LA SPEZIA | LIGURIA REGION
La Spezia, at the head of La Spezia Gulf, is one of the major Italian military and commercial harbours, located between Genoa and Pisa on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is today a modern city (almost all buildings date after 1920), and its province includes beautiful places like Lerici, Portovenere and the Cinque Terre, all lying on the La Spezia Gulf, on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The name of the city appears for the first time in 1160 in a contract signed by one Baldus de Specia. In the 13th century it was a small borough of Carpena, an important maritime center. In the late 13th century it was involved in the civil strife between the Fieschi on the one side and the Doria and Spinola families on the other side for the supremacy on Liguria. Oberto Doria attacked and defeated the Fieschi in the fortress of La Spezia, della Spezia.
After that the town was included in the Republic of Genoa. In the 14th century the town was one of the main centers for salt trade, and the Genoan Doge Simon Boccanegra established a Podesteria there, which in 1371 included also the jurisdiction of Carpena. In that period La Spezia was surrounded by defensive walls and in 1407 also the castle of San Giorgio was built.
In the late 16th century the fortress of Santa Maria on the promontory between Varignano and Castagna as a difense against pirates. In mid-17th century a new impulse to trade came with the entrance in town of Jewish and foreign merchants; weekly markets and yearly fairs are established.
In 1797 the French occupation marked the end of the Genoa supremacy and in 1815 the town was included in the kingdom of Sardinia, and nas made province capital. In 1861 works for the military Arsenale were begun, to make of the town the main military port of the kingdom. During the Second World War, the city's port was used by the German Kriegsmarine as the main base for U-boats operating in the Mediterranean Sea, and as a consequence was heavily bombed by the Allied Forces.
LEVANTO | LIGURIA REGION
Levanto lies on the sea, in a beautiful valley of olive trees and pines, and since the 1920's has been a fashionable resort, with guests as the Mussolini and Agnelli families.
All over the valley there are, hidden here and there, enchanting discoveries for the visitors: tiny colorful boroughs, watermills, chapels. The coastal waters facing Levanto are the center of the Marine Reserve Cinque Terre.
In Roman times there was a settlement called Ceula near present-day Montale, which has a strategic communication center. Under the Franks there was on the place a sighting tower, which was then transformed into the belltower of the Church of San Siro. In the late Middle Ages Levanto rose in importance, and was a fiefdom of the Malaspina family first, then passed to the Da Passano and in 1229 to the Genoa Republic. It was at the time a commercial center, well-known for the "Levanto red" marble, directly connecting the sea and Genoa to the Francigena road. In the 15th century there was a remarkable growth nearer to the sea, which was called the Borgo Nuovo.
WHAT TO SEE
- The medieval castle, rising on a hill south of the town, whose original structure goes back to the 11th century, but was rebuilt in the 16th.
- The church of Sant'Andrea, in the Ligurian Gothic style, with facade made of black and white bands and a rosewindow above the portal, preserving inside King Henry VIII's cup, shown to visitors only on the patron's feast. The huge cup, in solid silver, gold-plated and all finely chiseled, was made by Parisian goldsmith for Henry VIII Tutor, who, the story goes, lost it in a chess game to Giovanni Da Passano, lord of Levanto at the time.
- The Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, a favourite destination for hiking lovers.
- On the highest spot of the promontory, the early-20th century Villa Agnelli with its magnificent gardens.
PIGNONE | LIGURIA REGION
Located a few km from the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, Pignone is about 90 km from Genoa and 80 from Pisa. The Castellaro, on the hill facing the village, is an important site of the Bronze Age, related to the "people of the Swan", the ancient Ligurians. The legendary Cycnus, King of the Ligurian, was a friend of Phaeton, a son of Apollo, and for this reason was changed by Jupiter into a swan and placed among the stars, forming the Cygnus constellation.
Today Castellaro, accessible through two easy paths, is an area of great interest, subject to environmental protection for its delicate, complex karst system. On the site there are traces of dry stone walls from prehistory.
The medieval settlement rose on pre-existing Roman pagus, situated at the crossroads of two ancient roads, the former lading to Segesta, today's Sestri Levante, the other to Velleia in the province of Piacenza.
The history of the village of Pignone is connected to the Romanesque church of Santa Maria Assunta, surrounded by a fascinating maze of "carruggi" (=narrow alleys). The name appears in a bull by Eugene III in 1149; in 1252 Guglielmo, the bishop of Luni, gave Pignone to the powerful Fieschi di Lavagna family. Cardinal Luca Fieschi in February 1312 accompanied the young emperor Arrigo VII of Luxembourg, traveling to Rome to be crowned emperor, ant they stopped at Pignone.
During the Renaissance some remarkable buildings were erected, as those of the noble families Bordigoni and De Lucchini, and the loggia overlooking Piazza Marconi, under which in April 1465 the inhabitants of Pignone swore allegiance to the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza.
During the 16th century the original structure of the fortified village was changed with the creation of three access ways, of which today only one is extant, the door at the entrance of Ponte Vecchio, an unusual structure with a single stone arch, going back, according to some scholars, to the Roman age.
During the Napoleonic period the municipal seat was transferred to the nearby village of Casale, but with the advent of the Kingdom of Savoy in 1815 it was reinstated in Pignone.
PORTOVENERE | LIGURIA REGION
Portovenere, with the Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto isles, and the towns of the Cinque Terre, belongs to an area of great beauty and uncontaminated landscapes which in 1997 was declared a UNESCO World heritage site.
The Palmaria island belongs to the comune of Portovenere, from which it is separated by a narrow strait "Le Bocche". On the island was a monastery in the early Middle Ages, where for a time stayed San venerio, the Gulf's patron; today it is a environmental oasis with rich Mediterranean vegetation and steep cliffs, connected to Portovenere by ferry.
WHAT TO SEE
- The church of San Pietro, built in the ealy Christian centuries over the remains of a temple to Venus (the goddess that gives name to the place) rebuilt in 1256 by the Genoese as a reward for the help received in conquering Lerici.
- The romanesque church of San Lorenzo, built by the Magistri Antelami in the early 12th century, in three naves, with arches supported by black marble columns.
- The Palmaria island, which can be visited taking a ferry or boat, a paradise of Mediterranean vegetation, with fine grottos, ancient fortifications, quarries of Portoro marble (black with golden stripes), and crowded populations of royal gulls.
- The Tino island, with remains of buildings of the 11th century AD, and the chapel built in the 7th century on the spot where the body of San venerio, born in Palmaria and a hermit on this island, was found. The island is a Military Area, and it is possible to visit only on the Saint's day, 13 september.
- The Tinetto islet, with remains of an ancient oratorium of the 6th century AD and a larger monastery, destroyed in the 11th century by a Saracen raid. The island is also hope to a lizard that can be found only here, the pordacis muralis tinettoi.
RIOMAGGIORE | LIGURIA REGION
Riomaggiore, situated in a small valley in the Riviera di Levante region, is the first of the Cinque Terre places one meets coming from La Spezia (the other four being Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, all of them a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with its shoreline on the Gulf of Genoa, with a small beach and a wharf framed by tower houses.
Riomaggiore is the most southern town of the five Cinque Terre, all connected by rail or walking paths. The water and mountainside have been declared national parks (parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre). The town, dating from the late 12th century, is known for its historic character and its wine, produced by the local vineyards. The Via dell'Amore is a path connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola.
Manarola, administratively belonging to Riomaggiore, is the second town in the Cinque Terre from La Spezia. In the summer months, as in all the Cinque Terre, there is a dramatic increase in tourism. Manarola is the oldest of the Cinque terre, with a cornerstone of the church dating from 1160. There are other written references from roman times, that exalt the qualities of the fine wine from the region.
SARZANA | LIGURIA REGION
Sarzana, 15 km of La Spezia to the east of the Magra river, is the main center in Lunigiana, the area that takes its name from the ancient town of Luni. Apart from its rich historical past, and the wealth of monuments and art, Sarzana is also a modern town, a lively business and industrial center, famous for its glass-bottle factories.
The strategical position at the entrance to the valley of the Magra river, the boundary between Etruria and Liguria in Roman times, gave it military importance in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages it was mentioned in 983, and again in 1202 when the episcopal see was transferred here from the ancient Luni, 5 km southeast.
A branch of the Cadolingi di Borgonuovo family, lords of Fucecchio in Tuscany, which had acquired the name of Bonaparte, settled near Sarzana before 1264. In 1512 a member of the family moved to Ajaccio, and it seems he was the ancestor of Napoleon Buonaparte. Sarzana belonged first to Pisa, then to Florence, then to the Banco di San Giorgio of Genoa and from 1572 to the Republic of Genoa. In 1814 it was assigned to the Kingdom of Sardinia.
WHAT TO SEE IN SARZANA
- The cathedral of white marble in the Gothic style, dating from 1355 but completed in 1474, contains two sculptured altars.
- The Citadel, built by the Pisans, a massive fortress, demolished and rebuilt by Lorenzo de Medici, also known as Firmafede.
- The castle of Sarzanello, built by condottiere Castruccio Castracani, whose tomb by the Pisan Giovanni di Balducci is in the church of San Francesco.
- The Palazzo del Capitano originally designed by Giuliano da Maiano (1472), but later largely modified.