The Gulf of La Spezia (the Gulf of Poets) is snuggled between two promontories (Portovenere and Lerici) between which there is the city of La Spezia.
It's here that poetry has found its horizon and its home. Between the pinkish shadows of its hamlets, in the bland movement of its hills, beyond the very deep blue of its sea, this discreet land reveals with your footsteps the miraculous dream of Shelley, Petrarca and Montale, the mystery of the perfect harmony of a unison song between man and his sea, his land. This is the Gulf of the Poets, the Gulf of La Spezia.
La Spezia is an elegant city best seen on foot. Exotic palm-studded gardens line the sea front before giving way to the magnificent nineteenth-century gardens and the airy shaded arcades of the Via Chiodo.
La Spezia is also a modern city, and the centre of the town is a pedestrian area. The bustling Via del Prone is lined with small shops and stalls whilst the elegance of the Piazza Sant' Agostino speaks of an earlier time. "The streets are wide and the houses tall and yellow...". This was how Ernest Hemingway saw it, just a few words for an exceptional description: a city made up of large houses and wide streets where plastered facades irradiate sunny warmth.
This is still the impression one gets visiting La Spezia, houses full of light facing onto the sea and it is exactly the size of the houses that gives one to understand the extraordinary development starting from the second half of the XIX Century, that is to say from when the great Naval Arsenal commissioned by the Savoy's transformed the best part of its fate and aspect.
La Spezia is the ideal base to discover and enjoy the Cinque Terre at its best.
The main Railway Station of La Spezia connect the Cinque Terre area with a 7 minutes train ride (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso).
Main sights in La Spezia
Cristo Re ("Christ the King", cathedral), consecrated in 1975.
Abbey church of Santa Maria Assunta ("Our Lady of the Assumption", 13th century).
Santi Giovanni e Agostino ("Saints John and Augustine", 16th century). It has a single nave with 18th and 19th century decorations.
"Ubaldo Formentini" - Civic Museum in the Castle of San Giorgio
"Amedeo Lia" Museum (http://mal.spezianet.it/en/map.htm)
Palazzina delle Arti and Museum of Seals
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (CAMeC)
Ethnographic Civic Museum
Technical Naval Museum (http://www.laspezia.net/navale/welcome.html)
National Transportation Museum.
La Spezia is also a point of departure for the Cinque Terre, either by train or boat. The boat and the bus also serves Lerici and Portovenere.
During the first half of the XIX century La Spezia started to physically break down the medieval walls still encircling it, casting out its territorial ambitions in the direction of the sea shore.
As from 1825, due to the increasing whirl of social life, the city endowed itself with small public gardens located where the bandstand now stands and the original name given to the gardens, Boschetto, tells us about the landscape style, then so much in vogue, used to plan and design them.
The original public gardens had already grown within the space of a decade by taking over the lawn in front of what is now palazzo Doria in via Chiodo, but it was after the construction site opened to build the Naval Arsenal that infinitely more space was given over to public parks and gardens: the enormous mountains of earth taken from excavating for the docks will in fact be banked into the sea increasing the distance between city and shore at the same time giving new wings for that botanical style which had already gained such successful results.
With Paita as the city mayor, the space used up during the last decade of the XIX century coincides almost perfectly with what you can see today, but the public parks and gardens will only take on the appearance as we know them today between the 10's and 20's of the XX century.
It is in fact owing to Felice Del Santo's artistic sense that the city will plant bitter orange trees to embellish promenades and the shady Parco della Rimembranza, a commemoration park in the Gaggiola district, obviously as well as to the working design of the public gardens.
Even though the gardens of the town houses built after via XX Settembre and via XXVII Marzo were opened were not very large they contributed towards completing the horticultural layout in the central part of the city as well as behind it.
The mansions located outside the city, built on fortified settlements dating back to the lower medieval, had already extensively marked the region with well laid out parks and gardens. Adapting themselves to the landscape styles which had in turn influenced the layout of the great estates, the mansions are admirable monuments in the scenery of the Gulf.
Even though the landscape around the Gulf and on the hills facing onto it is not equal to the landscape of mansions for example around Lucca or even nearer to home in the endangered district of Sarzana, it is in fact similar.
From the west on Palmaria Island with its 18th century mansion once belonging to the Marquises Pieri Neri from Siena up until near to the city with villa Federici di Fabiano, there are a series of villas, more numerous towards the eastern coast, where a better climate encourages this phenomenon.
In Lerici, natural outlet for Sarzana going past Romito, the Marigola, Cochrane, now Miniati and de Benedetti, now Picedi Benettini estates are perfect examples of the changing sentiments linking man with repossessed nature.The Allende Centre used for exhibitions and cultural events is located in the public gardens between via Diaz, Italia, Da Passano and Mazzini roads, with its entrance from the latter.
TRADITIONAL SPEZIA DISHES
The La Spezia gastronomic tradition, based both on the seafaring community and on farmer's experience, still offers authentic dishes, bearing evidence of memories long gone by.
The most typical recipes of local culinary art are born from the unison between sea and land and are linked with the Mediterranean tradition but exalted by unmatched fragrance and perfume.
Basil, rosemary, thyme, lemons and olive oil are just a few of the unmistakable expressions of this small Eden of Italian flavours. Mes ciua and Fainà (farinata) are by far the most typical dishes originating from the land in La Spezia.
Mes ciua is a soup made of chickpeas, beans, dried broad beans, grass-pea and spelt, with uncertain origin but perhaps something to do with the economic difficulties experienced by the farmers astride the XVIII and XIX century, or, as some experts believe, dates back to as far as three thousand years before Christ. In any case Mesc iua is undoubtedly the typical dish of La Spezia cooking, made of "poor" ingredients but exalted by the flavour of black ground pepper and the rich olive oil from the Riviera, accompanied by good wine from the surrounding hills. It is a well thought out recipe both for the proportions and for cooking it and there is nothing like it anywhere else in Italy.
The fragrance of farinata, a crusty piece of pastry made from chickpea flour and cooked over a wooden fire, coming from the bakeries along the city carrugi still fills the air today.
The origin of this dish is a point of controversy but it seems to have come from upper Tuscany, even though it can now be considered a typical recipe of the La Spezia culinary tradition, and has a quite different consistency and taste from the similar Tuscany dish.
Flavours from the land can also be found in sea food dishes, merging into a triumph of tastes such as for example stuffed mussels (muscoli ripieni): a tasty mixture enclosed between the two mussel shells.
There are numerous fish dishes chiefly using anchovies, dried salted cod and mussels.
They can be enjoyed fried, stuffed, steamed, marinated (a scabegio), or preserved under salt or olive oil.
Stockfish and squid are instead prepared stewed with flavouring.
A special mention should be given for whitebait fritters, practically not to be found anywhere now as fishing them has been strictly limited.
Another typical dish originating in La Spezia.is Focaccia.
Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread, which may be topped with herbs, with onion or other ingredients. However, by far the most typical focaccia is simply baked dough topped with olive oil and a simple herb like rosemary or sage, and salted with coarse salt. It is very popular as a snack