by Leonardo Merlini
(Director of the Museo Navale della Spezia)

Photos by Silvio Scialpi

The Technical Naval Museum of the Navy in La Spezia is one the most important museums in Italy of this kind, and among one of the most ancient in the worild. Heir of the millenary naval and maritime Italian tradition, the museum hosts tens of thousands evidence and relics, of different historic periods – from Roman times to the Maritime Naval Republics, the Marinas before the unification, the Royal Navy and of the actual Navy, plus evidence of the costant technological development linked to the sea.

The collection dates back to the eighteenth century, when the relics of the Real Marina Sabauda, preserved for years in the naval base of Villafranche sur Mer near Nice, formed the first important pieces of the Museum Amedeo VII of Savoy, called “Conte Rosso”, who created in this location the first Naval base of Sabaudia at the end of the fourteenth century, from this moment onward the collection began, in 1775 it obtained its first ordering as museum. At the outbreak of the French Revolution, the objects were transferred to Cagliari and then Genoa, in 1870 with the Unification of Italy and the contruction of the Military Maritime Arsenal, the collection was definitly taken to La Spezia.

After the reconstruction of the Arsenal, following the bombardments of the Allied and of the Germans during the Second World War, the new and current headquarters were inaugurated on 12 May 1958.

The visit takes place in various rooms, divided into different exhibition sections, the pictures of this reportage offer us, through an original artistic interpretation, a brief but intense visual experience with captivating details that will surely hit today’s attentive readers and future visitors.

First of all, the Amerigo Vespucci Ship (PHOTO 1), the most beautiful ship in the world, symbol and ambassadress of Italy, and therefore of the Made in Italy in the world, photographed during one of the countless stops in one of the ports in the world.

A remarkable collection of naval models, many of which made by the workers of the Arsenal and of the museum, that testify the costant progress of the techniques related to the nautical art, providing evidence of the nautical history, from its early beginning to present day. They are ancient ships, for example the hull of Roman ships that were salvaged in Lake Nemi (PHOTO 2) and the three oars designed by Caio Duillio (one of the first Navy Admirals in history), with bumpers and corvus to board the ships of the enemies (PHOTO 3); vessels that belonged to the Navy of the states before the unification, that remind us of the time of sailing; and models of the Italian Naval units of the twentieth century.

The atmosphere that you perceive inside the museum is steeped in History, Men, and businesses that passed down the courage, skills, initiatives and the extraordinary talent for technical innovation in the Maritime sector, that has always distinguished the Italian Navy.

In the hall dedicated to Guglielmo Marconi there are unique objects related to the activity of the Bolognese inventor- for example a device used to receive and transcipt radio signals, thanks to the Morse alphabeth (PHOTO 4) – besides the most important collection in the world of original equipement related to the first naval experiences, carried out in the Gulf of La Spezia.

dedicated to the submarines lost during World War II (PHOTO 6) lead our respecful thoughts to all those who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for a better world and future.

The specific technical feautures are dealt in the related sections of each topic, where visitors can enrich their experience and knowledge.

The room dedicated to underwater weapons, with a wide display of torpedos (PHOTO 7), tells us about the technological developments of this particular and sophisticated weapons.

The room dedicated to leading diving equipment, has always shown the Navy and the town of La Spezia at the forefront, and shows the development of diving techniques in the deep sea and in the abysses (PHOTO 8 and 9).

A rich section is dedicated to the evolution of weapons and artillery, and offers to the careful visitor a big selection of naval and non naval cannons, small weapons and other equipment, starting from 1500 to the present day.

To seal all this, a small gem, a ball chained (PHOTO 10) used on the broadside during the fire fights between vessels, and the imposing central shooting of the battleship VITTORIO VENETO (PHOTO 11), in WW II, twin ships of the battleship ROMA, that by using 8 operators at the same time, could optimize its shots at sea.

The splendid Sala delle Polene, a unique display in the whole world, a rarity in its kind, concludes the visit. Twenty-eight figureheads of various Italian and foreign seafaring, belonging to vessels from the 17th to the 20th century, displayed in a suggestive frame that recalls their original position on the forehand to sail the seas and winds. Their origin is as old as sailing itself; for centuries they have protected sailors in their voyages, and today we still find still them with their unspoilt charm.

Women and warriors, goddesses, monsters and animals: realistic and magical figures that welcome and accompany us on this wonderful tour, just like Atlanta, a figurehead found adrift in 1868 in the Atlantic Ocean, it probably belonged to a Nordic merchant vessel (PHOTO 12), or the Celtic bard that embellished the prow of the motorvessel Cambria (PHOTO 13), during the famous venture of the Thousand.

The Technical Naval Museum of La Spezia closes only at Christmas, New Year’s Eve and on 15th August, it is always ready to renew with enthusiasm the emotions of tens of thousands visitors, that every year pay a visit.

There is nothing more to say but to set sail and navigate in its history and heroes, guided by the figurehead of Christoper Columbus (PHOTO 14), that just as then, leads the way…