The sails unfurling in Piazza Guerrazzi, Cecina, announce a new opportunity offered by the Geiger Foundation to embark on a wonderful journey by visiting its exhibition. Sailing Ships. Great Stories of the Sea gathers the stories of twenty-six ships and their extraordinary adventures, all related in the description cards that accompany each model. The setting of the exhibition calls to mind the colours of the dark stormy sea, the parquet flooring the deck of a ship; the lighting warms the environment and creates focus points that highlight each individual piece on display in an almost theatrical atmosphere.
The exhibition path starts with the most iconic of all navigation symbols: a massive, worn wheel. Who knows how much sea salt and how many dangerous manoeuvres it must have experienced before giving up its career. The showcases at the entrance present imposing, majestic vessels, armed with dozens of guns and decorated with very fine sculptures, such as the English Sovereign of the Seas, the first ship to be armed with over one hundred guns, and the Vasa, the Swedish flagship that sank on her maiden voyage because she was too heavy on top and lacked stability, and remained underwater for three hundred years. Also on show is the Victory, the vessel on which Admiral Nelson fought and died at Trafalgar. In order not to throw him into the sea, as was customary with the fallen, his body was placed in a cask filled with brandy.
Next to this first part of the exhibition, you will have the opportunity to observe a combat station, with the gun ready to fire its deadly shots. Also on show is a beautiful figurehead depicting an apostle: the wooden figures set at the prow were meant to protect the sailing vessel from the dangers of the seas and represented its soul. For this reason, they were held in high regard. Many ships were built to fight and assert the power of the country to which they belonged, but pirate ships also sailed the seas; not the huge black galleons full of skeletons that you see in action movies, but small, fast ships suitable for launching rapid attacks, hiding in ports and sheltering in secluded bays. Among them was the Golden Hind of privateer Francis Drake. In the service of the Crown of England, he circumnavigated the globe in the late 16th century and plundered an enormously vast treasure from Spanish enemy ships. When he returned, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. Next to these ships, two showcases display ancient navigation instruments: a telescope, an azimuth compass; an octant, a sextant, and a chronometer, fundamental for determining the ship’s fix, as well as rulers, squares, map charting callipers and nibs.
Exploration is perhaps the noblest purpose and certainly the one that is linked the most to the imaginary of sailing ships. Small caravels put out to sea in search of routes for the purchase of spices (which you can see... and smell in the exhibition), and their brave, reckless sailors faced unknown seas and currents, risking illnesses and shipwrecks in the hope of being able, one day, to experience the intense emotion of shouting «Land!» when it appeared on the horizon. The ships on show on the first floor of the exhibition include the Santa María, which took Christopher Columbus to America, the Endeavour of James Cook, who helped define the territories of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, and the Beagle, which numbered among the people on board the young naturalist Charles Darwin, the father of the theory on the origin of species that revolutionized biology.
A section is also devoted to trading sailing ships: large vessels like the Manila galleons, which shuttled between Acapulco and the Philippines to exchange the silver from South American colonies for spices, silks and porcelain from the East, or the very fast clippers, which could even outspeed steamers thanks to their vast sail area. Along with the models of these legendary ships, all handmade by skilled, patient model makers, you will be able to admire various dioramas, which add to the realism of the naval reconstruction thanks to the vividness of the setting moved by waves and wind and the presence of three-dimensional figures.
The exhibition is suitable for both adults and children, and is great for all those who love adventure and history, the sea and the brave captains. Visitors are welcome daily until 16 September 2018, from 6 to 11 pm. Admission is free and a catalogue is available that includes photographs, stories and essays on the themes of the exhibition. What about sailing with us?