It might seem an overstatement to equate La Spezia with Paris. Still, some of the city center’s 19th-century avenues and buildings remind of the contemporary urban style of the Ville Lumiere. For example, La Spezia stairways are examples of Art Nouveau or Liberty style, witnesses of a creative leap and an extraordinary development time for the city.
Like many other cities in Liguria, La Spezia is on at least two levels, one on the sea and one in the upper town. In ancient times, the village from which the city originated developed mainly at sea level along Via del Prione. The 13th-century San Giorgio Castle was high up and separated from the city, even if the walls connected it to the small center, descending from the hill and surrounding it for defense. For centuries, this was roughly the structure of the city center, housing, suburbs, and suburbs added around it over time.
With the Italian naval base development, towards the last quarter of the 19th century, Spezia grew increasingly in population and size, in an extraordinary leap that has no comparison with other Italian cities of the time. New architectures and esthetic models inspired by much bigger European cities like Paris express this growth.
It might seem exaggerated to equate La Spezia with Paris, of course, on a much smaller scale, some of the avenues and especially the buildings and stairways of La Spezia built in this period in the city center are inspired by the contemporary Ville Lumiere’s urban style. Art Nouveau, in Italy the “Liberty” style, gives beauty to the growing city by decorating its details, stressing the necessity of beauty in the functional elements of architecture.
The La Spezia stairs were designed to reach new urbanized areas uphill, with rows of trees for walking in the shade in the summer and long enough to ensure not too steep climbs.
The stairs of Spezia are today one of the fascinating attractions in the city. They allow visitors to climb the city hills and the Castle of San Giorgio when preferred to the more comfortable lift. From up there, you can see the city and the sea.
The Cernaia stairway is the one that has best maintained its original condition over time. Built during the early 1900s, it owes its name to the battle won in Crimea against Russia by the Piedmontese and the French. Its “sister” stair is named after Lazzaro Spallanzani, a naturalist scientist who carried out some experiments in Portovenere. This stair underwent radical changes in the lower part during the Second World War, when it became an air-raid shelter, and recently for constructing a tunnel that joins the opposite sides of the city. Both stairways connect the lower part of the city to via XXVII Marzo, where is the castle, and Via Dei Colli, initially a military route, to expand the city upwards.
The two staircases have perspective games, gracefully shaped steps to allow the water to drain, and railings that twist around double fan-shaped ramps. A double row of sophora japonica trees constitutes a small green lung for the city and coolness during the ascent.
The two staircases are embellished with plays on perspective, gracefully shaped steps to allow the water to drain, and railings that twist around double fan-shaped ramps. A double row of sophora japonica trees constitutes a small green lung for the city and coolness during the ascent.
Among the most beautiful buildings in the city built between the 1800s and 1900s, they overlook the stairways, and in their vicinity, some retain old decorations.
The San Giorgio stairway leads up to the Castle of San Giorgio from the very center of Via Manzoni, crossing Via XX Settembre. You can admire one of the city’s most beautiful views and the sea from its highest point.
But there are many La Spezia stairways to discover, some through the oldest part of the city, some not in good repair. However, climbing one or more of these stairways is something you should do to enjoy every feature of the city and understand its different levels and stories.