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The topographical surveys kept at the Civic Library of La Spezia

Although he never had the opportunity to visit it personally, Napoleon was a firm believer in the military advantages of the Gulf of La Spezia. For this reason, in 1808, the Emperor pronounced the Gulf a military port and raised the Ligurian city to the seat of maritime prefecture at the head of the VIIe Arrondissement Maritime. This required the development of a sufficient plan of defence for the Gulf and, as a consequence, the construction of a maritime arsenal. The work was preceded by a careful inspection of the sites, but the fall of the Empire did not permit the realization of the anticipated plan. This was the context for the topographical campaign directed by Pierre–Antoine Clerc on the western promontory of the Gulf of La Spezia between 1809 and 1811, the results of which are now housed in Paris, Rome and La Spezia. A corpus of 269 graphic elaborations is kept in the Ligurian city, subdivided into three bound albums, a folder of loose sheets and a series of watercolours. These are plans and views, some broad, some detailed, in various formats. The three albums are composed of files of light green drawing paper bound with a canvas cover on which one reads the title in gold, inside a red card board plate. The drawings, on paper, are glued to the sheets of the files (in rare cases the image is traced directly on the pages). Thanks to the La Spezia scientist Giovanni Capellini, one of the founders of modern geology, these documents were not lost. He gathered them up from private individuals in France and then donated them to La Spezia. The subdivision into three albums – carried out, as one deduces from their dedication, after Capellini’s acquisition – might have been done in accordance with a previous system or perhaps when they were bound.

The survey of the entire western part of the Gulf of La Spezia conducted by Clerc and his collaborators was the first large–scale systematic application of the contour method, here extended over a large territory. These elaborations express the balance between scientific precision and artistic beauty achieved by the brigade of French topographers. They fixed the entire western territory of the gulf in a large number of images of great technical and artistic importance. In the same years, the topographers headed by Clerc dedicated themselves to the creation of a model, divided in nine panels, that reproduces the late nineteenth–century landscape of the west promontory of the Gulf of La Spezia, identifying and signalling morphology, hydrography, settlements and routes.

Topographical maps and watercolours of the western promontory of the Gulf of La Spezia by Pierre–Antoine Clerc and collaborators
Civic Library «U. Mazzini»
Corso Cavour, 251
La Spezia


Open by request on receipt of authorization

Tel  +39 0187 778544        


Model for the planning of the line of defence of the Gulf of La Spezia
Museè Plan Relief
Paris 7e Arrodissement, Esplanade des Invalides

tel +33 145519245