In the early 1930’s, the “Figli del Littorio” foundation, in collaboration with the directorate general of “Figli degli Italiani all’Estero”, an organization working with the children of Italians living abroad, commissioned the Rome-born architect and engineer Clemente Busiri Vici to design a marine colony to be built northeast of Cattolica, in an area between the rivers Ventena and Conca.
The plans for the nucleus of the project were ready by 1933, with a rigidly symmetrical layout comprising five buildings inspired by the world of ships, aircraft, flying boats, trains and submarines. The complex was built in nine months, and was inaugurated on 28 June 1934, in the presence of the head of government, Benito Mussolini.
Great attention was dedicated to this new complex in the Italian and international press of the period, with comments ranging from enthusiasm to amazement. In the context of the cultural and architectural debate of the time, which contrasted classical and modernist styles, meaning architects who preferring the model of the late 1800’s and those who proclaimed instead a new architecture more suited to the times, it is easy to see innovative forms in the “Le Navi” complex that bring it close to Italian Futurism.
It very evidently offers in fact intensely symbolic contents linked with the modernist theme of machines and machinery, and strong emotional and psychological atmospheres deriving also from the Expressionist use of reinforced concrete.
In late 1934 Busiri Vici developed a project for the extension and alteration of the colony, maintaining the naval references, even though in a more moderate form, in the two torpedoes on the landward side, which in plan and elevation are “Rationalist” citations of the four ships closer to the beach, in the restructured semi-underground chapel, and in the guard building. Between 1935 and 1943, the “XXVIII Ottobre Marine Colony” was a self-sufficient structure, with its own farm, still existing today, capable of accommodating about 2000 young naval cadets, living under almost military discipline. In 1944, after the passage of the front, it became a military hospital.
After the war the complex was restored to its former function as a holiday centre, becoming the “G. De Michelis Marine Colony”. During the years of the economic boom, the company Maraldi of Cesena planned to divide the entire complex up into construction lots. Cattolica’s new town planning regulations were approved in 1963, but excluded the area occupied by “Le Navi” from its development plans, initially protected but now left free for building as proposed by government authorities.
This allowed Maraldi to obtain permission for its planned subdivision of the area, demolishing some of the buildings and building hotels and apartments in the area, almost halving the surface area occupied by buildings on which the colony once stood.
In the mid-1970’s the activities of “Le Navi” as a summer holiday centre and ownership of its buildings were taken over by the Emilia Romagna Region, which assigned its management to the Municipality of Cattolica.
In 1993, the Urbanistics Office of the Municipality of Cattolica prepared a series of preliminary studies and projects for the conversion of the complex into a multifunctional centre with specific educational, cultural and recreational characteristics, by restoring or regenerating the existing buildings, at the same time requesting once again the management of the entire complex from the Emilia Romagna Region.
In 1997, the municipality obtained the transfer of the complex from the region for the creation of a themed marine park. Simultaneously, the municipality become the promoter for the constitution of a company with mixed public and private capital, to be called “Parconavi SpA”, the aim of which was to create the marine park. Work on the park started in 1999, and on 10 June 2000, after only eleven months of work, it was inaugurated and opened to the public.