VIAREGGIO – 50 KM FROM MONTECATINI TERME
The sea that glitters on one side, the white snow or marble peak of the Apuan Alps on the other. This is Viareggio, the pearl of Versilia. Born as a gateway to the sea of Lucca, Viareggio owes its name to the via regis, the road that connected it to the chief town in the Middle Ages. Its foundation dates back to 1172, when Lucchesi and Genoese, allies against Pisa, built a famous fortified fortress in that year. The oldest fortification in the city, the Torre Matilde, dates back to the 1500s and was built by the Lucchesi to defend themselves from pirates. All around stands the original district of the city, which grew up along the Burlamacca canal, which is still today the ideal dock for fishermen and for the many Viareggio citizens who own a small boat.
However, the evolution of Viareggio from a simple port to a city was not easy. Only in 1819 the Duchess Maria Luisa of Bourbon build the first dock, and only the following year was the inhabited center elevated to the rank of city. We have to go back to 1822 to see Viareggio transform into a tourist center, thanks to the holiday stay of Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Paolina Borghese, Viareggio thus assumed the connotations of a famous seaside resort, so much so that the works for the first bathing establishment date back to 1828.
However, the tourist culture in Viareggio has always been combined with that of art which is found in the Civic Museums of Villa Paolina and in the splendid Art-deco and Liberty vestiges that adorn the city, its best examples
The Promenade is the showcase of Viareggio: a large avenue of over 3 km that runs along the sea decorated with Art Nouveau architecture, from Bagno Balena to Caffè Margherita, where Giacomo Puccini loved to sit.
But Viareggio above all means Carnival: four weeks of madness in which tourists from all over Italy come to admire the most famous papier-mâché floats in the world. A tradition born in 1873 when a group of young bourgeois who frequented the Caffè del Casino launched the idea of a procession of carriages and masks along the avenue to the sea. Since then, for 4 Sundays in a row, the carts have paraded along the Promenade: huge papier-mâché caricatures that ironically make fun of the world of politics or entertainment. An artisan tradition that marries satire and that every year tackles the great current issues laughing about them. After the parade of the carts, the fun in Viareggio continues with the rioni: parties that every weekend involve the four districts of the city in turn, during which the streets closed to traffic are filled with masks, music and dances.