La Spezia, a surprising place

Tradition and innovation meet in La Spezia, a Ligurian city boasting a privileged location among some of the world’s most renowned locales, like the Cinque Terre. Despite its industrial past, La Spezia has reinvented itself, transforming from a timid host of transient flows into a proud protagonist of local tourism.

Surprising Art Nouveau buildings, a promenade that invites relaxing strolls and lively avenues, with Via del Prione encapsulating the soul of the Ligurian historical center: La Spezia wins over visitors with its discreet charm and vibrant atmosphere.

There are many reasons to choose La Spezia as a base for exploring the region:

  • It is more affordable than the Cinque Terre and offers many services and accommodations.
  • Good connections with the mayor attractions in and about the city.
  • Strategic location for excursions and trips to discover the natural and artistic beauties of the area.

An itinerary between sea and hills:

Following this route, you can uncover La Spezia’s hidden treasures, moving between its two distinctive levels: sea and hills.

La Spezia: a kaleidoscope of history, culture, and fascinating contrasts

Why visit La Spezia? The answer is simple: this Ligurian city is an ideal starting point to explore the Cinque Terre and the Gulf of Poets, offering a unique perspective on the entire area. With nearly 100,000 inhabitants, La Spezia boasts a tranquil atmosphere and singular charm resulting from a rich past and a dynamic present.

A past to rediscover:

Sebbene le sue origini risalgano a tempi antichi, la vera crescita della Spezia avvenne solo a partire dalla fine del XIX secolo, con la costruzione della base militare. La Seconda Guerra Mondiale segnò la città in modo profondo, con bombardamenti che colpirono duramente il centro storico.

An eclectic present:

Today, walking through the center of La Spezia, one encounters an architecturally suggestive patchwork: post-war buildings stand alongside narrow and colorful medieval Ligurian houses, while noble and worker residences reflect the great urban development of the late 19th century. To complete the picture, bold architectural and urban choices of recent years are often the subject of debate and discussion.

An invitation to discovery:

La Spezia is a city that invites you to explore. Wander through the center’s streets, be captivated by the tranquil rhythm of daily life, and appreciate the contrasts that make it so special.

Stops on our itinerary of things to see in La Spezia:

La Spezia sea promenade Spezia: among history, nature and modernity

Il Ponte Tahone di Revel

Il lungomare di Spezia è un percorso piacevole che si snoda tra molte anime della città. In parte chiuso al traffico automobilistico, questa ampia zona è perfetta per pedoni, runners e ciclisti che desiderano godersi l’aria marina a un passo dalla città.
Vi si trovano:

  • Morin Promenade: the ideal starting point for a boat excursion to the Cinque Terre or the Gulf of Poets. The promenade offers breathtaking views of the sea and the harbor.
  • Molo Italia: here, you can admire the tugs of large cargo and cruise ships, relax in the shade of the red lighthouse, and take memorable photos of the city’s nighttime panorama.
  • Porto Mirabello: raggiungibile attraverso il moderno e bianchissimo Ponte Thaon di Revel, questo porto turistico rappresenta la parte più moderna dell’architettura cittadina. Inaugurato nel 2014, il ponte levatoio unisce idealmente il centro più antico alla parte più nuova della città.

Giardini Pubblici della Spezia: A Green Oasis in the Heart of the City

The Garibaldi statue was inaugurated in the La Spezia Gardens in 1913

I Giardini Pubblici della Spezia sono un piccolo gioiello urbano, a pochi passi dal mare e dal vivace centro cittadino. La loro nascita risale a un periodo compreso tra il 1825 e il 1862, quando l’abbattimento delle mura medievali e i grandiosi lavori di scavo per l’arsenale militare crearono l’occasione per ampliare la città verso il mare e ricavare un nuovo spazio da destinare al verde.

The gardens were an ambitious project managed with great botanical taste. Numerous plant species, some of naturalistic interest, were planted, creating an oasis of greenery and coolness in an expanding urban context.

A Journey Through Art and History:

Today, the Giardini Pubblici offers visitors a pleasant journey through history, nature, and art. Strolling along the tree-lined avenues, one can admire several points of interest of great value:

  • The statue of Garibaldi on horseback, created by Antonia Garella and inaugurated in 1913, pays tribute to the famous leader and serves as a symbol of the city.
  • The Music Pavilion: This pavilion, which is in the Art Nouveau style, was acquired by the city following the Universal Exposition in Turin in 1911. Unfortunately, it is now in disrepair.

Via del Prione: The Vibrant Heart of Spezia Between History, Shopping, and Music

the lively Via del Prone in the heart of Spezia

In Via del Prione, the oldest street in the historic center of Spezia, voices of heralds once echoed, reading decrees of the Genoese Republic from the “pria,” a large stone. Today, it pulses as the heart of the city’s shopping and promenade.

Bars, cafés, fashion stores, and a characteristic liveliness animate this street, which the locals rightly called the “Carugio Drito,” not for its linearity but because it was the main thoroughfare, the hub of commercial activities.

On Richard Wagner’s steps

It is said that the German composer Richard Wagner, while staying at an inn on Via del Prione, was captivated by the morning chatter coming from the street. Inspired by that buzz, he composed the initial crescendo of the Overture to Das Rheingold.

Walking along Via del Prione, one encounters important places in the city:

  • The Civic Theater: a jewel in Art Nouveau style that hosts a rich season of opera, drama, and ballet.
  • The Lia Museum: an extraordinary collection of artworks, including paintings by Italian and Flemish masters.
  • The San Giorgio Castle: accessible from here via an elevator or staircases, it offers a breathtaking view of the city and the gulf.
  • Piazza Sant’Agostino: a picturesque square that hosts the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, once the cathedral of the city.

Piazza Sant’Agostino: a little baroque jewel

Piazza Sant’Agostino, located in the center of the ancient medieval “Cittadella” of La Spezia, is one of the most picturesque spots in the city. Here, where the Convent of the Capuchin Friars of Poggio once stood, today one can admire a blend of baroque and modern architecture, and experience the typical atmosphere of the city at any time of the day.

Despite the presence of fashion shops and bars, Piazza Sant’Agostino retains a tranquil and welcoming soul. It is the ideal place to enjoy an ice cream or an aperitif in the shade of the sumptuous Palazzo Oldoini, residence of the famous Countess of Castiglione, or to stroll in the lively Piazza del Bastione, where children play during the day and young people sip drinks in the evening.

Exploring the church:

Not everyone notices the small staircase leading to the slightly elevated church that gives the square its name, dedicated to Saints John and Augustine. Certainly one of the most beautiful in the city, the church showcases a baroque style fitting to the era of its significant development, but it dates back to an earlier time.

Inside the church, one can admire valuable artworks, including a sixteenth-century altarpiece depicting the Madonna and Saints by Bernardino Lanino and a painting of the Madonna del Suffragio attributed to Domenico Fiasella.

Santa Maria Assunta

Along Via del Prione, passing through Via Magenta or Via Biassa, a historic alley that retains the remains of the ancient city hall known as Palazzo Cenere, you reach Piazza Beverini.

Here, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta dominates with its grand black and white marble facade. Its presence takes us back to when, between the walls of the Castle and the city gates, all the economic and social activities of La Spezia took place.

Once an abbey and cathedral, the church has suffered destruction over the centuries, including during the last war. However, thanks to careful restoration, today it is more beautiful than ever. Houses precious testimonies of the city’s history, gathered here from other destroyed churches of La Spezia for the construction of the “new industrial city” in the 19th century:

  • Works from the Genoese and Sarzana schools of the 17th century
  • A terracotta by Andrea della Robbia

A fusion of art, faith, and culinary tradition:

The Assumption of Mary by Andrea Della Robbia in the Church of Santa Maria Assunta

Before diving into the beauty of the church, treat yourself to a delicious stop at the historic pizzeria La Pia on Via Magenta, where you can enjoy an authentic farinata, a typical Ligurian focaccia made from chickpea flour.

La Spezia market: La Spezia food and soul

If you are in La Spezia, a visit to the market is highly recommended, not only to purchase fresh and high-quality products but also to immerse yourself in the authentic atmosphere of the city.

A vibrant place of history and flavors:

Located halfway along Corso Cavour, the main city avenue, the market has been the hub of commercial activities since the 19th century. Around it flourished the most popular inns and trattorias, where one could savor the typical dishes of Ligurian cuisine made with fresh and genuine ingredients.

Tradition and innovation in harmony:

The new modern structure, recently inaugurated, has replaced the old wrought-iron building while preserving its charm and memory.

The left wing of the market, walking towards the sea, is a true paradise for seafood lovers. Here you can find an incredible variety of seafood specialties from the Gulf: from mussels (muscoli), a fundamental ingredient in many typical dishes, to fresh and just-caught anchovies and sea bream.

Let yourself be captivated by the scents and colors:

As you stroll among the stalls, you will be inebriated by the scents of the sea and the vivid colors of fruits and vegetables. The fishmongers, with their inviting calls, will proudly show you the fruits of their labor.

La Spezia museums

Despite being a small city, La Spezia boasts a museum heritage of great value, capable of surprising and enchanting even the most demanding visitors.

In the heart of the historic center:

Continuing along our route, we encounter some of the city’s most renowned museums:

  • Museo del Sigillo: Located on Via del Prione, inside a charming neo-medieval building, it houses the world’s largest collection of sigillography art. Over fifteen hundred seal matrices and impressions, dating from the 4th millennium BC to the present day, tell the story of humanity through seals, used to authenticate documents and certify legal acts.
  • Museo Lia: A true treasure trove of art, situated in the ancient convent complex of the Minim Friars of San Francesco di Paola. Here, one can admire Italian artworks from the 13th to the 18th century, coming from the private collection of Amedeo Lia, an enlightened collector from La Spezia. Among the masterpieces on display are works by artists such as Tintoretto, Titian, and Canaletto.

A journey through the history of seafaring and telecommunications:

If you are passionate about history, do not miss the opportunity to visit the Museo Tecnico Navale di Spezia. Inside this museum, you can dive into the fascinating world of seafaring, admiring models of ships, nautical instruments, and historical relics. Additionally, a section dedicated to telecommunications hosts some artifacts from the first experiments of Guglielmo Marconi, carried out right at the military base in La Spezia.

The air-raid shelter, memory and hope

The entrance of the Quintino Sella air raid shelter, with the Ozmo’s graffiti

Beneath the centrally located Quintino Sella staircase, the city has recently rediscovered a poignant place of memory for its inhabitants, who revisit the words often heard from those who lived through the painful days of the bombings during World War II. The air raid shelter, during those terrible days of April 14 and 19; May 2, 12, 19, and 22, 1944, protected the people of La Spezia who rushed to the sound of sirens before the fierce and devastating Allied bombings. Indeed, the presence of the La Spezia military arsenal made the city a prime target for the liberation of Italy from Nazi-Fascist occupation.

Fear, Warning, and Hope:

The city has chosen to reconstruct this site of local memory to reflect the terror of war through impactful multimedia recreations. The atmosphere inside the shelter is dark, gray, and cold. At the entrance of the tunnel, one can admire the work of the artist Ozmo, who at the invitation of the City Council has created a mural that starkly contrasts with the evocative surroundings, featuring bright colors and the smiling eyes of a child, symbolizing hope for a future where men, women, and children do not have to fear war.

Discovering the Castle of San Giorgio: History, Archaeology, and Breathtaking Views

A Dive into the Middle Ages:

Leaving the historic center of La Spezia, we head towards the Castle of San Giorgio, located on the hilltop immediately behind the city. To reach it, we can walk along one of the city’s scenic staircases or take the convenient elevator.

The Castle of San Giorgio offers a true journey through time. Originally built as a fortress to defend the city, it peaked during the brief rule of Nicolò Fieschi and its subsequent reconquest by the Republic of Genoa.

Today, one can still admire the remains of the defensive walls that extended from the castle down towards the sea, protecting the medieval citadel. Along the path, the remains of the Convent of the Clarisse and the city gardens can be encountered, recently restored and enhanced through an interesting urban horticulture project.

Inside the castle, the Ubaldo Formentini Archaeological Museum preserves precious artifacts that narrate the history of La Spezia from prehistory to the Middle Ages. Among the most important finds are the fascinating Stele Statues from the fourth millennium BC.

A Breathtaking Panorama:

Ascending to the top of the Castle rewards one with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city of La Spezia, its gulf, and the surrounding hills —a vista that takes one’s breath away and leaves an indelible memory of this city rich in history and charm.

The Park of the Walls: A Walk Through the City’s History

Leaving behind the Castle of San Giorgio and heading along Via XXVII Marzo in the opposite direction to the traffic, we come across a real hidden gem: the City Walls Park.

A Journey Through Time Among Walls and Bastions:

The Park of the Walls stretches along the 19th-century “Savoyard” Walls, once the defensive enclosure of the city. Built between 1887 and 1889, together with the arsenal on the seafront, they formed the heart of La Spezia’s fortified system.

A Valuable Recovery:

Recently reclaimed by the city administration, the park offers visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the city’s history. Walking in the shadow of the great defensive structure, still under restoration, one can enjoy a breathtaking panorama that embraces La Spezia, its landscape, and its evolution over time.

A New View of the City:

Before the park was created, the city walls were largely inaccessible, hidden from view, and unknown to the citizens. The recovery has opened up new spaces and provided a new perspective on the city, revealing and enhancing previously unseen vistas.

The Savoyard walls completely encircled the city, interspersed with gateways that connected the interior to its fortified exterior. They extended from the eastern side of the city, near the current Cruise Terminal where Porta Rocca once stood, to the west, dominated by Porta Castellazzo, and then descended back towards the city center.

An Oasis of Greenery Just Steps from the Center:

Beyond its historical value, the Park of the Walls is an important green resource for the city. Its vast spaces offer an ideal refuge for those wanting to relax in nature just steps from the historic center. The park is particularly appreciated by running enthusiasts, who can enjoy a scenic and picturesque route here.: The park is particularly appreciated by running enthusiasts, who can enjoy a scenic and picturesque route here.

These are just a few ideas for an itinerary to discover the city of La Spezia. Numerous guides can be found in the city, including one from the Municipality of La Spezia, which, through the use of a QR code, allows access to interesting walking tours to visit the most significant places in the city.

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