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The designing and birth of the two superliners

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In 1958 Italian Line started making plans for a large pair of ships to operate in the Genoa-New Your route. Commercial demands were not the only ones to effect the decision to build new ships: a pair of new ships would get new jobs for shipyards, dockers, and most importantly sailors, hence trade unions supported the construction of new ships.

 Originally, Italia Line planned their new flagships to be a pair of 35 000 ton liners, only slightly larger than the Leonardo Da Vinci with her 33 000 tons, as to replace aged ships Saturnia and Vulcania, dating from 1927/1928. However, as told before, after reviewing their options on the new ships Italia Line decided to order a pair of true superliners. Their tonnage was to be approximately 45 000 tons, length 275 meters and width 31 meters, making them the biggest pair of Italian liners since the Rex and Conte di Savoia. The new ships were to be slightly smaller in tonnage, they would be longer than their predecessors. The total cost of the ships was about 150 billion Italian Lire of the time, and they were amongst the last ships to be built for the North-Atlantic run.

This decision proved to be a hazardous one from the very beginning. The aeroplane was gathering a larger and larger share of the transatlantic traffic. Even with the Saturnia and Vulcania withdrawn, the ships planned were too large for the route at the time. The Italian Line decided, against all the proof contrary, to go ahead with the construction of the first true Italian superliners in more than twenty years.



When deciding a name for the new ships, Italia line decided to follow a trend they had set by the Andrea Doria, Cristoforo Colombo and Leonardo da Vinci. The ships were to be named after famous historical figures: the elder ship Michelangelo, after the renaissance artist who painted amongst other places the Sixtine Chapel in Vatican. The younger ship was named Raffaello, again after a famous renaissance painter. Both ships had a relief of their namesake artists in their first class lounge and one low-relief in the first class foyer.


It was decided that the new ships would use the conventional three-class system with different accommodations for passengers of First Class, Second Class (renamed "Cabin Class" because a lot of people didn't wished to be classified as "second class" travellers) and Tourist Class.

The transported passengers were 1.775:  535 in First Class, 550 in Cabin Class, 690 in Tourist Class, plus 725 crew members, for one amount of 2.500 persons aboard.

Michelangelo under construction in Genova Sestri Ponente shipyards - Michelangelo in costruzione nei cantieri navali di Genova Sestri Ponente

The task of building the new ships commenced only within few moths of each other, Michelangelo at Ansaldo shipyards in Genova Sestri, and Raffaello at the shipyard "San Marco", of C.R.D.A. (Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico) shipyards,  in Trieste. Both shipyards were old acquitances to Italian Line. Ansaldo had constructed Roma, Augustus, Rex, Andrea Doria, Cristoforo Colombo and Leonardo da Vinci. CR dell'Adriatico in Trieste had been responsible for the stunning Conte di Savoia in 1933 and in modern times it builds modern cruise ships, such as the Grand Princess of 130.000 tons tonnage, the biggest ship in the world until the recent Queen Mary 2.


Not only they were the newest, biggest and longest couple of twin sister ships to be built after the war, they were also the most technologically advanced. Especially their control panel and control systems in the engine room were the most advanced in the '60.Screw of Michelangelo under construction - Un'elica della Michelangelo in costruzione The power to the ships was provided by steam turbines that moved twin propellers. In similar fashion to military ships, the two engine rooms of the ships were complete independent for each other. The aft engine room moved the left screw, by one axle 56 meters long, while the forward engine room moved the right screw with an axle 88,5 meters long. Thus, if one engine room were flooded or under fire, the other could still move one of the screws.


The ships were designed with top speed over 30 knots, but their running speed, due to cost reasons, was to be a more economic 26,5 knots. For the same reason, Italia Line wisely decided not try to take the Blue Ribbon from the American speed-queen United States, since it would have been rather expensive to build and maintain engines that could beat the United States' record speed of 35.59 knots.


Both of the ships had 30 lounges, one theatre with 489 seats, 3 night clubs, 760 cabins, 18 elevators, a car garage that hosted more than 50 cars, one automatic phone switchboard that connected the internal 850 numbers. There was also a closed circuit TV system for the times when TV transmissions were not receivable from the coast. In the lounges and also on some of the outdoor decks there were input connectors for video cameras, which were used to transmit in the internal TV circuit the images of the various celebrations and parties aboard.

There was also a well-equipped hospital-quality operating theatre and one dedicated division for infective illnesses. 

The air conditioning plant had a power of 4 millions b.t.u. power, and the water distiller provided 1 million litres of water for day. 4 steam pipes boilers supplied the steam turbines, which by the power of 85.000 HP moved two screws of almost 6 meters diameter. The rudder weighted 84 tons, its rod was 7 meters long and weighted 33 tons. The hull had a sharp and slender design like in no other ship before and the wheel bridge was almost 76 meters from the tip of the prow.


At early planning stages the new ships took a traditional shape, that of two black-hulled liners with conventional funnels. However, their funnels were soon re-drawn to a never-before-seen shape, based on designs by Professor Mortarino of Turin Polytechnic. These funnels were in fact originally designed for Lloyd Triestino's ships Guglielmo Marconi and Galileo Galilei, but Lloyd Triestino had opted for a more conventional design. These trellis-style funnels (located far to the aft of the ships), with big smoke deflectors, were much-discussed and criticized during the design phase, as many people though they were horrible in appearance and differed too much from traditional style. In the end they were adopted and gave the ships their unique, unmistakable profile and becoming an effective logo. Scale models of the funnels where long studied and tested in the wind-tunnel of the mechanical university in Torino. The main property of that funnels layout was that they efficiently dispersed almost all the smoke away from the ship.


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