DaVinci, Machiavelli, and the maniacal plan to destroy Pisa
Niccolo Machiavelli was a famous Italian Renaissance writer, philosopher, and politician who was a powerful high official in Florence. Today, Machiavelli is most famous for his political beliefs, which many see as advocating manipulation, duplicity, lies, intrigue and deception when conducting politics. Often, the actions of many scuzzy politicians are referred to as Machiavellian in nature. In 1503, Machiavelli would come up with one of his most Machiavellian schemes. At the time, Pisa was a great rival of Florence, and the two city states were almost constantly in a state of war. Pisa is located along the Arno river, downstream from Florence. Because of it’s position, Pisa could prevent Florence from accessing the sea. Thus, Machiavelli came up with an audacious, if not maniacal plan; to redirect the Arno River away from Pisa. Without water, Pisa would wilt away into oblivion while Florence would become a major Italian port city. Of course, redirecting the flow of an entire river was no simple task. One needed the expertise of a genius engineer, and only one Renaissance mind was up to the task.
Leonardo Da Vinci is most popularly known as an artist, painting such works as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. However Da Vinci was a true Renaissance man, working in many fields such as anatomy, architecture, music, mathematics and engineering. In one of his roles, he was a military engineer, designing and building weapons and fortifications for the highest bidder. In Renaissance Italy, warfare was rife among the Italian kingdoms and city states, and business was booming for weapons designers. Thus in 1503 Machiavelli hired Da Vinci to bring his doomsday plan into creation.
Da Vinci’s solution was to redirect the Arno River by building a series of dams, levees, and canals. Work on the project began in the spring of 1503 and lasted throughout 1504. It was a great undertaking by the Republic of Florence, with thousands of men employed in building the earthworks and digging the canals. Unfortunately, Florence was desperate to get the project done as quickly as possible, and hence many corners were cut. The canals were dug too shallow while dams and levees were built from substandard materials. As a result, they were unable to change the course of the river. Efforts to deepen the canals were made, but then a massive storm hit Florence. The dams and levees made from substandard materials collapsed and were washed away. Whatever was left standing was quickly destroyed by the Pisans.
The fiasco of the Arno River project would sound and end for Machiavelli’s Two years later, a Spanish army defeated Florence and installed Guiliano De Medici as ruler, Machiavelli spent the rest of his life in exile. In the meantime Da Vinci spent the rest of his career painting, sculpting, and inventing things until his death in 1519.