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In 1632, during the time of the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648), the government in Innsbruck obtained permission to erect a fortress on a piece of land located in the narrow Scharnitz valley that belonged to the Bishopric of Freising. The impressive fortification was named after the reigning Regent of Tyrol, Claudia de Medici, who was present at the ceremony.
The Porta Claudia was not attacked during the Thirty Years’ War, but it was nevertheless extended in 1670 in keeping with plans drawn up by Christoph Gumpp. In 1703, during the course of the Bavarian invasion, the Porta Claudia border fortress was captured in a bold and unforeseen attack by Maximilian Emanuel II. The explosion of a powder magazine caused enormous damage to the Porta Claudia, but the fortress was rebuilt over the years that followed.
In 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars, the French Marshal Ney, with a troop of 13,000 men, attacked the entrenchments in Leutasch and the Porta Claudia fortress. The fortification had defences of 12 cannons and 700 men at the time. Initially, they were able to fend off the attacks. Every demand to surrender was rejected by the commander of the fortress. But when the French, with the help of a Bavarian woodsman who knew the area well, encircled the fortress, the Porta Claudia’s fate was sealed. The Austrian troops were all taken into captivity.
Over the years that followed, the fortress fell, by turns, into the hands of the Tyroleans, the French and the Bavarians. The former barracks later served as a customs building until 1975. Today, the six-metre-high walls with their embrasures, and the outworks – many of which have fallen into ruin and are now overgrown – including the huge vaults which served as dugouts to shelter soldiers and horses, the moat, the ramparts and many other features, still reveal the fortress’s former mightiness.