The fort, rising above the town of Gavi, is located on the same site as a castle whose existence was documented as early as 973. In 1191 Henry VI, the son of Frederick I Barbarossa, enfeoffed the castle, the village and its annexes to the Republic of Genoa. Despite some ups and downs the castle remained under Genoan rule until 1418, when ownership passed to the Signory of the Visconti family of Milan. From them, it passed to the Fregosos and then to the Sforzas, before being transferred to the Guascos who remained the feudal lords until 1528.
In 1528 Count Antonio Guasco sold all his rights to Gavi to the Republic of Genoa, which owned it until the republic's abolition and annexation to the Savoy kingdom.
The castle was transformed into a fort in 1540, when the Republic of Genoa's engineer, Giovanni Maria Olgiati, designed and completely rebuilt all the walls surrounding the old castle, building new bastions and strengthening the original structure.
During the 17th century the building was radically transformed yet again into the fortress that can still be seen today.
The first reconstruction project was entrusted to Genoan architect Bartolomeo Bianco and the Dominican friar Vincenzo da Fiorenzuola, a great expert in military architecture at the time and famous as the inquisitor at Galileo Galilei's trial. Expansion of the interior and exterior continued up to the early 19th century.
The Monte Moro redoubt, connected to the fort by a fortified gallery, was built in the 18th century on the east side. Lodging for soldiers and officers, cisterns, powder magazines, guardhouses and parade grounds were constructed inside, designed by some of the most famous military engineers of the time, including Stefano Scaniglia, Domenico Orsolino, Pietro Morettini and Pierre De Cotte.
In 1859, during the reign of Victor Emmanuel II, the fort was disarmed and turned into a civilian jail. It served as a military prison during the First and Second World Wars.
In 1946 the fort was handed over to the Region of Piedmont's Environmental and Architectural Heritage Department, which in 1978 began a progressive restoration project to preserve this rare example of military architecture.
Starting from the three exhibition rooms displaying the fort's history, the visit continues to the sections of the lower and upper fort open to the public, including a visit to the "Polveriera del Morettini" powder magazine (expected to open in 2010).
Education for schools and event hire
Local sights: church of San Giacomo Maggiore, Madonna della Guardia, sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie (Franciscan convent), Portino Medievale, Palazzo Municipale
In the area: Libarna archaeological site, Alto Monferrato castles, Serravalle Scrivia outlet mall, Pinacoteca dei Cappuccini art gallery in Voltaggio (summer opening, more information on the website www.pinacotecadivoltaggio.it), Capanne di Marcarolo Nature Park, Vallemme footpath
Typical products: Testa in Cassetta head cheese, Amaretti di Gavi, wines (Gavi DOCG, Dolcetto, Barbera), Gavi stretched focaccia
Sport: golf, tennis, mini volley, volleyball, football, swimming (summer pool)
Events: Farmers' market (first or second Sunday of each month), "Gavi città aperta" guided tours through the private noble palaces and the oratories of the Confraternities (mid May), "Festival Internazionale A.F. Lavagnino" film section (June), "Toro Day" (June), patron saint's day dedicated to San Giacomo (second Sunday of July), "Festival Internazionale A.F. Lavagnino" music section (early September), "Gavi: il Forte, il Borgo" festival with historical 17th-century military re-enactments inside the fort and a market with local products in the medieval quarter of Monserito (part of the European Heritage Days, last full weekend in September)