The Oldest Part of Viareggio
The Medieval Via Regis, which guaranteed a link to the sea for Lucca, is now called Via Regia and it is from here that we begin our exploration of the city and its oldest monument, Torre Matilde. This fort was built in 1172 to defend the city from enemies and all around it, along the Burlamacca canal, arose the first district of the city.
Viareggio evolution from simple harbour to a fishing village and finally to a city took many years: in fact, it was only in the 18th century that land reclamation works were carried out and the Lucchesi noblemen began to build their houses by the sea. In subsequent years, Viareggio became a popular holiday destination and in the 19th century the first bathing establishments were built.
Liberty in the City
Then came the years when the city was bathed in a Liberty wave and buildings, cafés and shops were constructed in this style, in particular along the Promenade, the avenue that runs along the coast and is a showcase of the city. Of particular note are the Teatro Eden Cinema and Magazzini Duilio 48, Caffè Margherita and Chalet Martini, Bagno Balena, the Matteucci Centre and the beautiful Villa Argentina, which was recently restored. Most of the buildings were made from wood and in 1917 a fire broke out that destroyed most of the structures on the Promenade in a single night.
Viareggio suffered heavy bombing during the Second World War and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed in September 1944 before the Allied troops reached the city and freed it. The post-war period was characterised by reconstruction work and the city continued to grow and develop until the present day, becoming ever more a tourist destination.
Between the Sea and the Pine Forest
If you love nature, Viareggio will not disappoint with its ten kilometres of beaches equipped with bathing establishments and four free beaches, in particular those in Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Regional Natural Park (Lecciona beach) and next to the dock. The two large Ponente and Levante pine forests are natural oases in the middle of the city. The Ponente pine forest dates to the second half of the 18th century, when pines and other trees were planted to defend the city from the wind. Inside you will find kiosks, cycle lanes, paths and trails, children’s play parks, sports equipment, etc. The Levante pine forest, however, is part of the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Regional Natural Park and has more restrictive natural constraints that protect it. This is where you can find the beautiful Villa Borbone.
In addition to art and nature, Viareggio is inevitably associated with the most anticipated event of the year: Carnival. It is an international event that consists of four masked parades every year during which tourists from all over come to admire the papier-mâché floats built during the year by the float builders. The Viareggio Carnival has ancient origins: it began in 1873 when a group of young middle-class people launched the idea of a procession of carriages and masks along the promenade for Mardi Gras. Today the Viareggio Carnival lasts a whole month with parties, parades of enormous proportions, masked balls, and much more in a festive atmosphere. The Carnival Citadel, the place where the papier-mâché floats are built, is worth a visit as well as the Carnival Museum.
Torre del Lago Puccini
Viareggio has a single external district, Torre del Lago Puccini, named after the great composer who came here to seek inspiration and where he wrote many of his famous operas. The Villa Puccini Museum can still be visited today and it houses the remains of the musician as well as artefacts and memorabilia of his life. In Torre del Lago there is the largest outdoor theatre in Tuscany that has hosted the most important opera festivals in Italy every summer since 1930 and it is the only one in the world dedicated to the composer Giacomo Puccini. Here Puccini’s operas are staged in a large open-air theatre with 3,400 seats on the banks of Massaciuccoli Lake. Torre del Lago is also famous for its nightlife, a hub for gay-friendly tourism.