Although best known as a naval base La Spezia is a surprisingly elegant city
best seen on foot. Exotic palm-studded gardens line the sea front before giving
way to the magnificent nineteenth-century gardens and the airy shaded arcades
of the Via Chiodo. The classical architecture, wide avenues and arcades in turn
give way to the old town centre. Today the centre of the town is a pedestrian
area. The bustling Via del Prone is lined with small shops and stalls whilst
the elegance of the Piazza Sant' Agostino speaks of an earlier time.
The site was inhabited in Roman times, but little is known of its history before
1276, when it was sold to Genoa by the Fieschi family. It became a maritime
prefecture in the French Empire and then part of the Duchy of Genoa in the Kingdom
of Sardinia. After the transfer of the military fleet from Genoa in 1857, it
became a naval headquarters, and in 1923 it became the provincial capital. It
was severely damaged by bombing in World War II. Notable landmarks include the
medieval Castel S. Giorgio, the 15th-century cathedral (rebuilt since 1945),
and the naval arsenal (1861-69, rebuilt since 1945), with the adjacent naval
museum. The archaeological museum has a collection of menhirs (prehistoric monoliths)
cut in the form of human figures and of Roman artifacts from the nearby ancient
city of Luni.
For all its history and elegance La Spezia is also a modern city. As well as
museums and libraries housing works of art from 4,000 BC to the present day,
there are contemporary buildings including the new Kennedy shopping centre on
the edge of town. This same mix of ancient and modern can be seen in the secular
and religious festivals held every year from the Festival of San Giuseppe, Patron
Saint of the city, to the Festival Internationale del Jazz.
La Spezia is also very convenient for access to The Cinque Terre either by
boat or train.
- San Giuseppe, Patron Saint of the city (19th March)
- Palio del Golfo - boat race (1st Sunday in August)
- San Venerio, Patron Saint of the Gulf (13th September)
- Festival Internationale del Jazz
- Biennale Golfo dei Poeti, International art exhibition
- New Year's Eve celebrations in the city