For many, the Andrea Doria is primarily remembered for her untimely demise off Nantucket on a foggy night in July of 1956. As the last of the ‘great’ North Atlantic liners to founder, the drama of her sinking has largely served to overshadow three years of successful service, and the actual concept of one of the most brilliantly beautiful ocean liners ever constructed.
Andrea Doria and her almost identical sister ship, Cristoforo Colombo, were constructed to re-open the premier Italian Line service from Italy to New York and back. Before the war, this same route had been served by a pair of imperious 50,000 ton liners, the Conte Di Savoia and her running mate, the record breaking Rex of 1932.
Both of those liners became victims of the Second World War, as did much of the infrastructure that had built and maintained them. Many Italian shipyards were in ruins in those early, post war years, and this perhaps influenced the size- and style- of those first, nascent Italian liners to emerge in the early 1950’s.
Planning for the two new liners also deliberately eschewed any ambitions of creating a speedy record breaker. With normal speeds of around 23 knots on a 29,000 ton hull, both ships were designed to make a regular, nine day crossing from Genoa to New York, usually sailing via Naples, Cannes and Gibraltar.
Built by the Ansaldo shipyard in Genoa, the Andrea Doria was named in honour of the great, sixteenth century Genoese admiral of the same name. With accommodation for some 1,240 passengers across three classes, she was ready for her maiden voyage in January of 1953.
The ship that emerged was a stunning beauty, with a gracefully raked bow, a near perfect cruiser stern, and a sheer that gave her hull the same curvature as a subtle smile; a kind of nautical Mona Lisa, if you will. It was crowned by a white superstructure that ended in a series of stepped terrace decks that cascaded down to the stern. Each of those terrace decks contained an outdoor swimming pool- one for each class of passenger on board.
The funnel was the real crowning glory. As beautifully proportioned as a charm bracelet, it had a nonchalant, rear facing slope that gave the Andrea Doria an almost unique, quite racy stance. From bow to stern, both sister ships were exquisite examples of post war Italian styling; the perfect antithesis to the quite brutal ‘Mussolini Modern’ look that had dominated Italian architecture for the better part of the previous two decades.
Internally,. she was exquisite. A million dollar art collection, sprinkled around the ship, gave her an air of breezy, quite spectacular opulence. Superbly fed and served by an all Italian crew of 500, the new national flagship was a spectacular burst of bravado at the dawn of the stale, austere 1950’s; a sassy, splashy statement of intent.
Her maiden voyage in January of 1953 was a stormy affair, but the new Andrea Doria made jaws drop by the thousand when she sashayed into New York harbour for the first time. Tugs rode shotgun on the Andrea Doria, shooting icy plumes of welcome spray into the air. Overhead, helicopters buzzed the lithe new liner like so many curious dragonflies. Almost immediately, the travelling public took the ship to their hearts.
She was soon joined in service by the equally curvaceous Cristoforo Colombo and, before very long, the two Italian beauties had cornered the cream of the ‘Sunny Southern’ trade. Because they sailed on the often sunnier, more balmy route from the Mediterranean to America. the ships offered up the indolent, raffish lifestyle of the Riviera afloat.
With her open air lidos, outdoor cafes and pools, the Andrea Doria offered a delicious prelude- or even extension- of the seductive summer lifestyle that her passengers could anticipate in Sorrento, Amalfi or Portofino. She was Italy afloat; an amazing, seagoing maritime art gallery featuring a cultural glut of treasures that might remind passengers of their visits to the Uffizzi, or perhaps even the Pantheon. The two sister ships were a state of mind, and each was a fantastic advertisement for the mother country.
Andrea Doria and Cristoforo Colombo formed a popular, highly seductive duo for three years, and offered what was easily the most highly styled service on the southern route.
The tragedy that took out the Andrea Doria on the night of July 25/26th 1956, should not be allowed to stand as her sole claim to fame (or notoriety, if you will). Under any circumstances, she was a shimmering, sultry creation, and her loss deprived the travelling public of far more than just a certain amount of confidence.