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La Spezia’s city centre is relatively new, although the area was already known in Roman times for its excellent position, as its inlets and strategic location made it ideal for military fortifications and settlements. La Spezia later became the capital of the Genoese Signoria ruled by Niccolò Fieschi between 1256 and 1273; it was during that time that the urban landscape changed and grew following local traditions.
The typical Ligurian characteristics of the area can still be seen today in the city layout, its buildings and adornments. The most distinctive feature of this urban design is the ‘carrugio’ (alley), a narrow street where houses are adjacent to each other, primarily for defence.
In the 18th century, La Spezia became a maritime prefecture under Napoleonic rule. Napoleon himself laid the project’s foundations, with the ambition of creating a military arsenal that was later completed by Domenico Chiodo in the second half of the 19th century. La Spezia’s Naval Base changed the town’s appearance, as defensive walls were torn down and the layout of the centre was redesigned. During this period, the palaces and portico of Via Chiodo and the market square were built, giving life to the city’s new historic and financial centre. The 20th century gave La Spezia an additional identity, and today’s visitors can witness many examples of early 20th century artistic styles.
Despite all these changes, the city centre has maintained the Ligurian features described above: you can see them by following the ‘carrugio’ that cuts through the old centre, the central Via del Prione, which owes its name to its large podium (‘prione’ in the local dialect) where public notices used to be read aloud. Walking up the long, narrow street, you can see traces of La Spezia’s 14th century in the engraved stones, capitals and doorways made from sandstone.
Today, the Castle of St. George is the monument that most represents La Spezia’s historic struggles. Set on a small hill called ‘Poggio’, overlooking the old town, the castle has experienced numerous and continuous building phases, which have been documented since at least the second half of the 14th century. After being closed for many years, the castle was reopened to the public in 1998; today, it houses an eponymous museum, which features the Municipal Archaeological Collections.
In recent decades, the old town centre has become more liveable and accessible to tourists; several streets and squares have been closed, redeveloped and pedestrianised, and on-going projects are been carried out to renovate the steps that connect the city centre with the hills of La Spezia.
This offering is fuelled by, and integrated with, the organisation of large-impact events, which allow visitors to discover and experience La Spezia’s unique cultural and historical tradition.