La Spezia is a small town nestled at the center of the Gulf of Poets. It is just been considered as the transport gateway to the more famous Cinque Terre for long time but in latest times it’s been more and more appreciated by tourists who choose to spend some time in town, also thanks to a higher care for local attractions and developement.
By Italian standards La Spezia is a quite new town.
In the 19th century Napoleone Bonaparte started to figure out La Spezia natural could be a perfect naval base for the imperial fleet.
La Spezia retains up to present time its character of major harbor for the Italian Navy. Its port allows also the traffic of cargo ships and indeed it has become a major port of call for large cruise ships.
Many beautifully decorated buildings in La Spezia center, dating back to the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries can be seen taking a walk in town. In the newer part of town you can see very innovative contemporary architectures. A few very well curated art and history Museums make a cultural visit possible. The large pedestrian area with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars for every taste can be enjoyed for a fun night our, especially during Spring and Summer.
How to get to La Spezia
- By car, the A12 Rosignano-Genova highway exit enters the motorway junction linking Santo Stefano Magra with the city of La Spezia. La Spezia has many pedestrian areas and can be a good idea to leave your car in one of the many parks located in strategic areas of the city and connected with the center.
- By train, La Spezia Central Station is located a short walk from the city center and allows you to easily reach the Cinque Terre, getting, if you like, the Cinque Terre Card, with benefits also for those who love trekking.
- By ferry, you can reach La Spezia and many neighboring cities, especially during the summer. To get to Portovenere and Cinque Terre, please visit our ferry schedule. Numerous marinas for private pleasure boating.
La Spezia Highlights
Let's dig in some of La Spezia history: just a short guide to have an idea of how the city was born and developed
Towards the middle of the twelfth century the village of La Spezia had become quite important, as witnessed by the first commercial documents of La Spezia history dating year 1160. However, the event that ushered La Spezia in the chronicles of history was the war waged by the City of Genoa against Nicola Fieschi.
This guy belonged to one of the most powerful families in Genoa, but was forced to flee the city due to the war between the Guelfi and the Ghibellini that spread all over Italy.
With the help of his uncle, Pope Innocent IV, Fieschi took shelter in La Spezia, where he began to build the San Giorgio castle with the intention of creating a strong Guelph Signoria, which extension included many territories of the Eastern Ligurian Riviera.
Genoa could not tolerate such a dangerous threat to its own borders and, inevitably, made war against Fieschi. The war ended in the year 1276 with the victory of Genoa; since then until the year 1797, La Spezia and all its Gulf was under the rule of the powerful Maritime Republic.
Despite the defeat, La Spezia acquired a stronger leading role than the other centers of the Gulf thanks to its flourishing trade in salt. The city was surrounded by walls and the castle built by Nicolò Fieschi was, over the centuries, expanded and upgraded.
Fearing that the Gulf of La Spezia might fall into enemy hands, from the mid-sixteenth century the Republic of Genoa began a defensive program that involved the construction of massive fortifications in the most strategic spots of the Gulf. Even today, those coming into the city from the sea, can see the Torre Scola “School Tower" at the eastern end of the island Palmaria, the forts of “Santa Maria", “Varignano" and “Pezzino" along the west coast of the Gulf .
As evidence of the strategic importance acquired, in 1576 Spezia became the seat of captaincy, which was one of the eight “main offices" of the Republic of Genoa. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the city walls were extended: today, in Via Prione at the corner with Via Cavallotti, you can see a part of these walls. Genoa, however, never gave La Spezia the chance to really expand its sales and the city economic life dried up: the size of the city remained the same for many centuries, within the rectangle area of 250×300 sm a population of 2.000- 2500 inhabitants stayed 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 in the history of the city: Napoleon decided to build a large naval arsenal on the western shore of the Gulf. The French projects was carried out only on paper because the rapid fall of Napoleon stopped the realization of the works.
In 1815 Liguria passed under the government of the Kingdom of Sardinia, but a real urban revolution of La Spezia only happened with the Unification of the Italian Kingdom, in 1861. The at the time Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy, Camillo Cavour, strongly wanted to equip the new state with a strong and modern fleet, and chose La Spezia as a pivotal center for the project. Works on the construction of the arsenal began in 1862 and ended in 1869. It was a huge work: the old city was partially destroyed in order to adapt the spaces of the new facility; entire new neighborhoods were built, some of which intended to accommodate the more than 8.000 workers employed in the arsenal; new roads were opened, the railway line and new industrial plants around the city were built: the 5000 inhabitants living in La Spezia in 1861 became more than 100.000 in the early years of the twentieth century.
During World War II, La Spezia was a military strategic objective of primary importance, and the city was massively bombed. This is the reason why today, walking in the streets of the city center, there is a frequent alternation between ancient and modern buildings.
Copy by Roberto Palumbo
San Giorgio Castle, watching the city from above
The San Giorgio Castle is a Genoan Republic military fortification which dominates the city from its hills (the so-called “colli") since the 13th century.
It can be reached walking up Via 27 Marzo or with a lift, which departs from the Via del Prione, stops in Via XX Settembre one level below the Castle, and from there reaches the Castle in a few seconds.
From the San Giorgio castle you can view sea and town, the naturally sheltering shape of the Gulf, and see its very natural call for military defence, once expressed with this fortress and today with an important naval arsenal.
The original core of the castle was an old fort, which was enlarged by Nicolò Fieschi, who in 1262 wanted to strengthen its domination in the area. But in 1273 the troops of the Republic of Genoa led by Oberto Doria conquered, destroyed and looted La Spezia, beating the Fieschi’s troops.
Nicolò Fieschi had to give all his possessions, including the fortress to La Superba – “The Superbe" – Republic of Genoa.
In 1343, when the doge Simone Boccanegra elected “Spetia" city of the new Podesta, the castle was rebuilt. At this time also the new town walls were built: today we have only three hundred meters of what once was an imposive defensive building that surrounded the whole town, but you can still see the original battlement features and the walkways of the guarding patrols going down from the castle to the original heart of the city: the Sant’Agostino area, once the commercial hub, with an important salt market.
The San Giorgio castle has been in ruins for a very long time, today, after a careful restoration which lasted more than a decade, is at the center of the cultural and social community life, in its former glory. Inside, you can visit ad the archaeological collections of the Civic Museum “Ubaldo Formentini", and see the impressive inner structure of the fortress.
The location can also host weddings and parties, with the use of the beautiful terrace overlooking the sea.
Winter: Wednesday to Sunday 9:30 to 12:30 am / 2-5pm; Mondays 9:30 to 12:30am.
Summer: from Wednesday to Sunday, 10:30am to 4:30pm; Mondays 10:30am to 1:30pm.
Closing days: Monday evening, Tuesday, January 1, December 24 and 25.
On reservation, there is a stair lift for wheelchair access.
Reduced fare ticket €4.00€