She is designed for anti-submarine operations. Her air-arm consists of either a maximum sixteen AV-8B Harrier IIs, or eighteen Augusta helicopters or a mix of helicopters and fighters. The flight-deck is the characteristic off-axis design with ski-jump for STOL aircraft, it is 174 m long and 30 m wide.
The ship is also equipped with an eight-cell surface-to-surface missile system, and two 324 mm three-tube torpedo launchers. Defences are provided by two eight-cell SAM launchers firing the SARH Aspide missile, additional defences are offered by three Breda 40 mm twin-gun mounts. Counter-measures include two twenty-barrel decoy launchers for chaff, flares, or jammers; the ship also has the Nixie anti-torpedo system and ECM systems.
The ship is powered by four Fiat COGAG gas turbines built under license from GE, offering a sustained power of 81,000 shp. Driving two shafts the ship has a maximum speed of 30 knots and can travel for 7,000 nm at around 20 knots.
She was build by Fincantieri (Italcantieri) at the Monfalcone shipyards in Genoa. She was laid down in March 1981, launched in 1983 and was commissioned on September 30, 1985. At the time of her launch she was the smallest active aircraft carrier in the world. Due to political considerations she did not receive her Harriers until 1989. She replaced the ageing ASW helicopter cruisers Andrea Doria & Caio Duilio.