Visit the Quintino Sella Air-Raid Shelter in La Spezia

Among the fashion stores, gelaterias, and bars that beckon to passersby along Via del Prione in the historic center of La Spezia, you might notice a mural with a child’s smiling eyes. This newly restored site of memory for the city recounts a significant chapter of its history: the Quintino Sella Air Raid Shelter.

During the dramatic bombings that hit La Spezia during World War II, this place protected about 6,500 people, and today, it has transformed into an “experiential” museum. It allows visitors to relive the atmosphere of those terrible moments not only through photographic and descriptive panels but also through a sensory reconstruction of the bombings.

La Spezia during the war

The Quintino Sella Shelter is one of the largest air raid shelters in the Gulf of La Spezia, part of a network of over 150 similar structures. After decades of neglect, this space has been rediscovered and valued, becoming a living testament to the city’s history and its fate closely tied to war.

The bombings on La Spezia were particularly violent, especially for the city’s historic center, among the most devastating to hit Italy during World War II. The most severe bombings occurred on April 14 and 19 and May 2, 12, 19, and 22, 1944, targeting the naval arsenal, the O.T.O mechanical workshops, and the port.

The Naval Arsenal, strongly advocated by Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, in 1862 due to a naturally protected harbor, was a jewel in the crown of military and civilian shipbuilding. While these facilities contributed to the demographic and architectural growth of the city in the early 1900s, during World War II, it was precisely the presence of these strategic sites that made the city a key target for destruction, not only by the Allied forces but also systematically by the Germans in retreat during the final stretch of the conflict.

The Naval Arsenal, strongly advocated by Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, in 1862 due to the presence of a naturally protected harbor, was a cornerstone for both military and civilian shipbuilding. While these facilities contributed to the demographic and architectural growth of the city in the early 1900s, during World War II, it was precisely the presence of these strategic sites that made the city a key target for destruction, not only by the Allied forces but also systematically by the Germans in retreat during the final stretch of the conflict.

An Innovative and Commemorative Restoration for the City’s History

The visit to the Quintino Sella Shelter after its recent restoration isn’t solely focused on war. Two immersive multimedia installations recount the history of La Spezia from the fourteenth to the twentieth century. Visitors are guided through local historical events, from the echoes of Simon Boccanegra to the corsair Gattilusio, leading up to the more recent horrors of war. The highlight of the visit is the installation “Under the Bombs – La Spezia April 18, 1943,” which reconstructs the bombing of April 18, 1943, a moment of intense emotional impact using lights and sounds to recreate the atmosphere of the era.

Art and Memory: The Contribution of Ozmo

The eyes that invite passersby from their stroll to discover are the work of Ozmo, one of the main proponents of public art in Italy, commissioned by the local administration to create an artistic work at the entrance of the Shelter. Ozmo’s work is not merely an aesthetic addition; it’s a dialogue between the urban context and its observers, an invitation to reflect on peace and the union among peoples, emphasizing the importance of collective memory and the overcoming of conflicts.

When to visit the Quintino Sella air raid shelter

The shelter is currently open on weekends:
on Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 7pm
on Sundays from 10.30am to 12.30pm and from 4pm to 7pm.


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