San Salvatore Fort

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Forte San Salvatore is a defensive structure in Messina, commissioned by Charles V and built between 1537 and 1540. The building is located in a natural sickle-shaped cove in the harbour area. In 1934, the artist, Tore Edmondo Calabrò, created the statue of the Madonna della Lettera, which was placed above the fortress. It is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city of Messina.

History of Forte San Salvatore

Forte San Salvatore was part of the new system of fortifications commissioned by Charles V to defend the city of Messina. The name comes from the Basilian Monastery of the Holy Saviour of the Greeks, which was demolished to make room for the building. It was built between 1537 and 1540, based on a design by the Bergamo architect, Antonio Ferramolino. It is a very interesting example of 16th-century military architectural development. In fact, the castle stands on a sickle-shaped peninsula, extending along the entire length, and has an irregular layout that fits perfectly into the area where it stands. Throughout history, Forte San Salvatore has been the scene of several historical events. In 1674, during the anti-Spanish revolution, the people of Messina captured the castle and it was here, on 12 March 1861, that the last garrison of the Bourbon Kingdom of Sicily declared defeat. It marked the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

The Madonnina of the Port of Messina

On top of Forte San Salvatore is the stele containing the statue of the Madonna della Lettera that was added in 1934. The gilded bronze sculpture is the work of Tore Edmondo Calabrò, who also created the statue of Cristo Re (Christ the King) in Messina, which can be found in the Sacrario of the same name. The statue stands on a globe with a diameter of 2.6 metres and a height of 7 metres. The entire column, including the base, reaches a height of 60 metres.

Interesting fact: During an official ceremony on 12 August 1934, a short-wave radioelectric device illuminated the statue for the first time. The system, developed by Guglielmo Marconi, was operated directly by Pope Pius XI while he was at Castel Gandolfo.

Origin of the devotion to the Madonna della Lettera

Tore Edmondo Calabrò’s choice of subject was based on the devotion to the Madonna della Lettera, which is very popular in Messina and is celebrated on 3 June with a procession. According to tradition, the Apostle Paul arrived in Messina in 42 AD and began the work of converting the local population to Christianity. When he returned to Palestine, a delegation from Messina wanted to accompany Paul on his journey, so that they could meet the Virgin Mary and ask for a blessing for their city. The people of Messina were able to meet the Virgin on 3 June 42 AD and, in gratitude, she gave them a letter of blessing, written in Hebrew and bound with a lock of her hair. One of the phrases contained in the letter is inscribed on the base of the stele in Latin: Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus or “I bless you and your city”. The scene in which the letter is handed over to the delegation of Messina residents is re-enacted every day at midday as part of Messina Cathedral’s Bell Tower mechanism.

Visit the Forte San Salvatore

Inside Forte San Salvatore, there are some interesting exhibits, such as a memorial plaque of the 1848 riots, a Savoy Kingdom Maritime Authority coat of arms and some cannons from the Bourbon era. There are also three diversely-themed rooms. The first houses the permanent exhibition curated by Dr Franz Riccobono: “Myths and currents of the Strait”. The collection includes 44 original pieces, such as nautical charts and old prints and lithographs, dating from the 1600s to the end of the 1800s. The second room is dedicated to the history of the Messina Logistic Support Unit (MARISUPLOG). A thematic trail traces the history of this particular area of the city from the medieval period to the Second World War. The last is the Historical Hall of Lighthouses and Signalling. The exhibition provides an insight into the history of lighthouses in Sicily over the centuries, their functions, construction techniques and the technological evolution of lighting methods and devices.

How to visit Forte San Salvatore

Forte San Salvatore is open to the public by reservation only. The maximum number of visitors at any one time is 20 and visitors must provide their own transport. Visiting hours are: Monday to Friday from 9.00 to 12.30.

To book, you must send the following completed form, at least one week in advance, to the following email addresses

[email protected]

[email protected]

Near Forte San Salvatore, there is another structure that can be visited: La Lanterna del Montorsoli (The Montorsoli Lighthouse). The visit can only be made on request, by sending an email to the following address: [email protected].

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