Italian Line S.S. Leonardo da Vinci 1960 - 1982

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer, Author and Lecturer

Commenced in the Passenger Shipping & Cruise Industry in 1960



Please Note: Photographs are from the ssmaritime collection, or as mentioned otherwise


Page One


“Leonardo da Vinci’s” History & Specification Page

Including some of “Italia Lines” earlier Liners in brief


The Italian Line like so many of its competitor’s lost most of its passenger liners during World War II, including two of their prestigious luxury liners the superb S.S. Rex as well as the magnificent S.S. Conte di Savoia.


Above the luxurious S.S. Rex and below the S.S. Conte di Savoia, both commenced service in 1932


The luxurious S.S. Conte di Savoia

But the liners that did somehow manage to survive the war, mostly dated from the 1920’s and these ships by the late 1940’s were due to be replaced.

Thankfully, in 1949 the Italian Line received special subsidies from the Italian government for them to construct two new liners for their Trans-Atlantic service between Italy and the United States. The first of these ships was delivered in 1953 being the S.S. Andrea Doria, and she was followed the very next year by the S.S. Cristoforo Colombo. Together these two liners re-established the Italian Line’s prestige Trans-Atlantic service with two of the finest liners to serve on the respective service.

Here we see the elegant S.S. Andrea Doria


This is the slightly newer sister the S.S. Cristoforo Colombo

However, as history proved, the Andrea Doria collided with the Swedish American Line M.S. Stockholm and the great Italian liner sank due to the collision, whilst the much smaller Stockholm suffered damage to her bow. The Stockholm did assist and she was able to rescue many passengers from the Andrea Doria. The much loved and admired Andrea Doria sank after just three years of service on July 25, 1956 which was a great loss to the company, besides the Italian Line was left to pay the full cost of their lost ship, due to negligence on the bridge that night, whereas the Stockholm only had to pay for their bow repairs. Sadly the vast majority of the blame was laid on the Andrea Doria, which was tragic for the Italian Line had a long record of excellent maritime safety!

A New Ship in Planning:

But with the tragic loss of the Andrea Doria, the Italian Line was now short of a ship and they desperately required a new liner to join S.S. Cristoforo Colombo on their Trans-Atlantic service.

However, amongst the board of directors of the Italian Line there was considerable turmoil regarding the collision and the ensuing court case, etc. But thankfully there was a part of the company that commenced to work on plans for a new ship that was so urgently needed to replace the lost ship.

Maritime architects decided to use the very same hull design as that of the SS Andrea Doria, but adapt it, and update it into a larger design for the new ship. The Andrea Doria was 29,083 GRT and 701 ft long and 90 ft wide, whilst the design of the new liner would be 33,340 GRT and 763.12 ft long and 92.19 ft wide.

This silhouette was a first look of what the ship would look like


Italian Line’s released this Leonardo da Vinci brochure in 1960 and considering the ship was named

after one Italy’s greatest innovators ever, it was obvious the new liner would represent the very best in INNOVATION!

This is the cover of the brochure but sadly I do not have its interior

Brochure cover provided by Jason Macinnes, Scotland

As plans progressed many innovations were made for the new liner, as she would incorporate very high standards and many fully upgraded safety features, and as the plans for the new ship came towards a conclusion, there was no doubt at all that she would be one of the most advanced liners of her time!

New safety features included:

The liner would have lifeboat davits that would be capable of launching lifeboats against a 25 degree list, as well as lifeboats would be fully motorised, also her watertight bulkheads would be extended. Another astonishing innovation was, that her engine rooms would be separated into two compartments one located forward and one just aft, with each engine driving its own propeller and thus being capable of powering the ship independently from the other. Another great innovation was, considering the Andrea Doria was not known for her stability, the new ship would be provided with not just the usual two stabilizer fins, but four “Denny Brown” stabilizers fins.

There were a good number of other notable features and innovations such as; an Infrared-heated swimming pool in First Class, all First Class and Cabin Class cabins, as well as 80% of Tourist-Class cabins were provided with private facilities, and the ship would be fully air-conditioned. Whilst the Andrea Doria and her newer sister had three electric cranes located on their aft decks, servicing their holds there, the new ship would be completely free of any cranes, thus providing spacious Lido Decks with fine Swimming Pools and Sun Decks.

But I left one thing out, as they say the “Big Daddy” of the story, for the Leonardo would be given one of the most unusual features in passenger liner history. The truth is that provisions were made to convert the ship in due course to operate on Nuclear Power whenever it should become available. We know that the American “State Maine Lines” built the N.S. Savannah being the world’s first nuclear powered Passenger-Cargo liner, and she commenced her maiden voyage on August 20, 1962. But, although she did have passengers, but sadly she was seldom booked to capacity, due to many people being fearful of being exposed to radiation, etc, and thus this magnificent looking ship proved to be a complete failure. In due course she operated as a cargo ship and finally she became a stationary museum, and in this role she has been more successful than she ever was as an operational passenger ship!

N.S. Savanna seen arriving at Seattle in 1962 for the World Fair

Construction & Launching:

The famed shipbuilder “Ansaldo Sestri Ponete” of Genoa, which commenced ship building in 1815, was given the contract in 1958 to build the ship that would be named later at her launching “Leonardo da Vinci”. She was laid down in Yard 1550, and as work commenced it did not take too long before her hull stood tall.

With her hull completed, the great new liner is seen a little over a month prior to her launching

Then came a big day for this fine new ship, for on Sunday December 7, 1958 she was launched and officially named “Leonardo da Vinci” by Mrs. Carla Gronchi, the wife of Giovanni Gronchi, being the President of the Italian Republic. and the Leonardo da Vinci gently slid down into the water and was taken into tow to Ansaldo’s fit-out berth to be completed. 

Leonardo da Vinci is seen during her triumphant launching on December 7, 1958

The Italian Line commenced a promotional opportunity and as they had built a perfect scale model of their new liner the Leonardo da Vinci, it received a popular viewing Trieste in April 1960.

Here we see a huge model of the Leonardo da Vinci at the Milan Fair in April 1960 and the model reveals her beautifully shaped bulbous bow

On Thursday May 19, 1960, S.S. Leonardo da Vinci undertook her Deep Sea Speed Trials which she did with great success, at first she reached a top speed of 25.3 knots and then on her next run she achieved a remarkable 26 knots. However whilst on her Trans-Atlantic services, she would usually operate at a service speed of around 23 knots.

Looking simply sublime, like a perfectly polished gem the S.S. Leonardo da Vinci was delivered early to her owners in Genoa in June 1960 and there she was made ready for a short “shake-down cruise” which departed Genoa on June 17, this gave the crew the opportunity to get used to the new ships and the surroundings as she was quite different to their previous liners. The cruise went well, and upon her return the media on board gave her a stunning review! Now she was ready for her official maiden voyage to New York. But let us first take a closer look at this amazing ship, her excellent features and one that was not that great, which follows next.

As was discovered during her sea trials, sadly just like the S.S. Andrea Doria and Cristoforo Colombo, the Leonardo da Vinci, even with her four stabilizer fins, she still proved to be prone to instability in rough weather, and this was due entirely to her hull design. The main problem being is that her designers took Andrea Doria hull design and simply stretched and widened it, but somehow this really did not work for a larger version and it affected her stability. Thus it was decided to fit 3,000 metric tons of iron onto the bottom of her hull, and it was stated that this was done to “improve her stability”. However, this caused a huge problem, for it now made; “The Leonardo da Vinci excessively heavy for the power of her engines” and sadly this led to fuel costs for her being extremely expensive, especially during a time of a fuel crisis, and fuel costs would obviously affect her eventual future!

Her Interiors

Due to the possible conversion for the ship to operate in the future on nuclear power, the Leonardo da Vinci had what would be known as a rather different interior layout to the majority of passenger liners. The reason being, that the location for the future reactor was located amidships, thus in and around the liner’s steam turbine power plant. Therefore it was necessary to locate the dining rooms and galleys one deck higher than they had been on the Andrea Doria and Cristoforo Colombo, thus it was separated from the ship's main working area. There are no passenger hallways that pass the area that is reserved for a reactor, meaning that the forward and aft passenger sections of the lower decks were complexly separated from each other. Mind you, that would also be the case in a good number of other ships in due course that had no thoughts of a reactor, there it was just the fact that the engine room separated forward from aft, and it was no big deal!

In addition she became the first Italian liner to be fitted with an efficient water desalination plant with a capacity of over 184,000 gallons of fresh water per day. She also had two garages for 50 cars; one the First Class garage had a fold down door and cars could just drive on and off.

Some of the ships thirty Lounges, Dining Rooms and other public spaces on board were designed by several famed Italian designers, which included Vincenzo Monaco and Amedeo Luccichenti and these two men were responsible for the sublime Ballroom and Cocktail Bar, whilst other amazing designers worked on the rest of the venues. Closed-circuit Televisions were located in all the Main Lounges. The Leonardo da Vinci had a total of 524 cabins, accommodating 1,326 passengers in her three classes, First, Cabin and Tourist-Class, all being exceptionally fitted out according to their class.

The Italian Line published a brochure full of artist impressions long before the completion of the ship, and this brochure and a later one from 1966 are shown in full on Page Two. Her Deck Plan will be shown on Page Three.

An advanced artist impression of the S.S. Leonardo da Vinci from the Italian Line’s 1958 brochure


The First Class Lounge from the abovementioned advance brochure


A black & white impression of the First Class Dining Room, revealing the sculptures along the wall as can be seen below


And here is the actual elegant First Class Restaurant, featuring a wall of fine timbers and four stunning sculptures


The liner’s namesake is seen here in the First Class Lobby, where he is honoured by a large hammered silver relief

portrait of Leonardo da Vinci by famed Italian artist & sculptor Renato Marino Mazzacurati (1907 - 1969)


The exterior design of the Leonardo da Vinci was somewhat similar to that of her two earlier sisters, but she was 63 ft longer and a good 2 ft wider, in addition she had a larger forward as well as an aft superstructure. The ships funnel was also beautifully re-shaped into a more modern shapely funnel, as well as being somewhat taller and also having a small smoke deflector fin.

The Leonardo had the same livery as the Andrea Doria and the Cristoforo Colombo having a perfectly painted black hull with a thin white band painted two-thirds of the way up from the bottom of the black-painted area.

There is no doubt externally, and I do mean visually, S.S. Leonardo da Vinci was a perfectly balanced looking liner, just simple perfection to behold at sea, be it back then and honestly she would still be today!

But sadly, her machinery was under powered and thus it was difficult to cope with the ships very poor underwater hull design and all that iron that had to be fitted to keep her stable, thus fuel cost added up to a fortune to operate her, and tragically that was the ships main downfall and a big problem. Due to the aforementioned this wonderful ship as far as passengers were concerned, her days were considerably short for such a sizable liner serving the Italian Line for she only served a total of 17 years, and then she was laid up several times for a good number of years. Such a magnificent looking ship, with interiors fit for an Emperor, she certainly deserved much better!

A aerial view postcard of the sleek S.S. Leonardo da Vinci at sea



Above we have two fine photographs of her shapely bulbous Bow and her magnificent cruiser Stern

Maiden Voyage:

On June 30, 1960, under the command of the company’s Senior Captain; Commander Armando Pinelli S.S. Leonardo da Vinci departed Genoa on her maiden voyage. She first headed for Cannes where she arrived later on that day. She the arrived at Naples on July 1, and Gibraltar on July 3, after which she headed directly for New York where she arrived July 9. Upon arrival in the “Big Apple” S.S. Leonardo da Vinci received a Grand Welcome, which new liners were traditionally given as they arrived in the City on their Maiden arrival.

An Italian Line postcard of Leonardo da Vinci’s maiden arrival in New York City

Not long after the Leonardo entered the Trans-Atlantic service, amazingly the Italian Line announced that by 1965 that their new ship would be refitted to operate on nuclear power. But as we know, that never came about, and to be honest it was just as well, for all too soon big changes were going to happen.

S.S. Leonardo da Vinci (right) and Cristoforo Colombo are seen together at Genoa. Amazingly the

Cristoforo Colombo seems to look larger than the Leonardo da Vinci, but that is an allusion.

It had already been decided by the Italian Line that the Leonardo da Vinci would be replaced on the North Atlantic service by their two brand new liners the S.S. Michelangelo and S.S. Raffaello mid 1965. Thus the Leonardo da Vinci continued on her regular North Atlantic service from Genoa to New York until July 1965.

When she completed her Trans-Atlantic services in July 1965, she commenced to operate a new service and she departed on her new Trans-Atlantic service, but now from Naples to New York, with her first departure from Naples being on July 19, 1965, however, by the end of the year she would return to cruise duties.

S.S. Leonardo da Vinci is seen at Naples during her 1965 Trans-Atlantic service to New York, until she was called up for refurbishment in 1966

Leonardo da Vinci commenced cruises around the Mediterranean, however the Italian Line decide that some cabins in Tourist-Class were not up to standard for cruise duties, as the cabins in question did not have private facilities. Therefore it was decided to keep those accommodations closed during her cruise services. This obviously would have an effect, for she would be cruising with minus 230 passengers than her usual capacity, making a dent in the profitability, considering her high fuel costs.

However Italian Line decided to schedule S.S. Leonardo da Vinci on one of the most ambitious cruises ever, and would be a 42-day extensive 21 ports and 14 Countries voyage, being promoted by Italian Line as the “Gala Cruise.” The itinerary for this amazing cruise was as follows:

March 5, 1966, depart New York, and head for the following ports, Tenerife, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Bizerte, Palermo, Istanbul, Rhodes, Alexandra, Port Said, Beirut, Haifa, Piraeus, Kotos, Budva, Naples, Genoa, Cannes, Malaga, Algeciras, Madeira, Bermuda, arrive New York on April 16.

42-day “Gala Cruise” Brochure cover - More pages of this brochure, as well as a map of the route taken can be seen on Page Two

A New Look S.S. Leonardo da Vinci:

Then in mid 1966 the Italian Line decided that they would bring the Leonardo da Vinci in line with the Company’s new livery introduced earlier, as seen on their two newest liners. She would now be painted all white, with her hull given green boot topping and a longitudinal thin green ribbon.

Although many preferred the more classic look on her as they considered the black hull a more elegant look. However, in general cruise ships had become what was known at that time, as the “cruising white ships”, therefore they were all becoming, what they call part of the “In-Thing”.

With the makeover as well as an interior refit, cruise fares could be increased accordingly considering she was considered as a luxury cruise ship! And soon she commenced on her cruise schedule and operated a good number of them, yet she still continued regular Trans-Atlantic liner voyages during the summer months. Cruises were becoming more and more popular and in general they were operated during the cooler (winter) months as they offered an escape to warmer climates!

An Italian Line postcard of a new look, all white S.S. Leonardo da Vinci

S.S. Leonardo da Vinci commenced on yet another extensive cruise departing in February 1970, being a 41-day voyage commencing in the Mediterranean sailing via a host of ports including transiting the Panama Canal and bound for Hawaii, from there she would return again to Italy, thus a very different cruise to the one in March 1966, and it offered a range of Fly-Cruise opportunities.

The Final Days of the Traditional Liners:

During the 1970s competition from jet aircraft became more and more pressing on the North Atlantic service. In 1975 the Italian Line decided to withdraw both the Michelangelo and Raffaello from service.

But despite the withdrawal of state subsidiaries, the Italian Line did not withdraw from the North Atlantic service altogether as the Leonardo da Vinci returned to her original Trans-Atlantic service, although be it for a short time until June 1976.

A gleaming white Leonardo is flying the Blue Pieter, thus she is due to depart New York later that after noon

The photographer is unknown, *Please view the photo notes at the bottom of this page

As soon as her trans-Atlantic duties had completed in June 1976, sadly she, like the Michelangelo and Raffaello were also withdrawn from duties and laid up at La Spezia.

However, in 1977 there was a reprieve, for she was transferred to “Italia Crociere Internationali” (ICI), Genoa, and the Leonardo da Vinci headed for the United States of America where she would commence a new cruise service. “Costa Cruises” would operate for as ICI’s General Agents in the USA.

The S.S. Leonardo da Vinci seen in her final role in 1977

The Leonardo da Vinci commenced operating from Miami to the Bahamas on three and four day cruises, meaning she would spend some overnight stays berthed in the Bahamas. But the sad fact was, that the Leonardo da Vinci would actually consume more fuel whilst she was berthed in port, than the majority of other ships would consume whilst under full speed at sea.

Therefore her cruise role to the Bahamas was again sadly relatively short lived and thus around a year after returning to cruising she returned to La Spezia, Italy on September 23, 1978 where ICI had her laid up once again, but this time it would be for the very last time.

Disaster Strikes the Ship:

The Leonardo da Vinci remained laid up at La Spezia for two years, but then suddenly a fire erupted aboard the Leonardo on Friday July 4, 1980 and it rapidly engulfed the entire ship. She burned for four long days, after which the once beautiful looking ship capsized.

A tragic scene with the Leonardo da Vinci seen on fire


This once great liner is seen completely burnt out, and she will soon capsize

The photographer is unknown, *Please view the photo notes at the bottom of this page


Having capsized, here we see the Leonardo partially righted

The photographer is unknown, *Please view the photo notes at the bottom of this page

The once so beautiful S.S. Leonardo da Vinci was declared as a “total constructional loss”. This was without a doubt a sad and a tragic end to one of the most elegant and stylish looking Italian Line ships ever built. Many seem to go wild over the weird funnelled S.S. Michelangelo and Raffaello, although these ships were stylish, but they did not have a patch of exterior style and the magnificence of the great S.S. Leonardo da Vinci, although they did fail her when it came to her underwater hull design!

The burnt-out Leonardo having been righted is now seen at the La Spezia breakers yard

Photograph by & Alan Blakely

With burnt-out hulk having been righted, she was towed to the breakers yard of “Cant. Navali Lotti,” at La Spezia, who broke her up in 1982.

Specifications for the Leonardo da Vinci:

Built by:                     Ansaldo Sestri Ponete, Genoa, Italy 1960.

Yard N:                     1550.

Launched:                  December 7, 1958.

Sea Trials:                  May 19, 1960.

Delivered:                  in June 1960 to Italia Line, Genoa.

Maiden Voyage:           June 30, 1960 Genoa to New York.

Tonnage:                    33,340 GRT, 17,227 Net, 5,641 Dwt.

Length:                      763.12 ft - 232.60 m.

Beam:                        92.19 ft - 28.10 m.

Draught:                    31.33 ft - 9.55 m.

Machinery:                 Four Ansaldo steam turbines.

Power:                       38792 kW.

Propellers:                  2.

Speed:                       23 service speed, 26 maximum.

Passengers:                1,326 total.

.                                413 First Class, 342 Cabin Class, 571 Tourist Class Trans-Atlantic services.

.                                984 passengers on Cruises.

.                                Air-Conditioning throughout the ship.

.                                Two sets of Stabilizers.

Broken Up by:             Cant. Navali Lotti,” La Spezia in 1982.

In Conclusion:

Looking back, it was really quite remarkable for in the very same year the S.S. Leonardo da Vinci commenced sailing, the Italian Airline “Al Alitalia” had the audacity to challenge their major competitors the “Italian Line”, both being financially supported by the Italian Government mind you, and around the same time S.S. Leonardo da Vinci headed of on her maiden voyage, Alitalia placed their newly acquired Douglas DC-8 Jetliner on the New York service. Thus, Alitalia was stealing countless of Italian Line’s passengers who would now be flying instead of going by sea as it was so much faster.

As most will be aware the 1960s sadly commenced the end for the many of the beautiful traditional classic Liners, be it the Trans-Atlantic Liners or those that sailed around the globe, even as far as New Zealand, Australia, Asia and South Africa, etc, including many other Italian ships did at that time. The Jet age had begun, especially with the arrival of the Boeing 747, the Jumbo Jet which sounded the end for countless excellent and most beautiful ships, and many where either sold to Greece, or were simply broken up.

Remembering … S.S. Leonardo da Vinci

In service from 1960 to 1977



The great Trans-Atlantic Liner, S.S. Leonardo da Vinci is seen arriving in port

This is the way genuine ship lovers prefer to see this fine liner with her original hull


S.S. Leonardo da Vinci - INDEX

Page One               Her History page. (This Page).

Page Two             Brochures 1958 & 1966, posters, menu & various photographs.

Page Three           Deck Plan. (Online soon).


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Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images that have been provided by Shipping Companies and private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors. However, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer/owner concerned. I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me, my email address is in order that due credit may be given.

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