Costa Crociere is nowadays one of the most well known cruise company worldwide and this thanks also to its long and prestigious history.
On the 7th August 1924 the brothers Federico, Eugenio and Enrico Costa (the family had originated in the Sixteenth Century in Santa Margherita Ligure) purchased the steamer Ravenna, registering her in the maritime district of Genoa; she was a modest vessel, built in Scotland in 1888. At the time, most probably nobody thought that less than a century afterwards the name of Costa would be associated to one of the better known brands of holidays at sea.
The fleet grow at constant pace: four years later the Ravenna was joined by the Langano and shortly afterwards they were sided by another six vessels starting the tradition of naming their ships after family members: Federico, Eugenio C., Enrico Costa, Antonietta Costa, Beatrice Costa and Giacomo Costa. These were the first vessels to bear at sea the C “blue like the mantle of the Virgin Mary” on a background “yellow like olive oil”. The two company colours were described in this way and their ships were mainly employed in Mediterranean waters to carry olives to Genoa Sampierdarena, where the Costas had a large refinery, known since the XIX Century for its oil sold under the famous trademark “Dante”.
In the period between the two World Wars the business grew: in addition to olive oil, the Costas become involved in shipping, textiles, mechanical engineering and real estate.
The first vessel built to the order of the company was the 8000-t cargo ship Caterina C., launched at Riva Trigoso (near Genoa) on the 14th April 1942, in the middle of the conflict. Unfortunatly, the Langano was the only member of the fleet to survive the hostilies.
This tragic event was however a prosperous occasion for an even more quick expansion of the shipping business, characterised by the start of the migrant transatlantic service and, later, by cruises. For a while, in the 'Eighties the company was the first in the World; it was at this time that it became Costa Crociere.
COSTA CROCIERE SHOP
The post-War shipping activities of the Costas started with five tiny motorships for the cargo coastal routes and with two American standard vessels of the “Liberty” class, the steamer Edwin G. Weed and Frank H. Evers, respectively renamed in 1947 the Eugenio C. and Enrico C. A third “Liberty”, the Federico Costa (ex Otto Mears) joined them in 1953.
The new, large migratory wave of the post-War era and the liberalisation of the passenger market (previously controlled by state owned companies only) convinced the Giacomo Costa fu Andrea to start a regular passenger and cargo line between Italy and Latin America. In 1947 the service was inaugurated by the Third Class only second hand steamers Maria C., Giovanna C. and Luisa C., fitted with spartan steerage accommodation for migrants. The first “real” passenger liner to bear the C on the funnel was, in March 1948, the Anna C. soon to be followed by the Andrea C. The company would soon become known as “Linea C” among Latin origin peoples and as “Costa Line” to the English -speaking world.
In this pioneering days of the 'Fifties there were a few distinctive events in the company history; in 1953 it was established the Caribbean and Central America service with the well known Franca C. and in March 1958 the Ansaldo shipyard of Genoa Sestri delivered to Costa their first and large transatlantic liner, named the Federico C. Later the same year the sisters Maria Costa and Pia Costa started their full time cargo service to North America.
At that time, the president of the company was Angelo Costa, sun of Federico, a key figure in post-War Italian industrial history and in the development of economic liberalism.
In 1959 the Franca C. made again history by becoming the first Costa ship to be exclusively used for cruising in the American market; she was a pioneer in the development of Florida as a focal point for cruises.
At the same time, the company strengthened its position on the South Atlantic route with the Federico C. and the Bianca C. transporting the largest numbers of passengers on that route.
1964 saw the order of the famous Eugenio C., still remembered as one of the most beautiful liner and cruis ship of her days and a real masterpice of Italian technology, architecture and art, confirming the power reached by Costa on the international market.
In 1967 the shipping activities of the group were concentrated in the newly constituted Costa Armatori S.p.A. and, one year later, in the Costa Line Inc. founded in the United States, with the addition of two important cruise ship, the Carla C. And the Flavia, to reinforce the Caribbean market launching also the air/sea concept, better known as fly-cruising, where passengers were flown out to San Juan to join the ships.
In 1968, the cargo fleet was also greatly increased with the acquisition of six freighters previously belonging to Italnavi for both the Caribbean and South America services.
In 1977, Costa Armatori took part in the formation of ICI-Italia Crociere Internazionali, a company with mixed private and public capital set up to operate the Italian state-owned passengers liners in the cruise market. Costa successfully ran the Leonardo Da Vinci from Fort Lauderdale in Winter 1977-'78. ICI's life was however a brief one, mainly owing to the incompatibility between public and private management methods; After that Costa left the joint-venture in 1980, ICI was wound up.
In the meanwhile the cruise fleet continued to expand and at the end of the 'Seventies four ships were purchased (Italia, Daphne, Danae and Columbus C.) and three chartered (Angelina Lauro, World Renaissance and Amerikanis).
In the early 'Nineteens an important newbuild programme was set for modern cruise ships: Costa Marina, Costa Classica, Costa Allegra, Costa Romantica and Costa Victoria.
In December 1996, the world's biggest cruise operator Carnival Corporation, launched a takeover bid for Costa Crociere Spa after an agreement with the Costa Family and the company's other main shareholders. The passage of ownership was concluded in 2002 and, thanks to the financial power of the new property an imposing programme to build new vessels was started. The first ship, which also marked the reopening of the Genoa Sestri shipyard, was delivered in 2003 with the name of Costa Fortuna and her interiors pay homage to the famous Italian liners of the past.
LIFE ON BOARD
The sunny route. It sounds like the slogan (and it will become so) of a nice cruise in exotic and warm seas by a Costa vessel, but their early liners were mainly used to play the Atlantic between Italy and the Americas.
The ships sporting the famous “C” on the funnel travel to the Caribbean and Latin America favoured by the good weather and the smooth waters, but also those employed on the New York run follow the so called “Sunny Southern Route” characterised by the mild conditions created all year round by the Gulf Stream. An advantage unknown to the British, French, German and Scandinavian ships which run a route in Northern seas closer to the Arctic Polar Circle.
On the westbound Costa liners there are “cabin passengers” but also many emigrants; the sunny route assumes for them a special meaning, connected to the hope of finding a better life and job opportunities in those countries where live already many Italo-Americans, migrated from the late XIX century onwards. A great number of them made their fortune in the New World and now they fill the ships on the eastbound leg of the journey; they travel for business, holidays or simply to pay a visit to friends and relatives remained in Italy.
For this reason since 1948 the “Linea C” - the name with which was known at the time the “Giacomo Costa fu Andrea” - employed liners of a certain importance fitted also with a high standard First Class, such as the motorship Anna C. and the steamship Andrea C.; their interiors were the work of the renowned architect Giovanni “Nino” Zoncada. The great capacities of the designer of Venice origins, deeply admired by Gio Ponti, give to the Costa ships a unique and distinctive mark until Zoncada's last work, the large and luxurious Eugenio C. of 1966.
The pictures of the 'Fifties show class passengers at ease in the various moments marking the day on board and consolidated by the ancient tradition of the “transatlantic style”: tramping up the gangway, the noisy farewell to those who remain ashore, the exchange of streamers; souvenir photos, first with relatives or close friends before the departure, then, once the elapsed time has brought new bonds of friendship, in pose with other fellow travelers...
Immediately after casting off the ropes, the safety drill gathers the whole population of the ship, passengers and crew wearing their clumsy life vest. The guests belonging to the upper class will show their familiarity with the open-air games and sports on the same large and immaculate open decks which made famous the Italian liners worldwide. The rest on a steamer chair accompanied by a good book, a sun bath, a match of badminton or shuffle-board, a drink enjoyed at the side of the pool where other guests play and swim together...
At night the chefs astonish eyes, noses and palates of the passengers with gorgeous buffets exposing authentic artworks which kept busy since the afternoon ice and fruit sculptures. Among the complex organisation of the ship personnel, the deck seamen preserve spotless the open decks, contributing to the reputation of the company; some of them, recalling acrobats, gain the top of the funnel to then descent along it with ropes and ladders to keep immaculate the distinctive and colourful livery and logo which make immediately recognisable the vessel. The passengers, at the foot of the giant smocking stack, observe the spectacular operation with bated breath, fun and apprehension, like the spectators of a circus.
For many Third Class passengers, who started the long voyage out of need and not pleasure, the most immediate feelings are those of somebody sentenced to exile. On the Costa liners they are assisted in the best way possible with amusements, religious assistance and comforts often unknown before in their lives. There are photographs, taken at the beginning of the voyage, showing them with darkened faces while having meals with their travel companions. But with the passing of time the vessel becomes somehow a second home with an international atmosphere and the eyes find rest while at sea between the Old and the New World. The ocean liner, with her large “C” on the funnel, is like the shuttle of a giant loom weaving a long thread acting as a trade-union between the past and the future.
The first leg of the journey, whether it is between Genoa, Naples and Gibraltar or between Rio de Janeiro, Santos and Buenos Aires, attracts many passengers aligned along the balustrades and railings with their gazes raped by the seascape of the coast; a crossing to New York means a passage nearby the Azores with the fascinating view of Mount Saint Michael always circled by a cloud ring. In the middle of the ocean the sky is clean and pure, crossed by quick clouds during the day and studded by bright stars at night. Among the most awaited for events there are the encounters at sea with other liners, above all the fleet mates. In the latter case the captains plan the route to meet each other at short distance while the horns fill the air and flags and people wave to wish bon voyage. Even the visit to the bridge is a thrilling moment: the officers welcome the guests and their endless questions on how to "drive" a giant ship.
A quite special occasion on board liners bound to South America is the ceremony for the crossing of the line, the celebration held nearby the swimming pool when the ship passes the Equator. The exuberant party keeps the vessel busy all the day long or almost so: Neptune king of the seas (or better “Neptunus, Deus utriusque mari” as the ceremony is held in Latin) gives to those who cross the line for the first time a certificate of citizenship for his kingdom, assigning a new name (in Latin, of course) to the subject who is baptised by a resounding shove in the pool.
After ten days or maybe twenty, depending on the itinerary, the voyage is coming to its end and the small community, by now close-knit, is close to dissolve; people exchange adresses, small gifts and the best wishes for the future. A mix of melancholy, anxiety but also joy fills the hearts of all the travelers who will soon be on the mainland to resume their normal life or to begin a new one.
The emergency post-War situation would have allowed many private shipowners, previously prevented by the regime to pursue their business expansion, entering the sector of intercontinental passenger carriers, a right previously reserved to state-owned companies only.
The need to move, and even rapidly, an impressive number of new migrants and displaced persons brought to the signing of several agreements between public bodies and private shipowners for what were known as assisted passages which didn't need any special propaganda activity. But already in 1948, with the entry into service of the Anna C., the first Costa liner to be fitted with a proper First Class beside steerage accommodation for those migrants with a prepaid ticket as an emigrant, meant the beginning of advertising activity of a certain importance. The famous painter of the Italian navy Rudolf Claudus was entrusted by Costa with some oil paintings portraying the Anna C., the Andrea C. and, a few years later, the Franca C.
These artworks proved to be useful both for printing thousands of colour postcards and for promotional posters and leaflets. The early advertising production of “Linea C” was limited in number but of good quality, illustrated with colour drawings which recalled the charm of yesteryear, with beautiful images created by the artists of the time.
In the second half of the 'Fifties, when the Franca C. became Costa's first full time cruise ship, the need to promote line voyages and cruises increased enormously at a time when hand made illustrations gave way to colour photography.
One of the most consistent and well produced set of brochures were, in the 'Seventies, the colour monographs devoted to each single vessel in the fleet, homogeneous in content and graphic layout. Also the so called “deck plans”, despite their simplicity, constitute a fine series of homogeneous advertising material printed by Costa; in the 'Fifties and 'Sixties the deck plans were made of a folded sheet of tissue paper, generally printed in one colour on one side only. Later, in the 'Seventies and 'Eighties, the folded deck plans were printed in different colours on both sides on a thicker paper. It is worth to remember also the “American deck plans” issued for specific cruises, which traditionally distinguished themselves for a richer aspect, with many colour drawings of exotic places filling them.