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Historical background

Birth of a Channel

The Navicelli Channel construction works began in 1560 and were completed between 1575 and 1576: the channel total length was 22 km, with a width of 18 meters and a depth of 1.50 meters. It could be accessed from the Arno river at Porta a Mare in Pisa and ended at the current “Venezia Nuova” district near the port of Livorno.

The name of the channel (“Navicelli“), comes from the typical nimble boats used along the Arno river and owned by the so-called “navicellai”, absolute protagonists of the channel traffic until the beginning of World War II, who often lived on board with their whole family.

During the eighteenth century other important changes to the waterway took place: at the connection with the Arno river a compensation tank, called “Sostegno” was built, isolated by locks which permitted boats’ transit to and from the channel whatever the river level.
This mechanism allowed, even during floods, four incoming and four outgoing boats to cross at the same time.

The recent history of the Navicelli Channel can be said to begin in 1903, with the Commission appointed by the Ministry of Public Works, and the strong interest of the engineer Annibale Biglieri, head of the Civil Engineering Office in Pisa. Biglieri’s project for the channel renovation marked the beginning of a new cycle, the modern phase of the Navicelli Channel. Works were completed at the end of 1938 and the channel became very similar to its current shape: its long straight, parallel to the Pisa-Livorno railway, led to a 20% reduction in the overall length, which was now 18.2 km, an increase in the size of the riverbed width up to 31.6 meters and to a maximum depth of 3 meters in the stretch between Livorno and the new docks. The construction of these new docks (Darsena Pisana) also included the provision of modern equipment for goods handling, a total yards area of 50,000 square meters and railway connection with the main Pisa Railway Station.

During WWII bombings most of the areas surrounding the channel were heavily hit. This led to the complete loss of the boats that had ruled channel traffic until then, the partial obliteration of the channel, and the destruction of the entire area of Porta a Mare. The Navicelli Channel and the Port of Pisa were reopened in the 1950s and 1960s giving the waterway the current shape: since then the main focus of the channel operations has shifted from transport logistics to luxury yacht shipbuilding.