The first traces of man in Versilia date back to the Neolithic period and can be found in the caves of Piano di Mommio. Much larger settlements were formed by the 'Apuan Ligurians' who descended from the nearby mountains and later by the Etruscans. Etruscan archaeological remains can still be seen today in Bora dei Frati, near Pietrasanta, or in Seravezza.
The first true colonization capable of changing the territory was achieved by the Romans. During their long presence in the area they carried out huge hydraulic works which began the process of land reclamation around lake Massaciuccoli and part of the coastal strip that, at the time, was a wide salty marshland area and consequently a source of illness for the local population.
In this period of economic growth the most important town was undoubtedly Massaciuccoli, that at the time was called Fossae Papiriniae and was a Roman trading port on the lake. Massaciuccoli was strategically positioned adjacent to the intersection of the Aurelia road which led to Rome, built by Emilio Scauro, with the Cassia leading to Lucca.
Numerous villas rose scattered in the territory and surrounded by new olives plantations of which traces are still visible today. The invasion by the Longobards brought a new dynamic to the region. From the tenth century on, a series of battles changed the coastal shore, destroying many of the pre-existing fortifications and starting a new division of the territory among the noble families.
Christianization began in this period and the first basilicas were founded. Some of them are still visible today, although many have been altered over the centuries. The whole territory was covered with scattered villages which quarried, worked and traded marble. Iron was also extracted and worked, in particular in the towns of Seravezza, Forte dei Marmi and Stazzema.
Only from around the year 1200 the structure of the territory became stable, or at least partially, with the foundation of the two cities of Pietrasanta and Camaiore - symbols of the medieval development under the domination of Lucca. Pietrasanta was re-founded in the year 1255 around the 'longobard' fortress and its defensive rampart was then strengthened by Castruccio Castracani. Camaiore, city of Roman origin, was being reconstructed in the same period and it developed economically and socially up to the year 1800.
Characterized by many events, the history of Viareggio was highly influenced by Lucca's domination. Around 1200 the city was identified with Torre di Via Regia, a watchtower built on King Barbarossa's path and then replaced by today's Torre Matilde, built as a consequence of the increasing interest of Lucca in the Burlamacca canal. Unfortunately, the unhealthy environmental conditions of the swamp made the area unsuitable for living until the end of 1700 when huge drainage works began, leading to the planting of today's pinewood.
From the middle of the 16th century as Pietrasanta went under the dominion of Florence, the area underwent a consistent economic development . The Medici decided to use Versilia's marble to build the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, a project that was assigned to Michelangelo. This was a time of great excitement that led to the opening of a new quarry and which rejuvenated the marble industry. In previous centuries, the marble industry in Versilia had been always underestimated because of the supremacy of the Carrara quarries which were much easier to reach by road.
The advent of seaside tourism around the first part of the twentieth century marked a turning point in the area. While Viareggio inaugurated its promenade called Viale Regina Margherita with its cafés and bathing clubs, also the homes adjacent to the fortress in Forte Dei Marmi grew in demand making the town a holiday destination characterized by its famous wharf.
At the same time, Viareggio became a major area for entertainment and with its renovated look and its liberty style buildings was awarded the name ‘Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea’. Viareggio gradually became a renowned holiday resort also due the important contribution from different celebrities that either spent their holidays in this marvellous coastal area, or frequented literary clubs in famous cafés of the town.
(Source: APT della Versilia)