Viareggio originated from a castle that the Luccans and the Genoese, allied against the Pisans, built in 1172 on the shore to defend the coast and the surrounding territory. The impressively large stronghold was called the “Castrum de Via Regia”. After all, it was built at the end of that road, called by that name by Emperor Federico Barbarossa, and it was used as a passage between the fort and the inland area. Several centuries later in 1822, Princess Paolina Bonaparte Borghese, Napoleon’s sister, had a lovely villa built near the waterfront where she spent the last years of her life.
This was the start of a new season for Viareggio, the time when swimming in the sea became popular.Because of its beautiful beaches, great geographical position and its citizens’ sense of hospitality, the town began to work its way into becoming a famous beach city. In 1828, the first beach establishments were built: Nereo for men and Dori for ladies, to comply with the moral codes of the times which prohibited swimming together. Around 1860, large establishments on piles were built: the Nettuno, the Balena, the Felice, the Oceano and all of the others from the Canal to Piazza Mazzini.
At the beginning of the 1900s, the city was known as the “Pearl of the Tyrrhenian”, a popular place of culture and tourism renowned throughout Europe and characterized by its particular architectural style – a combination of Eclecticism and Art Nouveau. During WWII, violent bomb raids levelled entire neighbourhoods, causing hundreds of civilian victims. When peace came, despite the horrendous damage, Viareggio was able to make a comeback by building houses, hotels, shipyards and beach establishments.