During the Maritime Republics, many lighthouses were built to guarantee safe sea trades and landings, such as the Genoa Lighthouse in 1312, or the Meloria Lighthouse in 1157. The latter was also the first lighthouse ever built on the shoal.
The first lighthouse in Venice was built in 1312, when the independent Republic was thriving. During the same period, many other lighthouses and maritime signalling systems were built to signal shoals, channels or access ways to the islands.
In 1868, King Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy established the “Royal Commission for Ports, Shores and Lighthouses.” This is the first official document on the Italian Maritime Signalling regulations and one of the first actions taken in the wake of the unification of Italy.
In 1876, the Royal Navy Hydrographic Central Office published the first complete catalogue of the Italian lighthouses. After this publication the Director of the Hydrographic Institute instructed the Ministry of Public Works for the creation of a Technical Office in charge of the whole Service for Maritime Lighthouses and Signalling. His request was rejected. At the time maritime signalling was very poor in Italy and, in fact, in 1879 the issue was presented before the Parliament, which appointed an Extraordinary Commission for the reorganization of lighthouses and lights.
In 1881 the Royal Commission for Ports, Shores and Lighthouses funded a huge reconstruction plan for over 100 new illuminating signals.
In 1890 Admiral Magnaghi wrote a “Report on Lighthouses and Signalling Lights,” which included a “Proposal for a new System” following the example of the US. In 1896 the Ministry of Public Works ordered a thorough reform of the whole matter.
In a period characterized by a general renovation of the war instruments all over Europe, in preparation of a possible conflict, an effective Lighthouses and Maritime Signalling Service was of paramount strategic and military importance. For this reason, in 1910 all the maritime services were unified and controlled by the Royal Navy.
In 1911 the Lighthouses Service Office and Maritime Signalling went under the Ministry of the Italian Navy, while the Ministry of Public Works was only in charge of the construction and extraordinary maintenance of lighthouses.
As a result of this change, the Service went through a technological modernization programme. In 1915 the Royal Navy established the Inspectorate of Lighthouses and Maritime Signalling, based in Naples. The new organization provided for independent, light bodies, able to operate in the most remote and isolated coasts and provide protection and surveillance to seafarers.
The Kingdom of Italy was divided into 8 regions (including the colonies), called “Lighthouses Area Commands.” At the head of each Area Command was a Captain who was in charge of the stretch of coast under his command, whilst the Lighthouses Technical Office based in the Naples Shipyards was in charge of creating new projects regarding lighthouses and other maritime signalling appliances and devices, to deliver its opinion on new instruments, make agreements and tests approved by the Ministry, carry out all necessary changes and repair works, and perform studies and researches aimed at improving technics. These changes brought about great improvements on the services provided and in the figures: from 50 signals in 1861 to 512 in 1916.
In 1915 the first military regulations on Lighthouses and Maritime Signalling Service were passed. Until the outbreak of World War II, Italy made all possible efforts to improve the quality of signalling on our coasts to meet standards of more advanced countries, such as England and France.
The war took its toll on the assets of lighthouses and maritime signalling, which were considered of paramount strategic importance. The land, air and sea allied bombings first, and the German raids afterwards, left a bleak landscape of dangerous inefficiency.
In the wake of World War II, the Italian Navy reinstated the Lighthouses Division and, with the help of the Ministry of Public Works, created a rebuilding and modernization overall programme which lasted until 1965.
Towards the end of 1966, after the service was reinstated, the new Lighthouses and Maritime Signalling Inspectorate under the Italian Navy Chief-of-Staff was based in Rome and was supported by the Lighthouses Technical Office, based at the La Spezia Shipyards. The whole Country was split into 6 different areas:
La Spezia for the North Tyrrhenian Sea, La Maddalena Island for Sardinia, Naples for the South Tyrrhenian, Messina for Sicily, Taranto for the Ionian and South Adriatic, and Venice for North and Central Adriatic Sea.
These areas were under the Lighthouses Region Command. Above this, the Italian Navy High Regional Command and the Lighthouses Inspectorate were in charge of the routine maintenance through military and civil personnel.
The Lighthouses Technical Office, directly under the Inspectorate, based in La Spezia, was in charge of major or extraordinary maintenance, and was required to use its workshops to carry out repairs, tests, experiments and researches.
Since June 1998, the Inspectorate for Lighthouses Logistic Support, based in Rome, and current top Lighthouses Service Head Office, has incorporated the former Lighthouses Inspectorate, giving origin to the 4th Lighthouses Department. It is in charge of research, planning, management and supervision of all technical and logistic issues. Moreover, it represents the national Authority giving its opinion on the adequacy of the maritime signalling in relation to a safe navigation and in accordance with the International Maritime Signalling Organization.