The Italian navy established a base at La Spezia in the 1860s which subsequently became one of its principal dockyards and arsenals. The museum originated in the 18th century in a collection of artefacts relating to the navy of the royal house of Savoy that was displayed at Villafranca, and later in Genoa. It was transferred to La Spezia in 1870. The collection includes figureheads of 18th and 19th century ships, and many ship models. Of particular importance are exhibits relating to radio communications, including some equipment used by Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937). There are numerous items from the First and Second World Wars including torpedoes and parts of submarines.
A visit to the museum can be combined with a tour of the Naval Arsenal, large parts of which are now open to the public under an agreement between the Italian Navy and the city authority of La Spezia. It is possible to see work in progress on modern ships and also the sail-maker’s yard, swing-bridges and dry docks of the 19th century.