Allied bombs and rough seas have reduced the once mighty turn of the century giant into an armless ruin. Il Gigante continues to shoulder the weight of the terrace for the one time famous Villa Pastine.
Arriving in Monterosso after hiking the trail from Vernazza on the Cinque Terre, we walked out to the beach. Il Gigante caught my eye immediately with his huge hulking form riding the rocky outcrop. His leg and torso were knotted with muscle, looking like one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I stood amazed and intrigued by his existence.
Is he Hercules? Sampson? Gulliver? Neither. He is Neptune, God of the Sea, sitting 45 feet high and weighing in at 1700 tons. Designed and fashioned out of concrete and iron in 1910 by Arrigo Minerbi, a Jewish Italian sculptor, Neptune supports the one-time dancing terrace of Villa Pastine on his shoulders. He became the symbol of the town in postcards of the era, decorating the seaward edge of the villa while holding the waves at bay.
Minerbi, who is also known for creating the bronze doors on the duomo in Milan, was forced into hiding in 1937 because of his Jewish ancestry. He survived and completed the doors after the war.
The Villa Pastine and Il Gigante suffered from allied bombing runs as well as being battered by the sea. As a result, Neptune is missing both arms, his trident, and a conch shell he held high above his head.
Supposedly a climber discovered treasure at the heels of the giant in 1982. Maybe so. Who can say for sure? However, a tale like this one deserves a rainbow and a pot, or heel, of gold at the end.