Lovely Portovenere captivates, even on a rainy day. Picturesquely situated on the Riviera of Liguria, this cobbled and quaint little village offers a dose of old Italy in colorful hues.
On an early morning exploration of the Italian Riviera just this last September, I left Chiavari and headed south along the coast. Portovenere was on my radar, and I wasn’t about to let grey billowy rain clouds change my plans. When I did arrive, I was greeted by a thunderous torrent. So much for hospitality!
Fortunately the downpour eased up into a light sprinkle before long. But meanwhile I found refuge under this waterfront cafe.
Established since the first century BC, Portovenere was originally named “Portus Veneris,” translated ‘Port of Venus’. A temple of the goddess Venus is thought to have stood on the rugged cliff overlooking the sea where San Pietro church stands today (more of this in my next post), just above the village. In Roman times, Portovenere was a fishing community much like today, except now the harbor is dotted with trendy sailboats and yachts.
Greeted by tall pastel-colored houses, a medieval tower and castle crenelations, I passed a refreshment stand at the opening of the old town and proceeded through the archway (mid-picture).
The archway into the village and the surrounding walls were built in the mid 12th century. It has been resized a time or two, making it smaller. Above the arch is an old Latin inscription. An effigy of the “white Madonna,” patron saint of the village, was on the wall. Her feast day is celebrated in August, with hundreds of oil lamps lit at night that float on the water beside a torchlight procession. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful sight?
Narrow gray brick streets centuries old dipped and swayed a bit in places. Tiny shops framed the street in tightly, some of their wares spilling out the doors. They were so colorful and intriguing, I must have peaked my head into all of them. Handmade gifts, olive oil, prosciutto, cheese, clothing, shoes, cafe’s, pizzeria’s, gelato, galleries, local Ligurian ceramics and handiwork….all creatively adorned.
The Calata Doria, or the quay, is lined with tall narrow houses six to eight stories high. Built in the middle ages, these buildings served as defensive towers against invading pirates. This position directly above the harbor gave them the advantage of escaping out the back doors and up the hill to the old Genovese castle fortress.
Below are stairs I descended to the waterfront. Long, dark and spooky, I can envision marauding pirates rushing up the stairs with knives in their teeth!
At the end of the street through the village, vaulted walkways and stairs lead up to the most exotic part of town. The old church of San Pietro sits perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. Ruins of the well-preserved Genovese castle rise majestically above it. The famous Cove of Poets lies below, the subject of a surprising story.
I’m excited to share the illustrious history and unstated charm of these cliffhanger dwellings in my next post. Coming very soon…..Stay tuned…..
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