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METAMORFOSI: dai liners alle navi da crociera

Digital Exhibition



This exhibition recalls an epoch-making event in the history of the worldwide shipbuilding industry in which Italy was the protagonist. The years of the ’Sixties closed the age of the legendary ocean liners but initiated that of the modern cruise ships.

One of the participants in this process was the famous shipyard at Monfalcone. In the mid-’Fifties, its New Construction Office, directed by Nicolò Costanzi, had been engaged in the task of designing the ultimate Italian liners, which emerged a decade later as the Michelangelo and the Raffaello.



This exhibition recalls an epoch-making event in the history of the worldwide shipbuilding industry in which Italy was the protagonist. The years of the ’Sixties closed the age of the legendary ocean liners but initiated that of the modern cruise ships.

One of the participants in this process was the famous shipyard at Monfalcone. In the mid-’Fifties, its New Construction Office, directed by Nicolò Costanzi, had been engaged in the task of designing the ultimate Italian liners, which emerged a decade later as the Michelangelo and the Raffaello. These two giant liners were intended to replace the motorships Saturnia and Vulcania which had been built at Monfalcone in the mid-’Twenties and which had sailed untiringly on the transatlantic routes.

In the summer of 1956, the unexpected tragic loss of the Andrea Doria upset the plans for the renewal of the Italian state’s passenger fleet but, in 1959, when it was finally decided to proceed with the construction of the two new liners, the Monfalcone yard already had an extraordinary load of work in hand and it did not have slipways available.

It was accordingly decided that one of the two sisters, the Michelangelo, would be built at the shipyard at Genova Sestri and the other, the Raffaello, would be built at Trieste. For the first time, two identical passenger ships of huge tonnage would be built in different shipyards at a great distance from each other.

To make this possible, on the 29 December, 1959 the Fincantieri company was formed in Rome and, with it, the extraordinarily successful system of construction which came to be known as “platforms” and which made it possible to this day for Fincantieri to build sister ships simultaneously at their various yards along the length of the Italian peninsula.

In order to facilitate the building of the two gigantic sisters at different yards and the exchange of information and documentation, computers were introduced into the world of ship construction with the installation of several “brains” from Olivetti-Bull.

Meanwhile, Monfalcone was completing the two final passenger liners of the Lloyd Triestino company, the Galileo Galilei (1962) and the Guglielmo Marconi (1963), and at the same time was building the first modern passenger ship to be intended exclusively for cruising, the Oceanic (although, in the early stages of the project, the intention had been that she too would be a liner). She belonged to the Home Lines, a company which had been founded in the early post-War years by the Cosulich family in association with Greek and Swedish shipowners. It was through a notable native of Monfalcone, Egone Missio, that the yard had been able to obtain this contract. He had worked at the yard from 1909 to 1959 but then, after a half century, he had been appointed consultant to Home Lines for the construction of the new vessel, which they publicised (with good reason) as “the ship of tomorrow”.

This difficult but thrilling project involved two friends and colleagues of long standing: the naval architect Nicolò Costanzi and the interior designer Nino Zoncada who was for many years the head of the outfitting office of the shipyard.

By 1965 the Oceanic was ready and proved to be a masterpiece. The Michelangelo and the Raffaello also came out in the same year, but only ten years later they were taken out of service, closing for ever the era of the glorious Italian transatlantic liners.

The Oceanic, however, went on to become the great favourite of the American public for cruises to the Caribbean and sailed on until 2012. She had changed owners several times but her so famous name had remained the same; the Bahamas even dedicated a commemorative stamp to her.

Pannello 2


The ’Sixties saw a change of course in intercontinental passenger transport by air and sea.

The ocean liners, which for more than a century had been the undisputed queens of the sea and almost the only means of efficient travel between the continents, lost their place to the airplanes.

Figures, however dry, demonstrate the formidable progress made by the airliners in their opposition to the ships. The numbers of passengers across the Atlantic between Europe and North America, the most important route, were as follows:

YEAR          BY SEA              BY AIR

1952            837.719              432.272

1956            1.027.878           785.259

   1958            957.965              1.283.052

   1960            867.795              1.910.725


The shock was enormous. The shipping companies were among the giants of international business and nobody could believe that this system of transport, with its liners, offices, ports and infrastructure which employed thousands of people, could disappear in the blink of an eye.

The figures, however, showed that the ocean liners were quickly going the way of the dinosaur, unable to cope with the demands of modern times – in their case, particularly the need for speed. To reach New York, for instance, it now took just eight hours rather than eight days. And your ticket cost less.

As a result, those shipyards which had specialised in building passenger liners were plunged into crisis. How to deal with the problem? While in Genoa and Trieste they were building the Michelangelo and the Raffaello, the last true Atlantic liners, in Monfalcone eyes were turning to the future. Thus was born the Oceanic, the first modern cruise ship.



The Michelangelo and Raffaello constituted a unique case in shipping history. For the first time, two identical passenger vessels of substantial tonnage were built far apart in different shipyards, Ansaldo in Genoa and San Marco in Trieste.

They marked the start of an extraordinarily successful system, known to-day by the name ‘platforms’, which would allow Fincantieri to build sister ships in various yards strung out along the Italian peninsula.

Another important novelty, which made it possible to build the two giants at such a distance and to exchange technical information and documents, was the adoption of computerised systems replacing the traditional manual design methods which had entailed reproduction on blue prints.

The elaborate data received by the early Olivetti ‘brains’ installed at Trieste and Genoa would be recorded on huge spools of magnetic tape which, in that pre-internet era, were carried between the yards by messengers travelling by car or by train.

The Michelangelo and Raffaello were among the last large ships to be launched traditionally from an inclined slipway, rather than in the modern way in a dry dock. Nevertheless, many sections were pre-fabricated, although each yard used its own method of construction. The famous latticed funnels, for instance, which in Trieste were completely constructed on land and then lifted into position by the gigantic floating crane Ursus, were at the Ansaldo yard loaded on board piece by piece by Ursus’s Genovese alter ego, the powerful Giulio Cesare.



In the early ’Fifties, studies began for two new liners to replace the venerable motorships Saturnia and Vulcania which had been built at Monfalcone in the ’Twenties. Nicolò Costanzi, the head of the new construction office at the yard, developed a fascinating design which was inspired by Norman Bel Geddes’ 1932 concept of a ‘streamline’ ship.


The Monfalcone yard was, however, occupied with orders for no less than four large and famous passenger ships: Galileo Galilei and Guglielmo Marconi for the Lloyd Triestino, Oceanic for Home Lines and Eugenio C. for the Costa Line. The project was therefore allotted to the Ansaldo yard in Genoa, but the designs and a large model of the ‘Costanzi concept’ still exist.



The image of the model of the ‘Costanzi concept’ shown here demonstrates some of the exclusive characteristics of the vessels proposed by the celebrated Triestino naval architect in the ’Fifties and the ’Sixties. In addition to the strikingly aerodynamic shape of the underwater hull, one notes the thrust guides at the stern and the ‘swan neck bow’, two of his most famous patented innovations. The criterion which inspired his designs was that “functionality is never an excuse for ugliness”.


On 30 April 1965, the Michelangelo left Genoa for a ‘shake-down’ voyage in the Mediterranean and the boilers of the Raffaello in Trieste were lit for the first time.

Both ships had been laid down on 8 September 1960 and it was thought that by the summer of 1963 it would be possible for them to leave Genoa side by side on the inaugural voyage to New York. In the end, the Michelangelo reached the American city on 20 May 1965 and the Raffaello did so on the following 3 August.

Diesel propulsion had proved to be a notable success since the time of the Saturnia and Vulcania (built at Monfalcone during the mid-’Twenties) but for large high speed liners steam was still the preferred option. The two sisters were turbine vessels: the steam produced by their boilers powered turbines which turned the twin propellers.

The power was impressive. To maintain a service sped of 26.5 knots across the Atlantic the turbines developed 90,000 horsepower but, pushed to the limit, the Michelangelo and Raffaello could achieve 32 knots (59.4 kilometres per hour) at 103,000 horsepower.

The first speed trials of the Michelangelo took place in the Ligurian Gulf in March 1965 and, according to Roberto Frisoni, one of the Ansaldo technicians on board, was a debacle: “After the first trials it became evident that the ship would not achieve the foreseen speed. The engineer Nicolò Costanzi was brought in. During one of the trials, in order to better observe the wake of the propellers, he had himself lowered overboard in a large wicker basket.” Thanks to Costanzi’s analysis, the Raffaello was placed in dry dock for modifications to the hull and propellers and, during her trials in July 1965, had no difficulty in reaching the required speed.




Giulio Carlo Argan was chosen by the Italian Line to preside over the committee which invited offers to design the interiors of these two last “ships of state”.

The Michelangelo and Raffaello, athough identical in respect of their hulls and machinery, were totally different in their internal furnishing. On the Michelangelo, the architects were Alessandri, Cantù, Chiaia, Gamberini, Gay, Gentili, Gottardi, Guerello, Lavarello, Longoni, Luccichenti, Martellani, Minoletti, Monaco, Napolitano, Pulitzer Finali, Scagliotti, Tevarotto and Zoncada. The designs for the Raffaello were awarded to Aloi, Busiri Vici, Cervi, Fait, Florit, Frandoli, Lapadula, Morosati, Nordio, Psacaropulo, Poggiolini, Sartogo, Semarani and Tamaro.

As Dino Buzzati wrote: “a liner is one of the most perfect distillations, so to speak, of our country, a synthesis of its most noble qualities, one of the truest testimonies of our civilisation”. With their history of both light and shade, the two ships were in effect a representation of the Italy of those years and whoever set foot on board could, immediately discern the soul of the nation. Together with the already mentioned architects, the most notable artists of the time worked on the ships: abstract artists such as Capogrossi, Ridolfi, Corpora, Turcato, Baldan, Santomaso, Alfieri; neo-surrealists such as Severini, Sciltian, Dova, Pirandello; the figuratives Mascherini, Seibezzi, Cadorin, Leonor Fini, Gentilini, Omiccioli, Maccari……

Public rooms, cabins and even the crew areas were studded with a mass of artworks well attuned to the internal architecture: about 250 on the Michelangelo and 200 on the Raffaello, sufficient to warrant a museum-like catalogue of the works on board.



The ’Sixties were characterised by stark contrasts and lively colours (and sounds). Personalities who figured in the Italian panorama included Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, Aldo Moro, Gianni Morandi, Adriana Celentano, Mina, Mike Bongiorno, Sophia Loren, Raffaella Carrà, Virna Lisi, Federico Fellini and his “dolce vita”, Gino Paoli and his song “Sapore di Sale”. The “beautiful country” was plagued by huge strikes and by acts of terrorism. It was the era of the arrival of Barbie and of Marilyn Munroe, together with The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Television became the obsession of the Italians, telling of John F. Kennedy, the Cold War, the Cuban revolution of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and the Vietnam War. We looked also to the skies and the moon. Among the luminaries of this new world were Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong.

Television and cinema embarked on the Italia flagships. Some of the crew and passengers of the Michelangelo formed the jury of the 1968 “Canzonissima” song contest. Monica Vitti and Alberto Sordi sailed from Genoa to Gibraltar on one of the sisters and then transferred to the other for the reverse voyage until the end of the film “Amare mio aiutami”. Raymond Peynet set his film “Il giro del mondo degli innamorati” on board the Raffaello. The sun deck of the same ship became the site of a demonstration in mid-ocean of Alfa Romeo’s new “Spider 1600” sports car, the famous “Duetto”. The Raffaello also went to America for her appearance in the film “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman, who in turn went to Italy on the Michelangelo to shoot “Madigan’s Millions”. It was the swan song, all-consuming but inexorable, of a world which was destined to disappear. Ironically, the International Jet Set who had taken the place of the “Steamer Set” were to be found on board these ships. An era was coming to an end with light-hearted cruises and fearsome storms.



In 1960, when construction of the Michelangelo and Raffaello began, Alitalia inaugurated the first service linking Italy and the United States by the new DC8 jumbo jet.

Already, by 1958, the worldwide public had made its preference clear for the airliner rather than the ocean liner; and quickly a significant number of Italians came to prefer a crossing to New York in 8 hours on a jet rather than in 8 days on a ship.

At the very time when the Michelangelo and Raffaello entered service, the passenger traffic by sea was already crumbling, not least because the cost of an air ticket was less.

The oil crisis of 1973 delivered the coup de grace to the two liners, which were among the most costly not only to operate but also to transform into cruise ships. In 1975, after just ten years of fleeting glory, they were laid up side by side in the Bay of Portovenere, close to the voracious shipbreaking yards of La Spezia, which had made their fortune by dismantling so many passenger ships.

The destiny of the two flagships seemed to be ordained: to be cut into pieces and dispatched to be melted down for less noble but more practical and profitable purposes. It was symptomatic of those years that a cartoon appeared in “Topolino” with one of Donald Duck’s grandiose business propositions to his uncle, “Buy the big cruiser Fulminante and turn her into razor blades”.

Fate, however, decreed otherwise. The Michelangelo and Raffaello eventually became part of a commercial deal with the Iranian government and made their final voyage to the Persian Gulf where, for some years, they were employed as floating barracks.



Roberto Cardona, one of the young Italian Line officials based in Trieste to follow the construction of the Raffaello, recalls: “I went to Monfalcone with some colleagues to see the Oceanic which was being fitted out there. It was so futuristic, so ‘tomorrow’ that we felt like tramps.”

The ‘ship of the future’, as it was being called at the time, represented a paradigm of the modern cruise ship, having a unity of design which had otherwise almost disappeared. It was indeed a ‘change of course’ for the Italian shipbuilding industry.

The ship’s future owners, the Home Lines, had been founded through the initiative of the Cosulich family after the Second World War with the financial participation of Swedish and Greek shipowners.

It was thanks to a man from Monfalcone, Egone Missio, a retired director of the shipyard who was acting as consultant to the Home Lines, that the contract was awarded to Monfalcone. The Oceanic was to become a masterpiece thanks to the understanding which existed between Mission and two former colleagues: Nicolò Costanzi, the naval engineer who headed the new projects office at the yard, and Nino Zoncada, the architect who was the director of the furnishing office.

The ship entered service in 1965 and would continue to sail until 2012 without ever changing her name.

For almost half a century, the Oceanic was for the North American public the epitome of excellence in Caribbean cruising, so much so that the Bahamas would dedicate a commemorative stamp to this wonderful ship.

After Oceanic, the Monfalcone yard would produce another historic vessel, the Eugenio C., later Eugenio Costa, which went on to make the fortune of the famous Genoese cruise line.



This aerial photograph depicts the modernisation project of the establishment, which involved the substitution of the slipways with the current construction dock and, at its head, the prefabrication facilities for building the blocks of which a ship is now formed.

At the west quay we see the Oceanic and the Sandalion; and, at the east quay, Guglielmo Marconi, the final passenger ship of the Lloyd Triestino which would be delivered on 30 October 1963.

The Eugenio C. would be delivered to the Costa Armatori of Genoa in August, 1966, the last Italian liner to be launched in the traditional manner, down an inclined slipway. Not until the middle of the ‘Eighties would Fincantieri enter into a contract with Sitmar Cruises to produce a new cruise ship, Crown Princess, which was delivered at the end of June 1990.

In the two decades which separated the building of the Eugenio C. from that of the Crown Princess , the Monfalcone shipyard was employed in the building of numerous merchant vessels, several submarines for the Italian Navy, the helicopter-carrying cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi and the crane ship Micoperi 7000.



From the middle of the ‘Sixties (the delivery of the Eugenio C.) to the middle of the ‘Eighties (the start of the Crown Princess project), the famous Monfalcone yard built no ‘white ships’. The yard’s skills were, however, fully employed in fulfilling numerous orders. These included many ‘black ships’ (tankers and ????refuse-carriers????) but also numerous submarines, the famous cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi and the largest floating crane in the World, the Micoperi 7000. At the end of this temporary phase, Monfalcone turned to establishing itself as the prime builder of cruise ships of the latest generation.


1. On     30 June 1969, the float-out took place of the enormous tanker Caterina M. which had a length of 312.9 metres and a deadweight tonnage of as much as 225,124. She was the first ship to emerge from the new building dock. The picture shows her in May 1970 during her sea trials in the Gulf of Trieste, accompanied by one of the famous motor boats of the ‘Bora’ class formed of polystyrene resin by the plastic materials shop within the Monfalcone yard. Below is another of the ‘black ships’ built by the yard in the     ‘Seventies, the Agip Abruzzo (330.7 metres long and with a deadweight of 254,631 tons), driven by a diesel engine giving her a service speed of 14.5 knots. The photograph shows her being floated out from the building dock on 4 March 1977.


2. The     submarine Nazario Sauro built for the Italian Navy ready to be launched in the traditional way from a slipway in the Monfalcone yard on 9 October 1976. On the left can be seen the first sections of the sister ship Fecia di Cossato (seen below, during her sea trials). A decade later, the yard produced the Enrico Toti, followed by the sister ships Attiglio Bagnolini, Enrico Dandolo and Lazzaro Mocenigo. These vessels had a length of 42.2. metres, could reach an operational depth of 150 metres and accommodated a     crew of 26.

The Sauro class, bigger and more modern, consisted of eight sister submarines, all built at Monfalcone. The final member of the class, Gazzana Priaroggia, entered service in April 1995. Each ship had a length of 63.8 metres overall and could accommodate as many as 55 men; the speed while submerged could reach 20 knots. Enrico Toti, Enrico Dandolo and Nazario Sauro are to-day preserved as museums at, respectively, Milan, Venice and Genoa.


3. On     4 June 1983, Flavia Donata Salvetti, the wife of a direct descendent of the great Italian hero Garibaldi, named the cruiser-aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi. The first aircraft-carrier to enter service with the Italian Navy, the ship was completed at the end of September 1985. This famous vessel had been laid down on 26 March 1981 after about four years of development and design. Until 2009,     when the aircraft-carrier Cavour entered service, the Garibaldi was     the flagship of the Italian Navy.

Assigned to the role of the headquarters of the Commander of the naval squadron based at Taranto, the Garibaldi participated in many international missions. In 2003, she underwent intensive reconstruction and modernisation to enable her to continue operating alongside the more modern units of the Italian Navy.


4. On     15 December 1987, the Monfalcone yard delivered to Saipem (the     Società Anonima Italiana Perforazione e Montaggi) one of the     biggest crane ships, a ‘cathedral of the seas’, yet built. The     famous Micoperi 7000 is a semi-submersible workshop with two gigantic cranes with a reach of 140 metres and each capable of lifting up to 7000 tons.

In effect, there are two hulls of about 165 x 33 metres, one of which can be seen here in a raised position during its assembly in the Montalcone building dock. In an extreme case, Micoperi 7000 has achieved a maximum reach of 190 metres and a span of 87 metres. The structure at the stern, composed of five decks, can accommodate 725 people (technicians and crew members) in 405 spacious cabins. They have at their disposal cafeterias, a gym, a sauna, an indoor pool, two cinemas and other recreational facilities. Eight screws give the vessel a service speed of 5 knots.



In June 1990, the delivery of the Crown Princess signalled the beginning of a new epoch for Fincantieri and their historic facility at Monfalcone.

Following the new flagship of Princess Cruises, to date a further 34 enormous cruise ships have emerged, totalling more than 3.5 million deadweight tons and with many more to come – some already at the design stage, others soon to take to the sea – for the most prestigious international shipowners.

Fincantieri is an emblem of national industry and of “Made in Italy”, known throughout the World. To-day, the Monfalcone yard is one of its 20 establishments in four continents, boasting over 19000 employees and forming a powerful influence in the areas where it operates.

110 years have passed since the Cosulich family conceived the idea of building a shipyard on the insalubrious marshes of Panzano.

‘The Big Factory’ has radically changed Monfalcone, once a small community strung out along the coast to the west of Trieste. At a time of deep economic crisis and of unemployment, the new industrial complex came into being with the participation and enthusiasm of the inhabitants of Monfalcone, who recognised the opportunity it presented to grow and to prosper.

Who knows if anyone at that time could have foreseen the extent of the link between the town and the shipyard which, in the space of a century, would produce about 1300 vessels of every type, some of which would become icons in the history of shipbuilding worldwide?

Thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of so many men and women, directors and craftsmen who could, through times of crisis and conflict, adapt and put the past behind them in order to face the challenge of new times.

One of these crucial periods of change came in the ‘Sixties with the disappearance of the intercontinental ocean liners. But the passenger ships, or ‘white ships’ (to use a term destined to enter the collective consciousness) would return to Monfalcone in the mid-‘Eighties thanks to the total restructuring of its productive activities by Fincantieri. They moved from their origins to a new, promising sector, the cruise ships.

This exhibition depicts this change of course by the Italian shipbuilding industry: leaving behind the ocean liners, of which the Michelangelo and Raffaello were the apogee and swan song, and creating a new generation of ships conceived exclusively for their passengers’ pleasure, of which the Oceanic is considered to be the pioneer.

We are not dealing with a simple and immediate metamorphosis: the big passenger ship, for so long considered a means of transport from one part of the World to another, was in effect re-invented to appeal to a completely new public as a mobile means of vacation.

About twenty years passed between the delivery of the Oceanic and the start of construction of the Crown Princess. It was a passage of time during which the Monfalcone yard did other things, above all building merchant and naval ships, before making a grand return with the ‘white ships’ which, one by one, now come from our shipyards.



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