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The first people in the area of Viareggio were Etruscan in origin. Later, the Romans came and established the first true settlements using hydraulic works to tame the harsh marshland on the coast northwest of Pisa. The area was largely uninhabitable, though, until around the middle of the 15th-century when nearby citizens decided to better facilitate naval landings that would enable trade and commerce. A massive drainage effort was begun to make the lands tolerable. At the time, the area was ruled by the city of Lucca, which lies directly east of Viareggio. They were responsible for the construction of the
di Matilde tower, which has become the city's symbol and principle landmark.
Later, in the middle of the 16th-century, the city came under the rule of Florence and the area prospered economically. The Medicis used the marble quarried in the area to construct the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, a project of Michelangelo's.
Tourism came to the area in the latter half of the 19th-century, when "bathing towns" were established to which people would retreat to relax. Viareggio built a promenade along the beach known as
Torre di Via Regia, and visitors began to come to the town in increasing numbers. Like this, Viareggio eventually developed into the popular tourist resort area it is today.