his troops elsewhere that had been stationed in Italy, which allowed the strong-willed, astute and ambitious Cosimo to more than happily fill the power vacuum left behind.

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How? In order to limit foreign army activity and passage in Tuscany, Cosimo embarked on an extensive expansion of fortifications (Siena, Arezzo, Sansepolcro, the new walls of Pisa and Fivizzano are some examples). He also moved to secure his maritime sphere of influence, building a powerful navy (which had a central role in the Battle of Lepanto that stopped the Turks in their Mediterranean tracks).

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Of course needing a place to build and dock his navy led him to fortify the port town of Livorno and to buy the island of Elba from Genova. Prior to his construction efforts on Elba, the port of the Comune di Ferraio was a ramshackle agglomeration of unfortified Middle Age buildings that had been prey to sackings and attacks from the sea. Apparently after Cosimo’s reconstruction, the fearsome Turkish pirate-fleet admiral Dragut, who was sent by Cosimo’s French enemies to lay waste to the town, deemed Cosmopoli’s defences impregnable and simply sailed off.

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The town (and parts of the imposing forts) we see today are the result of Cosimo’s rebuilding efforts, and walking along the port and inside the walls for a gelato makes for a lovely and fascinating visit.

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GB

by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

8 Responses to “Cosmopoli?”

  1. Joanne De Cecchis

    So happy to see comments about Isola d’Elba other than Napoleon. My paternal grandparents grew up in Rio Marina and I had the opportunity to visit many villages on the island in 2013. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. TINA BLUEBERRY GROWERS WIFE

    YOU ARE TRULY A GIFT TO ALL OF US WHO WOULD LOVE TO COME SEE ALL THE BEAUTYFUL PLACES IN OUR WORLD BUT CAN’T MAKE IT EITHER FOR LACK OF MONEY OR AGE RELATED DISABILITY.
    GOD BLESS YOU.

    Reply
  3. marianna raccuglia

    Wonderful photos and a good history lesson. I love all the postings and look forward to them, but it makes me want to be in each one! Thanks

    Reply

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