While La Spezia may not be a major attraction in any visit to Liguria (Genoa must remain that and, of course, the classic Cinque Terre footpath) it is well-worth visiting even if the Arsenal isn’t open to the public (See my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/a-top-secret-establishment/)
The city (which is Liguria’s second largest) has an essentially modern aspect. This is because of two reasons: first, the city only really developed after its arsenal was opened in the 1860’s; second, as a strategic naval base, it was heavily bombed by allied forces in WWII.
Despite this, La Spezia is of great interest to all lovers of neglected Italian cities. For example, it has some superb examples of Art Nouveau. The palazzo Maggiani, in particular, is outstanding and points to those fin-de-siècle days when La Spezia’s citizens were developing a more confident attitude as a result of the city’s increasingly important role as Italy’s première (as it then was) naval base.
(There is a good web site on the subject of La Spezia’s Art Nouveau at http://turismocultura.spezianet.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=567&Itemid=566&lang=it)
Fascist architecture, too, is well represented, especially in Franco Olivo’s classic Teatro Civico, its present appearance dating from that fateful year, 1933. I was stunned by this incredibly fine example from a neglected period of architectural history.
Of churches I found Santa Maria della Neve an excellent example of the eclectic style of Italian ecclesiastical architecture. It was designed by Giuseppe Ferrari d’Orsara (of whom I know nothing) and built in the 1890’s.
Of the cathedral of Christ the King, which I had entered on a previous visit the less said about it the better. This gross example of 1960’s modernism reminded me more of a sports palace, or even a multiplex cinema, than an important place of worship.
La Spezia is also famous for its pedestrian staircases which ascend the hills surrounding it. It’s a great way to get rid of that “spare tyre”!
Climbing one of these staircases one can reach La Spezia’s really old building – its castle called Castello San Giorgio which has part of the old mediaeval walls attached to it and which I have up to now been unsuccessful in gaining admission to.
Furthermore, La Spezia has a number of very interesting museums which I have visited on my previous two excursion to the city.
By far the best (and worth a visit to La Spezia just to visit it) is the Museo Lia (web site at http://museolia.spezianet.it/) which contains a remarkably rich collection of (mainly Italian) pictures gathered together and donated to the comune by Amedeo Lia.
Less exciting, but still worth a look in, are the ethnographic museum and the diocesan museum further along La Spezia’s Main Street. There was nice exhibition of local current embroidery there:
A museum I have yet to visit is the Transport museum. I think that’s going to be my first stop on any future visit to La Spezia. As a lover of railways, trolley-buses and trams I understand it has a particularly good selection of restored examples of trolley-buses some of which still parade around the city today.
Although few people would now think of going for a dip at La Spezia shoreline it used to be Italy’s ex-royal family’s preferred seaside spot – a sort of equivalent to Brighton. La Spezia was also selected a couple of years ago as one of the five Italian cities with the best quality of life. It’s now, unfortunately, lost that position.
(If you’re interested these are the current most liveable cities in Italy in this order:
Trento, Bolzano, Bologna, Belluno, Siena
No marks for guessing the worst place to live in Italy – it’s Naples – how sad for such a once so beautiful city.)
Returning to La Spezia’s railway station it’s worth looking up, when buying your return ticket, at the booking hall’s ceiling where three fine frescoes, painted by local painter Luigi Agretti (1877-1933), represent La Spezia, Commerce and Industry.
I call that a fine farewell to this intriguing city!
(And so did Richard Wagner, who was inspired to start his Ring Cycle here with the prelude to Das Rheingold as this plaque, on a fine old palace I found in La Spezia’s centre, tells us:)