La Spezia (Spèza in the local dialect of Ligurian), at the head of the Gulf of La Spezia in the Liguria region of northern Italy, is the capital city of the province of La Spezia. Located between Genoa and Pisa on the Ligurian Sea, it is one of the main Italian military and commercial harbours and hosts the arsenal of the Italian Navy. It is important for its museums, for the Palio del Golfo, and for the railway and boat links with Cinque Terre.

History

The area of La Spezia has been settled since pre-historic times. In Roman times the most important centre was Luni, now located in the vicinity of Sarzana (city near La Spezia). Being the capital of the short-lived Niccolò Fieschi Signoria in the period between 1256 and 1273, inevitably linked with the Genoese vicissitudes until the fall of the Republic of Genoa, it grew and changed to develop following the lines of the Ligurian capital. In fact, this Ligurian influence still is visible in the urban layout as well as in the types of buildings and decorations. It can be seen by going along the carrugio, the narrow street dividing the Old Town into two, called Via del Prione taking its name from a pietrone or large stone, in local dialect in fact prione, from where public announcements were read.

Going up from the sea it is possible to see partly hidden, but evident traces of history: engraved stones, capitals, and portals in fourteenth century sandstone, double lancet windows vaguely reminiscent of the future renaissance style, mannerism and baroque pediments, and decorations similar to those adorning the portals of the palaces once belonging to the Doria family and the Princes of Massa.

La Spezia experienced extraordinary development after 1861 when the great naval arsenal there was commissioned by the Royal government. In September 1943 after the Italian capitulation to the Allies, it was the departure port for the Italian Navy when it was ordered to steam into British hands at Malta. The Germans arrived too late to stop the departure of the fleet, so they summarily executed the remaining Italian captains.[citation needed] During the war Italian troopships also left from La Spezia, including the Kaiser Franz Josef, a trans-Atlantic liner launched in Trieste in 1911 for the Austrian Lloyd company, and which Italy had confiscated in 1919. It was sunk in the harbour in La Spezia in 1944.

At the end of the conflict, La Spezia became the point of departure for the survivors from the Nazi concentration camps. From the summer of 1945 to the spring of 1948 more than 23,000 Jews managed to leave Italy clandestinely for Palestine. After lengthy tormented vicissitudes, the ships Fede, Fenice,” Komemiut” managed to take away everyone from the Spezia gulf, to the point that on the Israeli geographical maps, La Spezia is called Schàar Zion (Door to Zion).

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