The Maritime Museum of Viareggio
In the restored premises of the old Viareggio fish market, built in 1933, there is a permanent exhibition which illustrates the origins and identity of the Versilia area: the Maritime Museum. The museum was first thought of long ago in 1920 by the “Centenary Committee of Viareggio Town” but it was the League of Master Carpenters and Caulkers which, forty years later, and the end the 1960’s, gathered the first exhibits to shows in a the future museum. The museum shows the history and techniques linked to boat building and navigation, with particular attention to the activity which has historically developed in Viareggio, thus taking of the role of “a place of memory” for the conservation, knowledge and vauling of the culture, thanks to the gathering together of exhibits which testify to the maritime hearitage of Viareggio, documenting the links of works, ingenuity and pain between Viareggio and the sea.
The heritage amounts to more than a thousand pieces subdivided into sections: the shipyards and the craftsmanship of the master carpenters and caulkers, the onboard fittings and nautical instruments, the claw divers, the historic documents and artistic testaments, the model of ships, the people of the sea, the splendour and fading of the sail era.
Also of interest is the record of human underwater adventure, such as the claw divers, famous recovery ships. In the 1930’s the claw divers caught the attention and interest of the whole world after the recovery of the gold and silver from the wreck of the Egypt, the English transatlantic ship sunk in the English Channel in 1922. Undertaking a recovery at that time was judged to be impossible. This feat in the 1930’s is unequalled even today, for deep sea recovery.
Among the most valuable exhibits is the telescope belonging to Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the great romantic poets, whose ship, which left on the 8th July 1822 from Livorno bound for San Terenzo, was wrecked in a violent storm after just a few hours into its voyage. The body of Shelley was whashed up on the beach of Viareggio in front of the Villa of Paolina Bonaparte. On the 10th September 1822 his ship was also recovered, sunk around 15 miles off the Viareggio coast, along with part of its cargo: a trunk, various bottles, books and various items for the journey, among which was his telescope. Apart from ships in bottles and other maritime objects, the museum also has a strong virtual component, the best parts of which are films, photos, and a telecommunications archive.