Portovenere and Cinque Terre
Portovenere, Palmaria Islands and Cinque Terre
The eastern Ligurian Riviera between Porto Venere and Cinque Terre is a cultural site of outstanding value, representing the harmonious interaction between man and nature to produce a landscape of exceptional scenic quality that illustrates a traditional way of life that has existed for 1,000 years and continues to play an important socio-economic role in the life of the community.
The area covers some 15 km along the extreme eastern end of the Ligurian coast, between Levanto and La Spezia. It is a very jagged, steep coastline, which the work of man over the millennia has transformed into an intensively terraced landscape so as to be able to wrest from nature a few hectares of land suitable for agriculture, such as growing vines and olive trees. The human communities have adapted themselves to this seemingly rough and inhospitable nature by building compact settlements directly on the rock, with winding streets. The general use of natural stone for rooting gives these settlements a characteristic appearance. They are generally grouped round religious buildings or medieval castles.
The five villages of Cinque Terre date back to the later Middle Ages. The cultivation terraces that typify much of the Cinque Terre landscape were mainly built in the 12th century, when Saracen raids from the sea had come to an end. Starting from the north, the first is the fortified centre of Monterosso al Mare, on the top of St Christopher's hill, which first played an important role in the 7th century, during the Lombard invasions. After being disputed over by different noble families during the Middle Ages, it threw in its lot with the Republic of Genoa. It is a coastal town in a valley, its most prominent features being the church of St John, built in 1244, with its bell tower, originally an isolated watchtower, the ruins of the old castle, and the 17th-century Capuchin monastery that dominates the town.
Vernazza was founded in 1000 by people living on the Reggio hills. It became part of the Republic of Genoa in 1276. The houses are built along the Vernazza stream and up the slopes of the rocky spur that hides the village from those approaching it by sea. Narrow streets run down to the main street, which opens out into a small square looking out over the sea. Here the church of St Margaret of Antioch is a typical example of Ligurian Gothic. Corniglia is the only one of the villages built not on the coast itself but on a high promontory. It is dominated by the church of St Peter (1334). Further south, Manarola is a small hamlet established in the 12th century by people coming down from the mountain village of Volastra. Its houses are ranged in part on a rocky spur running down towards the sea and partly along the Grappa stream. A group of religious buildings are all 14th-century. The most southerly village is Riomaggiore, another medieval foundation. Its houses line the narrow valley of the Maggiore stream (also now covered). The village is dominated by the church of St John the Baptist (1340) and the castle, construction of which began in 1260.
Portovenere is an important cultural centre. Among the remains there are those of a large Roman villa on the coast at Varignano and a Benedictine monasterywith a fine proto-Romanesque church dedicated to St Peter, on the Arpaia rocky promontory. In the town below the castle there is a second church, with both Romanesque and Gothic elements, dedicated to St Lawrence. The town, a Roman foundation, Portus Veneris, was occupied by the Genoese in 1113. It is compact in form, culminating in the Doria castle (12th-16th centuries), which dominates the settlement and is a historical palimpsest, with many traces of its medieval predecessor. Off the coast at Portovenere are the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, noteworthy not only for their natural beauty but also for the many remains of early monastic establishments that they contain
The flora and fauna of the area are of interest. The natural garrigue and maquis vegetation survives intact in the higher parts of the steep ridge. They intermingle with one another in areas of abandoned cultivation terraces, providing a flora of exceptional quality. The nature of the terrain and the vegetation provides food and shelter for a wide range of insect and animal species.