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What to do in La Spezia, an itinerary

La Spezia is the city that, traditionally, has the good fortune to be among some jewels of Liguria, visited every year by hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world. But the small Italian city historically devoted to industrial development has gone from waving hello and goodbye to visitors passing to showing itself proudly.
Many are still surprised by the town’s attractiveness. Nevertheless, the city’s Art Nouveau buildings, the pleasure of walking on the seafront, in its avenues, or the central streets are actual.

Many travelers have recently discovered that La Spezia is the ideal place to stay. Cheaper than the Cinque Terre and much better connected, it also offers the possibility of visiting the striking Gulf of Poets more easily.

Below is a short journey between the sea and the hills, the two levels that characterize the city, in 11 stag

Map of the ten most exciting things to do in La Spezia

Is La Spezia worth a visit? Hell yeah!

Why should you visit La Spezia? Because it is a pleasant and well-connected place between the Cinque Terre and the Gulf of Poets and gives you a broader outlook on the entire territory. La Spezia is a quiet city of almost 100,000, mostly of working-class and commercial tradition. Although Spezia was already a town of some importance, a significant development occurred only in the late 1800s with the construction of the military base.

The Second World War, precisely due to military forces in the city, saw the city center severely hit by bombings in its core center, where our itinerary unfolds. As a result, we notice a patchwork between mostly post-war buildings, typical houses of the Ligurian Middle Ages, narrow and colorful, and noble and workers’ homes. There are also the most recent courageous architectural and urban planning choices, often at the center of controversy both among locals and in the context of national criticism.

For these reasons, visiting Spezia is worth it for those who go beyond appearances. Details, hidden beautiful corners, the charm of a peaceful routine, and unexpected contrasts await them in La Spezia.

Is La Spezia a nice town?

We think it is, but this is a biased judgment. Our itinerary of things to see and do in La Spezi will tell you more.

Tahon di Revel bridge, connecting sea and town.

The Thaone Revel bridge, one of the most interesting things to see in La Spezia.

The seafront of Spezia is a large area for walking and pleasure, close to car traffic, and very popular with those who enjoy running. It consists of the Passeggiata Morin walk, from which ferries also leave for Cinque Terre and the Gulf of Poets; the Molo Italia, where you can browse the tugs of large cargo and cruise ships and sit in the shade of the red lighthouse at its peak; and the Mirabello port, which can be reached by crossing the very white and modern Ponte Tahon di Revel. The structure attracts the eye of those arriving from the sea or those walking along the seafront. It is suggestive to visit even at night, to stop and look at the city lights and snap the white effects of the bridge silhouetted against the dark sea. Built in 2014, it is a drawbridge with a contemporary concept. It has opened up a new attitude from the sea, connecting it directly to the historic city center.

The Public Gardens, the city’s green lung.

The public gardens were built between 1825, when the medieval city walls were demolished to broaden the urban perspective towards the sea, and 1862. The majestic works for excavating the military arsenal basins offered material to be poured into the sea. In this way, it was buried, and space was obtained to be adorned with an excellent botanical taste with plants of particular naturalistic interest. Today the gardens offer a pleasant walk in the greenery between the seafront and the city center, and some artistic and historical points to learn about its history, such as the statue of Garibaldi on horseback by Antonia Garella inaugurated in 1913 and the Palco della Musica in Liberty, obtained by the city following the Universal Exposition of Turin.

Garibaldi’s statue in the Public Gardens of La Spezia

Via del Prione, the Carugio Drito

Christmas lights in Via Prione – Ph. T. Riva

Probably the oldest street in the center of Spezia, Via del Prione is today the center of walking and shopping in the city. There are bars, cafes, fashion shops, and a characteristic liveliness. The German composer Richard Wagner was once a guest at an inn on Via del Prione. The morning chatter from the street allegedly inspired him for the initial Rhein’s Gold’s overture crescendo.

The street’s name probably means “large stone,” from the Genoese pria, in memory of the stone from which, perhaps, the messengers read the decrees of the Genoese Republic. However, to the inhabitants of La Spezia, the Via was the Carugio Drito (straight, narrow road). But not because it was straight but rather because it was the main street on which the commercial activities were located. Even today, Via del Prione is one of the ways from the sea to the market. Via del Prione is overlooked by the Civic Theater and the Lia Museum. After a brief “diversion”, you can reach the San Giorgio Castle with the lift or the stairways, see Piazza Sant’Agostino, and the church of Santa Maria Assunta, the former city’s cathedral.

Piazza Sant’Agostino

Center of the ancient medieval CittadellaPiazza Sant’Agostino is one of the most beautiful historic squares in Spezia, where to linger for ice cream and an aperitif in the shade of the sumptuous Palazzo Oldoini, home of the famous Countess of Castiglione. Or you can stroll in the adjacent very lively Piazza del Bastione, where children chase each other during the day and teenagers sip a drink in the evening.

Due to the glittering fashion shops and clubs, not everyone sees the stairway that leads to the slightly elevated church that gives its name to the square. It is dedicated to the Saints Giovanni and Agostino, one of the city’s most beautiful. It is in Baroque style but dates back to an older time. It originally housed the Convent of the Capuchin Friars of the Poggio, around whose oratory an important city district was formed. The church contains artistic works of great value, a sixteenth-century altarpiece depicting the Madonna and Saints by Bernardino Lanino and a painting depicting the Madonna del Suffragio attributed to Domenico Fiasella, to name a few.

Santa Maria Assunta, in the city’s heart.

Santa Maria Assunta church

From Via del Prione through Via Magenta, overlooked by the historic pizzeria La Pia (excellent for a snack based on Farinata) or Via Biassa, an ancient alley with a remnant of Palazzo Cenere, once the town hall, you arrive in Piazza Beverini. The Church of Santa Maria Assunta stands out on the square with its large black and white marble facade. We are in the oldest part of the city; you can picture the walls of the Castle and the access doors that used to surround it.

The Church of Santa Maria is also inextricably linked to the origins of the history of Spezia, of which it was an abbey and cathedral. Unfortunately, it was destroyed several times and severely damaged in the last war. Still, after a careful restoration, even if it is no longer the cathedral today, it preserves significant evidence of the city’s history. It houses works of art from La Spezia churches destroyed in the 19th century to make room for the industrial “new city”. Among them are pieces from the 17th-century Genoese and Sarzana schools and a terracotta by Andrea della Robbia.

AT THE MARKET, TRY AND BUY LOCAL PRODUCTS 

A visit to the market is recommended, not so much to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and freshly caught fish but also to capture the city atmosphere and gastronomy. The market is located approximately in the middle of the noble alley of La Spezia, Corso Cavour. It has been the hub of commercial activities since the 1800s when the most popular inns and trattorias flourished. The new modern structure replaced the old one in wrought iron, which had a great appeal but was no longer sustainable.

The right-wing market, walking towards the sea, is the one with fishmongers of the Gulf. They call to sell their Muscoli (mussels), the basis of many local dishes; anchovies and seabreams

The market square of La Spezia

La Spezia Museums

On our itinerary, we pass by many of the La Spezia museums, with some remarkable collections. The Seal Museum is the world’s largest museum of sphragistic art, with over fifteen hundred matrices and seal impressions dating from the 4th millennium BC. up to the present day. It is housed in Via del Prione in a neo-medieval building from the 1920s. The nearby Lia Museum houses Italian works of art from the 13th to the 18th century, collected by Amedeo Lia from La Spezia. It is housed in an ancient convent complex of the minimal friars of San Francesco di Paola, which was also a hospital in Spezia for a time. The best-known authors in the museum are Tintoretto, Titian, and Canaletto. Briefly leaving the route, you can visit the Technical and Naval Museum of Spezia, which is interesting for nautical and telecommunications lovers (there are some finds from Guglielmo Marconi’s first experiments, which took place in the military base of Spezia).

URBAN ART DECÒ AND STAIRWAYS

The Cernaia stairway, one of the most characteristic La Spezia stairs – Ph. T. Riva

It’s time to reach the upper level of the city of Spezia, to admire its view from above. To get to Via XXVII Marzo, where the Castle of San Giorgio is located, you can also take the lift (located in Via Prione near Via Biassa and the Church of Santa Maria). But this way, you will miss an exciting feature of the city, its stairways. Here we propose the Scalinata Cernaia, perhaps the most known, allowing you to get to the upper city’s floor while appreciating the stairs and the buildings that overlook them. Perspective games, details, the steps that become lower and lower as you go up, the trees that accompany the climb, the openings in widenings to rest and enjoy the peace a few steps from the city center are the little joys offered by these little urban jewels.

San Giorgio castle, a fortress with a view.

San Giorgio castle

Once you have reached the upper floor of the city with the staircase or the lift, you must not miss a look at the Castello di San Giorgio. It is an ancient protective fortress that had its most flourishing period during the brief dominion of the city of Nicolò Fieschi and the subsequent reconquest of control by the Republic of Genoa. You can still see a part of the walls that branched off from the Castle and descended to the sea to protect the medieval citadel. It went through a Convent of the Poor Clares and the ancient city gardens. These were recently recovered and are the subject of an exciting urban horticulture project. The Castle building now houses the Ubaldo Formentini archaeological museum, with evidence from prehistory to the Middle Ages, including the Stele Statues from the 4th millennium BC. The Castle also offers a beautiful view of the city from above. 

The ancient city walls

Continuing via XXVII Marzo from the Castle, in the opposite direction to the car traffic, you arrive with a somewhat hidden passage to the ancient walls park of La Spezia. The administration recently recovered this urban space around the nineteenth-century “Savoyard” Walls. It is included within the city’s old defensive walls built between 1887 and 1889 that, together with the arsenal on the seafront, was intended to militarily protect La Spezia. The newborn Parco delle Mura is today a long path in the shadow of the sizeable defensive structure. It has yet to be completely renovated (the works are still in progress). Yet, it allows an overall view of the city, its landscape, and its history, which was not possible before and which pleasantly surprised the local citizenry itself. The Savoy wall surrounded the city and opened some gates, thus fortifying and uniting the Levante and the Ponente of the city. Some of these gates are, east to west, the Porta Rocca in the area of the current Cruise Terminal, the higher Porta Castellazzo, and Porta Genova. The park offers numerous spaces for a bit of idleness in the greenery just a few steps from the city. It is much appreciated by those who practice running.

The Cathedral and Piazza Europa, the contemporary city.

Cristo Re Cathedral in Europa square – Ph. T. Riva

If you choose to go back to the starting point of the Parco delle Mura (instead of going out through one of the gates that open onto the route), after going through a tunnel you go back down towards the newest part of the city, the architectural complex of Piazza Europa and the Cathedral. Built where a “montetto” (so called by the people of La Spezia) once stood, which was then leveled to make room for the development of a new city directive towards the east, even these contemporary architectures are not always well received. The new Cathedral of Christ the King is an imposing structure that dominates the square from above. The controversial and decidedly unusual architecture of the rationalist Adalberto Libera’s 1956 project (author of the Palazzo dei Congressi of the EUR in Rome) characterizes it. We recommend that you don’t let the imposing complexity of the structure scare you and pay a visit, because the large circular plan and the central altar are truly unique.

Piazza Verdi, between ancient and new town

The new Verdi square – Ph. T. Riva

Going further down from the Cathedral to the directive of Via Veneto, you reach Piazza Verdi in a few steps.

It is located midway between the old city and the new directive to the east. The square has been at the center of a recent and highly controversial restoration project. Today, after years of deterioration, it has an entirely new appearance that the inhabitants of La Spezia observe a little perplexed, still discussing with animosity.

The new concept of the square was designed by the French architect Daniel Buren, who inserted new architectural elements, squared arches, and colored totems into the old squared structure. This choice was to underline the transition between old and new and the direction of the perspectives opened up in the square.

Piazza Verdi has some suggestive views, even at night. The Palazzo delle Poste overlooks Piazza Verdi, designed by the architect Angiolo Mazzoni, one of the significant designers of functional public buildings of the Fascist period. The impressive futurist mosaics by Fillia and Prampolini are conserved inside, testifying to a significant cultural and artistic ferment that arose in the city in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the mosaics cannot always be visited (however, it is advisable to try to ask inside the post office).