Divers Find 16th-Century Shipwreck Off Coast of Northern Italy

The vessel may be the “Santo Spirito & Santa Maria di Loreto,” which sank in the vicinity in 1579

Italian shipwreck
The pair immediately knew their find was something special, as wood rarely survives in saltwater unless it is buried by sediment. Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio della Liguria

Two professional divers exploring the waters off the coast of northern Italy have discovered the wreck of a large wooden ship thought to date to the 16th century, reports Vincenzo Bruno for Italian news site Notizie.

Investigation of the find is ongoing, but a statement from the Archaeology Superintendency of Italy’s Ministry for Cultural Heritage & Tourism suggests the wooden hull may represent the remnants of a much sought-after galleon that sank in the area in 1579. Named the Santo Spirito and Santa Maria di Loreto, the ship was one of the largest Italian merchant vessels of its time.

In February, Gabriele Succi and Edoardo Sbaraini of local business Rasta Divers were diving near Porto Pidocchio when they spotted the remains of a wooden ship at a depth of around 164 feet, according to Diver Net. The pair immediately knew their find was something special, as wood rarely survives in saltwater unless it is buried by sediment.

Per a second statement, Mediterranean wrecks dating to the early modern period are exceptionally rare. Including the new discovery, which boasts wooden comb elements and a double skeleton, just five ships of this type have been found in the body of water to date, underwater archaeologist Luca Trigona tells local media, as quoted by the Maritime Executive.

Beyond offering insights on the region’s naval history, the wreck’s potential identity as the Santo Spirito has generated much speculation and excitement. As James Rogers reports for Fox News, divers have been searching for the Italian merchant ship since the 1970s.

Builders constructed the galleon in a style popularized by Ragusa, a maritime republic located in what is now Dubrovnik, Croatia, according to Diver Net. On October 29, 1579, a storm struck the ship—which had set sail from Genoa with nearly 2,000 tons of bronze cannons, ammunition and nails for shipbuilding onboard—dashing it against the cliffs between Camogli and Punta Chiappa. Locals helped rescue the ship’s crew, placing themselves at risk of contracting the plague, which was then raging through Genoa, according to the Naval Archaeology Research Group.

If the ship’s identity is confirmed, it will be the first Renaissance-era vessel discovered with its hull timbers still intact, reports Diver Net. Italian officials say they expect to find ceramics, coins, navigational instruments, cannons and anchors upon conducting further exploration of the wreckage.

“The new wreck ... will certainly be a mine of information for the history of the Mediterranean seafaring,” says Simon Luca Trigona, an underwater archaeologist with the municipality of Genoa, in the statement. “Perhaps it will be able to end the long chapter linked to the search for the famous Ragusa wreck of the Santo Spirito & Santa Maria di Loreto.”

This isn’t the first time Succi and Sbaraini have stumbled upon a significant piece of naval history. In 2018, the duo found a Roman shipwreck laden with 2,000-year-old amphorae off the coast of Portofino. Both times, the divers notified authorities of their find—as stipulated by local law—and worked with the superintendency and Italy’s Underwater Carabinieri to conduct additional surveys of the site.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.