Viareggio founded since XII century from Lucchesi and Genovesi who, allied against Pisa, they built a tower to defend the coast. The small fortress took the name castrum di via regia,
in as m?ch as it rose at the end of that important road which had been laid under the protection of the Emperor Federico Barbarossa. The castle,
which the P?sans and Luccans fought over for some time, lost its military importance over the course of two centuries. In the 16th century, after
Lucca was forced to move its port to the mouth of the Burtamacca canal, the Torre di Matilde (Mathilda Tower) was built in the place of the oId castrum. This helped the formation of
an inhabited nucleus. In 1559 the first church was built. It was originally called San Pietro and later dedicated to the Santissima Annunziata. Maria Luisa of Bourbon made a Iarge
contribution to the urban development of the town. In 1820 a decree elevated it to the rank of city.
Paolina Bonaparte chose it as a holiday spot, and built
herself a sumptuous villa which is still in existence. At the beginning of this century, Viareggio tooh on the physiognomy of a Liberty city, which was, unfortunately seriously damaged
in the great fire of 1917. The most important names of those involved in the reconstruction are Galileo Chini and Alfredo Belluomini, the one responsible for the urban Iayout as it
stands today, a grid of wide tree-lined avenues which reach the sea.
The most ancient monuments Little or nothing remains of ancient Viareggio.
One of the most ancient monuments is undoubtedly the socalled Torre di Matilde,
which tradition would like have dated baclt to the Countess Matilde di Canossa. In reality, the structure was built at the beginning of the 15th century by
the Itepublic of Lucca as garrison to guard the port and town. The powerful four-sided construction rises up near the doch and still maintains its regal and powerful aspect.
In 1819 it became a prison, and stayed as such up until the end of the Second World War. The tower's internal construction consists of three floors, only one of which can be
discerned from the outside. It also has a large terrace from which it ?s possible to admire the splendid panorama overloohing the sea. Near the fortress, in Via delle Catene,
it is possible to see some 16th century houses. In distressingly poor repair, these are the oldest houses in the city.
|The historical palaces and Shelley's monument
The beautiful historical palaces are of certain architectural interest, and although it is not possible to visit the interiors, the exteriors definitely mer?t a visit.
The Palazzo Bernardini was built in the IBth century as a summer residence for the noble Bernardini family of Lucca. Palazzo Belluomini owes its fame to Pope Pious VII's forced visit,
having stayed there on his way to France as a prisoner of Napoleon III. The palazzo also had a small theatre for entertnining the noble proprietors and their friends.
Another importnnt building is the Palazzo della Cittadella, built in the l8th century and now the site of the Hotel Vittoria, where Alessandro Manwni and Giuseppe Giusti stayed.
But the most famous building is the Palazzo PaoIina, ordered to be built by Paolina Bonaparte and now the site of two museums. ShelIey's monument, in the pia.zza of the same name,
has a romantic flavour. In fact, the great English poet drowned in a boating accident in 1822 off the coast of Viareggio. According to the laws in force at the time, any body
found at sea had to be cremated for fear of contagion and eventual epidemics. ShelIey had to be buried in Italy, and not in England, as his friend Lord Byron would have wished.
In his honour, the citizens erected this monument.
The most interesting architectural motif in Vinreggio, however, is represented by the buildings of the 'twenties and 'thirties, generally attributed to Liberty, although the
style is rarely so pure and classifiable as that. To be more precise, these buildings are an expression of Art D?co, characterized by the vast ceramic decorations,
much in vogue in the architecture of the 'twenties. In this context it is possible to place the work of the architect Belluomini and the painter and ceramist Galileo Chini.
The oldest building, and the only one to survive the terrible fire of 1917, is the Martini store, made of wood, like all the other buildings that once adorned the sea walh.
The Gran Caffe Margherita, the most exclusive meeting place in the city; with its unmistakable exotic turrets in bright yellow, blue and wh?te majolica tiles,
reproposes those wooden structures which were such an easy prey to fire. The curviIinear façade of Magazzini Duilio 48, one of the most whimsical survivors in the Liberty style,
and the façade of Bagni Balena, are just some of the buildings which made Viareggio world-famous. Art D?co also inf luenced the building of Villa Argentina,
the tympanums of the Supercinema, and the panels of the Hotel Excelsior, as well as many other artistic episodes which make up the historical part of Viareggio.