La Spezia, a city on the Ligurian Riviera di Levante, is discovered to be more than a simple passage through the Cinque Terre. However, its position is strategic for direct connections with the most renowned tourist destinations. You can do many things in Spezia that will only leave people who decide to stay satisfied. The lively and, at the same time, peaceful atmosphere of the maritime city will also involve those who want to spend only a few hours there.
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The city is at the center of the Gulf, or Bay of the Poets, a deep bay of outstanding natural beauty, chosen by many poets throughout history to dwell there and to draw inspiration. But the Bay has also been infested over the centuries by pirate raids plundering on many occasions. Poets and pirates have left their mark, contending for its soul, all to be discovered.
La Spezia, a little history
Towards the middle of the 12th century, the village of La Spezia was already known, as evidenced by the first commercial documents in the city’s history dating back to 1160. Nicolò Fieschi belonged to one of the most powerful families in Genoa. Still, due to the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines now widespread throughout Italy, he was forced to flee and take refuge, with the help of his uncle Pope Innocent IV, right in La Spezia. Once in the city, he began building the San Giorgio castle to create a Signoria, including many other Ligurian Riviera di Levante territories. Genoa, unable to tolerate this, started a war against the Fieschi, which ended in 1276 with the victory of the Republic. From then until 1797, La Spezia and its entire gulf remained under the dominion of the powerful Genoese Maritime Republic.
Despite the defeat, La Spezia acquired a leading role among the other inhabited centers of the Gulf, thanks also to its flourishing salt trade. At that time, the city was surrounded by walls, and the castle built by Nicolò Fieschi was enlarged and improved. Fearing that the Gulf of La Spezia might fall into enemy hands, from the mid-16th century, the Republic of Genoa implemented a defensive program to construct massive fortifications at strategic points in the Gulf. Even today, those who arrive in the city from the sea can observe the Scola Tower at the eastern end of Palmaria island. Then the forts of “Santa Maria,” “Varignano,” and “Pezzino” along the western coast of the Gulf. As evidence of the strategic importance acquired, in 1576, Spezia became the captaincy’s headquarters, one of the Republic of Genoa’s eight “main offices.”
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the city walls were enlarged: today, in Via Prione at the corner with Via Cavallotti, it is possible to see part of them. However, Genoa never gave La Spezia a chance to expand its trade. As a result, the city’s economic life dried up: the town’s size remained unchanged for many centuries; in the 250×300 sq m rectangle area, a population of 2,000 – 2,500 was the same for a long time.
In 1797 the Republic of Genoa was conquered by Napoleon. With the arrival of the French, a new chapter opened for the city of La Spezia. Napoleon decided to build a sizeable naval arsenal on the western coast of the Gulf. However, the French plans were executed only on paper because the rapid fall of Napoleon halted the realization of the works. In 1815 Liguria passed under the government of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Still, the actual urban revolution of La Spezia took place only with the Unification of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
The then Prime Minister Camillo Cavour strongly wanted to equip the new state with a large and modern military fleet and chose La Spezia as a critical center for the realization of the project. The works for constructing the arsenal began in 1862 and ended in 1869. It was an enormous work: the old city was partially destroyed to adapt the spaces of the new structure; entire neighborhoods were built, some of which were intended to house the over 8,000 workers employed in the arsenal; new roads were opened, a railway line and new industrial plants were built around the city. The 5,000 inhabitants who lived in La Spezia in 1861 became more than 100,000 in the early 20th century. During the Second World War, La Spezia was heavily bombed, a strategic military objective of primary importance. This is why today, walking through the streets of the center, old buildings quickly alternate with recent facilities.
A rainy day that doesn’t let you go to the beach? Want to discover local history and culture? To see collections of the highest value? The museums of La Spezia leave room for all those who wish to know and learn more.
Museo Navale e della tecnica
VIA G. AMENDOLA, 1; TICKET: €1.55; 8.00 TO 19.30 MONDAY TO SUNDAY
The Naval Museum of La Spezia collects a rich heritage of testimonies of civilization, technology, and culture linked to the naval history of boating from its origins to the present day: models, maps, figureheads, medals, naval flags, military weapons, and provides a glimpse of the evolution technique related to the sea and navigation.
AMEDEO LIA MUSEUM
COLLECTION OF ITALIAN ART FROM THE XIII TO THE XVIII CENTURY VIA DEL PRIONE, 234; TICKET €7 TUESDAY TO SUNDAY, 10 AM TO 6 PM
The “Amedeo Lia” civic museum houses one of the most prestigious collections of international classical and late antiquity art from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century. In particular, the so-called “primitive” section is a real gem with over seventy tables by various artists; also many gouaches and paintings (including Vincenzo Foppa, Pontormo, Titian, Tintoretto, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni Cariani, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto).
CENTER OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART PIAZZA C. BATTISTI, 1; TICKET €5; TUESDAY TO SUNDAY, 11 TO 18
CAMeC is the Museum of Contemporary Art of La Spezia, which houses an important collection donated to the City of La Spezia by the collectors Giorgio and Ilda Cozzani. It displays about 1200 sculptures, drawings, and paintings and an impressive collection of 20th-century graphic arts. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and collects the works of the “Premio Golfo della Spezia,” a national art competition started in 1933, curated by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Fillia, significant exponents of the Futurism artistic movement.
COLLECTION OF SEALS FROM AROUND THE WORLD WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY. 15 TO 18, FRIDAY TO SUNDAY 10-13 / 15-18; CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY. TICKETS: €3.50
Housed in the neo-Gothic building of the Palazzo dell’Arte “Lucio R. Rosaia” in Via Prione, the Seal Museum is the most complete collection of seals ever assembled. It exhibits fifteen hundred seals ranging from specimens of the 4th millennium BC. C., of Egypt and then of Imperial Rome. The collaboration with the Vatican Secret Archive, the Forbidden City Archive in Beijing, and the Maison Lalique in Paris has made it possible to select extraordinary material. According to the sealography experts, the result is a unique collection of its kind in terms of quality and quantity.
MATERIALS AND ARTISTIC ARTIFACTS FROM LUNIGIANA AND VAL DI VARA, STARTING FROM THE 18TH CENTURY. VIA DEL PRIONE, 156 – TUESDAY, 10.00-12.30 FRIDAY TO SUNDAY 10-12.30/16-19
The Ethnographic Museum of La Spezia displays permanent materials of popular tradition from the Val di Magra and Val di Vara from the mid-eighteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth century. These elements of social life and of the daily rural communities of the area, profoundly changed following industrialization, offer visitors an exciting synthesis of life in Lunigiana in the 18th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. What emerges is a simple but rich set of ancient customs, rituals, beliefs, and skillful craftsmanship capable of transforming everyday objects into miniature artistic masterpieces.
The museum is particularly notable and rich in the textile section, which exhibits the traditional costumes of the nineteenth century. It includes party dresses of the women of La Spezia, Sarzana, and Cinque Terre, with skirts in turquoise woven with the local fabric, the ancestor of the legendary jeans ( the word perhaps means Genoese- from Genoa).
Also noteworthy is the section that documents the gold filigree jewels to be worn on holidays and the local manufacture with silver crosses, from which the women never separated while working in the fields. Also on display are the unique women’s woven raffia hats, the tiny size of which had astounded British travelers of the past century who visited the area. But also domestic tools, votive offerings of popular devotion, objects related to the realm of superstition, agricultural or sheep-farming tools, household furniture and furnishings, carved spinning and weaving tools, and objects of the dowries of given women in the bride.