The Italian Navy, the "Regia Marina", designed the Zara-class as light cruisers due to the Washington Naval Treaty, a 1922 treaty signed by five powers after World War 1 in an effort to prevent a new naval arms race, limiting the number of capital ships each could construct and restricting displacements on other types. The treaty was signed by Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. Two of the signers, Italy and Japan, soon withdrew from the treaty to build ships without regard to the 10,000 ton displacement clause.
The Regia Marina wanted a heavy cruiser class so the light cruiser class "Zara", while still on the drawing board, was converted and upgraded as a protected cruiser design and then again enhanced to become the desired heavy cruiser class. The Gorizia, in Italian meaning "the little hill", became the last ship commissioned of the Zara-class, this on December 31st, 1931. She displaced 11,900 tons standard and 14,560 when under full load, making the four ships of her class the heaviest cruisers in operation during the upcoming World War 2. Of course neighboring France took notice of their arrival - in fact many naval experts felt the class was one of the top designs of the day due to her combination of armament and armor protection even with a reduction in speed.