On the map, it looks like a small crescent or an arch pointing towards northern Europe. Liguria is a small border region, wedged between the Alps and the sea. In just a few square kilometers, it encompasses the different elements that together form the image of this marvelous region. It is difficult to choose which part truly represents Liguria: the ancient and futuristic architecture of Genoa, the beaches to the east or the west, the cliffs overlooking the sea, the villages high in the hills, the picturesque Cinque Terre, the villas and gardens, medieval hill villages or the woods and trails. In short, Liguria has something wonderful to offer throughout the region, forming an immense natural, historical and artistic wealth.

In the midst of all this beauty, there are also museums, archives and foundations that tell the stories of professions, people and traditions, promoting the region and its business culture. This is the case of the Ansaldo Foundation in Genoa, the Melara Museum Association in La Spezia and the Bergallo Clock Museum in Tovo San Giacomo.

Genoa and the Ansaldo Foundation

The city bears the vestiges of Arab, Spanish, Turkish and Greek influences, preserving the signs that made it a powerful maritime republic in the Middle Ages and an aristocratic city in modern day. However, Genoa, renamed “the Superb” by Petrarch, the lady of the sea, remains profoundly Ligurian. Its beauty can be discovered along the carrugi, narrow alleyways, at the end of which breathtaking noble palaces emerge and compete for space with their slate roofs, sculpted portals and pastel-colored facades. The inner streets lead to the old port which one stumbles upon almost by chance. It is the symbol of Genoa’s ancient maritime trading history, but also of the city’s vision of the future. Under the watchful eye of the Lighthouse, historic buildings rub shoulders with Renzo Piano’s modern designs, creating one of the most attractive cultural centers in the city.

The Ansaldo Foundation is located far from the city center, but retains close ties to Genoa and the surrounding area. The Foundation is responsible for the recovery, preservation and promotion of business culture.

Since 1986, it has been based in Villa Cattaneo dell’Olmo in Val Polcevera, the heart of industrial Genoa. The building was rebuilt in the seventeenth century by the Cattaneo family who transformed the country house belonging to the Grimaldi family into a spectacular manor. The rooms are covered entirely with frescos. The main decorative cycle is the one by Giacomo Antonio Boni (1688-1766) and his workshop, while other decorations, such as the trompe l’oeils in the atrium and chapel, were added in the nineteenth century. The villa participates in the initiatives dedicated to the Palazzi dei Rolli, the beautiful homes of the nobility that, at the time of the ancient Republic, had the honor and the responsibility of hosting high-ranking officials during their institutional visits to Genoa. Formally established on 18 February 2000 by Leonardo, the Municipality of Genoa, the Metropolitan City of Genoa, and the Region of Liguria, the Ansaldo Foundation is the result of a path that began in 1980, when the Ansaldo Group opened the Ansaldo Historical Archive to the public. It was the first business archive in Italy and was immediately declared to be of particular historical interest by the Archival Superintendence Office. Initially, the renovation and preservation work only involved the records of the Ansaldo Group. However, the Group soon started safeguarding the records of its subsidiaries and affiliates. Over time, the Group also began collecting and preserving the records of third-party companies operating in the area that would have otherwise been lost or destroyed.

The current-day Ansaldo-Leonardo Group Foundation was established in 2007 on the initiative of Leonardo (then Finmeccanica) and with the support of the other founding members, who through a process of strategic-structural redefinition of the Foundation expanded its statutory purposes. Today, the Foundation’s cultural heritage is made up of historical, technical, entrepreneurial and corporate memories from Ligurian companies and industries from the mid-nineteenth century up to the early 2000s. In addition, there have been numerous donations of documents from private individuals, such as the Ansaldo family archives or the Corpino share collection, and, recently, the Nossardi Archive with documents dating back to 1830.

Portofino and the San Fruttuoso abbey

As you head towards the Cinque Terre from Genoa, you pass along the sunny eastern Ligurian gulf of Tigullio, overlooked by the promontory of Portofino with its picture-postcard coastlines, tall and narrow multi-colored houses dotted around the small port. A popular destination among international jet-setters, the small village of Portofino has largely unknown ancient origins. Records of Portofino date back to the Imperial Age with the name of Portus Delphini and it still preserves the Roman grid street layout. The bay with the abbey of San Fruttuoso, built between the 10th and13th centuries, is another gem that lies along the coastline between Portofino and Camogli. This Benedictine abbey – a pirate den that for centuries belonged to the Doria princes – is a place rendered unique by nature and history.

La Spezia and the Melara Museum Association

At the heart of the Gulf of Poets, near the Cinque Terre and famous coastal resorts such as Lerici and Tellaro, La Spezia is a stop-over to other destinations. Yet it has much to offer like the museums, the lively Via del Prione and the Morin promenade with its spectacular views of the gulf and Apuan Alps. Industrial and modern, yet with an orderly nineteenth-century layout in parts, it was a popular destination on the Grand Tour between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the home to the poets, George Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. When the two Englishmen lived there, the city was nothing more than a charming village of 3,000 inhabitants. It had no naval base, factories, port infrastructure or barricades to interrupt the magic of the 9-kilometer bay.

Napoleon, who defined the Gulf of La Spezia as “the most beautiful in the universe”, saw it as the ideal place to build a military port. The Count of Cavour had the same vision and sought to transfer the Kingdom of Sardinia’s Naval base from Genoa to La Spezia (1853). The Naval Base (inaugurated in 1869) and the companies and facilities connected to it transformed the urban layout of the city, which changed from a small walled town to a large maritime fortress.

For centuries, La Spezia was renowned for shipbuilding and the defense sector. OTO Melara (today Leonardo Divisione Elettronica – BU Sistemi di Difesa) is a prime example of this vocation. In 1905, Acciaierie di Terni (a steel plant) signed an agreement with the British company Vickers, to create Vickers-Terni, Società Italiana di Artiglieria e Armamenti, for the construction and operation of a heavy weapons factory. Since then, the company’s production in the naval, land and aeronautical fields has gone from strength to strength, making the company a major industrial partner of Armed Forces all over the world. Today, its products are sold to over 60 countries across 5 continents.

The Melara Museum Association, founded in 1985 and now part of the Integrated Museum and Archives System run by the Fondazione Leonardo-Civiltà delle Macchine, protects, manages and promotes the company’s historical and cultural heritage, thanks also to its impressive document archive. Since 2019, the Association, the Archive and the exhibition have occupied the restored South Gatehouse of the Leonardo facility, in the industrial area to the east of the city center. The Archives and document center preserve photographs, films and documents that tell visitors the fascinating story of the factory and the men and women who worked there. Several models of historical OTO Melara land and naval products are also on display.

Lastly, a permanent exhibition of restored historical vehicles is currently being set up outside the documentation center: a fascinating journey through time, among the physical and material evidence of a long history of world-class production.

Le Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso: five splendid villages spread out in a line along just eight miles of coastline. These five small and picturesque fishing villages, with their colorful houses and lush vegetation, have been carved out of the landscape through sheer hard work, suspended between the mountains and the sea, transforming it into a system of terraces with vineyards, gardens and dry stone walls. Nature has allowed itself to be shaped, but still remains wild. So much so that the Cinque Terre National Park has been a UNESCO site since 1997.

The Bergallo Clock Museum

A lot of time has passed between the transition from the sundial to the smartwatch. The Clock Museum of Bergallo tells the story of what happened in between and the mechanisms that marked the passing of hours, minutes and seconds. From the first decades of the 19th century until 1984, the Bergallo family lived and worked inland from the Riviera di Ponente in Bardino Nuovo (a hamlet, part of Tovo San Giacomo). They founded the factory bearing the family name, producing clocks for church bell towers, town halls or the facades of aristocratic houses. Over the course of their centuries-long activity, the Bergallo family collected dozens of examples of monumental clocks, machinery, mechanisms and hands and numbers, as well as documents and images now housed in the museum. It was the last descendent of the family who expressed the desire to donate this wealth to the Municipality. The museum, therefore, not only showcases the history of a family business, but also the evolution of industrial civilization and technology.

The islands of Bergeggi and Gallinara

The islands of Bergeggi and Gallinara lie a short distance off the coast from Tovo San Giacomo, respectively in the direction of Savona and Albenga.

The small island of Bergeggi is now an uninhabited regional natural reserve, but in the distant past – between the fourth and sixth centuries – it was the site of a Benedictine monastery, whose motherhouse was the Abbey of Lérins. Only the ruins of two churches built in the 6th and 11th centuries and the ruins of some towers remain of the monastic complex. The sea that surrounds it, a Marine Reserve, is of particular geological and biological interest.

The island of Gallinara, which is also a regional nature reserve, is perhaps one of the most fascinating natural places on the Ligurian Riviera with many endemic species of plants, and sea caves. It is the nesting site of one of the largest colonies of herring gulls in the Ligurian Sea. It also has a long history. Home to a community of hermit monks, the first of whom was St. Martin of Tours, according to tradition, who found refuge there between 356 and 360. At the beginning of the 8th century, it was passed to the Benedictine monks who founded an abbey of which only a few ruins remain and which have been incorporated into a villa.


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