Rocca of Ripafratta
The fortress of Ripafratta is reached, from Florence, by the Autostrada A11 [Firenze-Mare]. Exit at Lucca. Then follow the signs for SS12 "dell'Abetone", being careful to go in the direction of Pisa [south] rather than Abetone [north]. Do not take SS12bis, which is an alternative route toward Pisa. From Lucca it is about 10km [10 miles]. You will see the fortress on the left, above the town of Ripafratta.
A legend, supported by historical events, says that the town of Ripafratta was named because a tectonic split in Mount Pisano led to a landslide that diverted the course of the Serchio River farther to the west. Before these events, the Serchio had joined the Arno at Bientina, east of Mount Pisano. 'Ripa' or riva is a bank or shore in English, 'Fratta' in modern Italian is rotta, or broken, in English.
All this passing back and forth points out the strategic importance of Ripafratta in the Middle Ages. In the 15th century the famous Florentine architect Giuliano da Sangallo completely rebuilt the fortress to withstand the use of firearms. Thus rendered practically impenetrable the fortress was able to withstand many attempts by the Pisans to recapture it through the 15th and 16th centuries.
This gateway leads you to the inner ward where there are scant remains of the keep, a former watchtower, and the oldest beginnings of the castle. Nowadays, these are not visible from outside the circular walls. In the inner courtyard there are ruins of the 'constable's residence', the entrance to the underground passages and the water cisterns. Two angular towers, now tumbled down, protected the east and west defenses.
Square watchtowers are found on the hills surrounding the fortress. The one on the south side toward Mount Pisano and the one on the east side along the river are still in pretty good condition. A third tower is still visible on the hill to the north on the opposite side of the Serchio. A fourth tower at the base of the hill, which controlled the river, has disappeared.
Unfortunately all these fortifications are now in a serious state of disrepair and are at risk of collapse, due to the effects of time and nature. There has also been damage due to the ground sinking in this whole area. This is a continuation of the process which led the town to be called Ripafratta. The road which leads to the fortress has been closed for safety reasons.