The Port of La Spezia lies at the head of the Gulf of La Spezia on Italy's northwestern Ligurian coast about 78 kilometers southeast of the Port of Genoa and about 40 nautical miles northwest of the Port of Livorno. In 2006, almost 113 thousand people called the Port of La Spezia home.
The Port of La Spezia is Italy's main naval station and arsenal, and it houses a navigation school. It is also a commercial seaport with busy ship yards. The Port of La Spezia imports coal, oil, and natural gas. Industries in the Port of La Spezia produce metal products, machinery, and refined petroleum. While it is not a major vacation destination, the Port of La Spezia does have limited tourism.
The area of today's Port of La Spezia has been home to humans since pre-historic days. Archaeological evidence of Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements has been uncovered. Many remains of the Roman Empire have been found in the nearby cities of Luni, Bocca di Magra, and Ameglia. The Port of La Spezia's Arsenal lies atop the remains of a Roman villa.
The Port of La Spezia was part of the Republic of Genoa until it fell. After the Genoese Republic failed, the Port of La Spezia grew into a commercial and political center. The Ligurian style is still visible in the Port of La Spezia's layout and architecture.
In the 9th Century, the Normans plundered the Port of La Spezia, and Arab pirates frequently attacked the city. The first village grew up on the Hill of La Spezia. By the 12th Century, the Port of La Spezia was an important trade center. In the early 13th Century, the Port of La Spezia had established a measure of autonomy, and it had a growing mercantile community. By the end of the century, the Port of La Spezia was fortified with the construction of the Saint George Castle. The Republic of Genoa, however, regained control of the area when it burned the castle.
The Saint George Castle was restored in 1343, and the Port of La Spezia regained its importance as a commercial and cultural center. The city walls were reinforced, and five new towers were built to protect the city. In 1390, the Convent of Saint Augustin was constructed. In 1480, the Hospital of Saint Andrea was established.
During the 16th and 17th Centuries, the urban area of Sarzana was the center of power for the Gulf of La Spezia region. Urban development created a near-continuous city that remained relatively unchanged until the beginning of the industrial era.
In 1571, a Spanish fleet sailed into the Port of La Spezia to confront the Republic of Genoa and the Duchy of Savoy. The Genoese Republic increased the fortifications at the Saint George Castle to buttress its power in the area.
In 1656, the Black Death visited northwestern Italy, brought from Asia aboard Genoese ships. The Republic constructed a contagious disease hospital in 1724 to quarantine goods and sailors arriving in the Port of La Spezia. After the plague subsided, the Port of La Spezia grew in military importance to the Republic of Genoa, and Genoa established a Governor of La Spezia.In the late 18th Century, Napoleon's armies invaded northern Italy, bringing an end to the Republic of Genoa and making the Port of La Spezia part of its Liguria Republic. The Port of La Spezia was annexed into the French Empire in 1805, and it was declared a military port in 1808. By the time the Kingdom of Sardinia drove the French out of the area in 1815, the Port of La Spezia continued to be an important strategic military port.
During the 19th Century, the Port of La Spezia began to attract more tourists and increased maritime trade. By 1823, the Port of La Spezia was an important commercial center and new public works were undertaken. The Civic Theatre was inaugurated in 1846. In 1849, the government decided to build the Arsenal in the Port of La Spezia. Construction of the Arsenal continued from 1862 to 1869, bringing many new residents to the city. By the time the unified Kingdom of Italy was established in 1861, the Port of La Spezia was home to about 15 thousand people.
In 1862, world-famous freedom fighter, Giuseppe Garibaldi, was assigned to the Port of La Spezia, and his troops were headquartered in the Milan Hotel in the city.
By 1870, with the coming of the Arsenal, the Port of La Spezia was an important city with tree-lined avenues, a new residential quarter for laborers, and a growing population of military personnel. By 1884, about 37 thousand people lived in the Port of La Spezia.
In the late 1800s, the construction of the mercantile port had begun. The railway connected the Port of La Spezia to Parma, and new electric power was established in the Port of La Spezia. During the 19th Century, the Port of La Spezia gained in popularity as a tourist center. Social and economic change was dramatic and the city grew from a quaint village into a city. With the opening of the Arsenal in 1869, new fortifications were added around the Gulf of La Spezia, and new military-industries appeared in the Port of La Spezia, including the ship yard. The mercantile port also grew.
By 1901, the Port of La Spezia had grown to about 73 thousand people. New public buildings, including a new hospital, were constructed. The civic library and a new Spezia soccer society began operating in 1906. During the early 20th Century, the Port of La Spezia became a more important cultural center as well. After World War I, a new urban plan was developed, bringing new public buildings and monuments to the Port of La Spezia.
Due to its military importance, the Port of La Spezia endured many Allied air raids. In 1943, the Arsenal and many of the city's architectural and historical sites were damaged or destroyed by Allied bombs. Fighting continued in the Port of La Spezia even after the armistice of 1943, and the Resistance was active there for the remainder of World War II, resisting pockets of fascist hold-outs.
After the war, the Port of La Spezia was recognized by the Allies for its military valor. Three ships carrying Jewish survivors traveling to Israel sailed from the Port of La Spezia to Palestine in 1946. Post-war reconstruction saw the clearing of remains of many historic structures that had been damaged during the war. After the war, the Port of La Spezia's position as an important military position declined, and the Arsenal and fortifications were no longer an important part of the local economy.
Since World War II, the Port of La Spezia has worked hard to re-establish its economy. Population declines in the late 20th Century led to efforts to convert industrial facilities, to re-develop the city's ship-building industry, to build maritime commerce, and to increase tourism.