THE VILLAS OF FORTE DEI MARMI
Forte dei Marmi is much more than just sea and sand. For anyone who enjoys walking or biking, Forte’s streets offer marvelous naturalistic and architectural surprises. It’s a joy to lose yourself in Forte’s splendid Roma Imperiale garden district. The neighborhood, born in the 1920s, takes its name from the Società Cooperativa Anonima Roma Imperiale, which in the early years of the century purchased the land and sold off the lots to wealthy vacationers. In the green of the pinewood, a step from the sea, Roma Imperiale is a radiant display of different architectural styles which nonetheless coalesce into a harmonious and coherent whole thanks to skilful use of identical colors and materials: travertine, cotto brickwork, local stone, and green wooden door and window frames. Your bike trip into the heart of the district could set out from the Capannina and continue along the seaside boulevard bike lane toward Marina di Pietrasanta.
Here is where you’ll see the first notable villas, dating to the late 1800s (and therefore predating Roma Imperiale as a district), almost all of which were built for the first vacationers – Germans – to spend their summers in a Forte that was a world away from today’s: the lungomare had yet to be built; the homes in the pinewood directly accessed the sea. One such building is the majestic Villa Apuana, whose architect Carl Sattler drew his inspiration from Florentine Renaissance villas, built for the Siemens family of German industrial magnates on a parcel of prime land that extended inland for about a kilometer. The parcel included a farmhouse, which is still standing in Via Leonardo da Vinci.
A bit further on is the former Villa Costanza, built for Admiral Enrico Morin in 1899 and sold to the Agnelli family in 1926. Transformed into a hotel in the 1960s, thanks to careful restoration it still retains the atmosphere of its golden age.
Turning away from the sea into the inland byways, you come to the Fosso Fiumetto watercourse where artist Carlo Carrà painted during his stays in Forte.
In Via Roma Imperiale, you’ll note the first of the homes built after the subdivision of the early 1900s: Villa Pedrazzi and the nearby Villino Carrà, the painter’s vacation home and a habitual meeting-place for his circle of artists and intellectuals, are both listed Ministry of Cultural Heritage properties.
Via Corsica, instead, offers an example of the so-called Mediterranean Rationalist architecture: Villa Antonietta (1936), with its curving facade, unbroken expanses of glass, and liberal use of cotto red brick and wood, materials that adapt admirably to a summer residence set in the pinewood a few meters from the sea.
Down Via Raffaelli, you will come to Casa Mann Borgese, built in 1957 by Leonardo Ricci, Giovanni Michelucci’s student and assistant, for the daughter of German writer Thomas Mann. Its peculiar thrusting style led its owner to remark that the home resembled a “transatlantic liner set to sail toward the mountains.”
A turn back toward the sea along Via XX Settembre takes you past the former Pensione Franceschi, once the site for the Forte dei Marmi sojourns of numerous members of the aristocracy.
If you head north, you’ll find that Forte’s Vittoria Apuana locality is also home to beautiful villas: Villa Erminia, which once belonged to Minister of Education Giovanni Gentile; Pensione Alpemare, from 1924 a refuge for the likes of Carlo Carrà, Giorgio De Chirico, Marcello Piacentini, Giovanni Papini, the De Filippos, Alberto Moravia, and Vittorio De Sica; Ardengo Soffici’s home, nearby; and Villa Amelia, built in 1914 for neuropsychiatrist and rector of the University of Pisa.