Porto Venere

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Porto Venere  is a town and comune (municipality) located on the Ligurian coast of Italy in the province of La Spezia.

It comprises the three villages of Fezzano, Le Grazie and Porto Venere, and the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. In 1997 Porto Venere and the villages of Cinque Terre were designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

History : The ancient Portus Veneris is believed to date back to at least the middle of the 1st century BC. It has been said that the name refers to a temple to the goddess Venus which was sited on the promontory where the church of Peter the Apostle now stands. The name has also been linked to that of the hermit Saint Venerius. In Roman times the city was essentially a fishing community.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Porto Venere became the base of the Byzantine fleet in the northern Tyrrhenian Sea, but was destroyed by the Lombards in 643 AD. Later, it was a frequent target of Saracen raids. First indications of the existence of a castle date from 1113, and in 1161 the walls were erected. Porto Venere became a fiefdom of a family from Vezzano before passing to Genoa in the early 12th century. In 1494, it suffered a devastating bombardment from the Aragonese fleet during their war with Genoa: subsequently the old part of the town declined in importance, giving way to the development of the Borgo Nuovo (“New District”), which had existed from 1139 and is centred on the church of St. Peter.

On 2 December 1797, after the French established their domination in Italy, the town became part of the Department of the Gulf of Venus, with the capital in La Spezia, in the Ligurian Republic annexed to the First French Empire. From 28 April 1798 with the new French law, the territory of Portovenere fell in the seventh canton, as the capital, the Jurisdiction of the Gulf of Venus since 1803 and the main center of the third State of the Gulf of Venus in the jurisdiction of the Gulf of Venus. From 13 June 1805 to 1814 it was included in the Department of the Apennines. It was at this point which, in 1812, it became part of the coastal route called “Route Napoleon” in honor of the French general and now known as localized road 530, which still connects the marine center with La Spezia via Fezzano, Le Grazie and Terizzo.

In 1815 it was incorporated in the Kingdom of Sardinia, according to the decisions of the Congress of Wien of 1814, and subsequently in the Kingdom of Italy from 1861. From 1859 to 1927 the territory was included in the First district of La Spezia, part of the Eastern District of the Province of Genoa before and, with the establishment in 1923, the Province of La Spezia then. In 1998 it obtained for its architectural heritage and natural entry in the list of protected World Heritage Site, with the Rolli in Genoa’s historic center and the only two goods entered for Liguria, and in 2001 established eponymous Regional Natural Park,

Access : Coordinates : 44.05, 9.833333 / 1. By train: use Trenitalia official website, choose “La Spezia Centrale”.
2. By car: use any navigator. Please be aware that Portovenere has few parking places and the prices are high, it is more useful to park the car in La Spezia.
3. By plane: the nearest airports are in Pisa and Genoa. There are a lot of lowcost flights, try the site search (Sky Scanner). Besides Pisa and Genova you can use airports in: Milano, Bologna, Parma (detail shown on the map), in any case you will need to take a train, trip from the above mentioned cities to La Spezia Centrale takes less than 2 hours

Highlights :

  • The Gothic Church of St. Peter, consecrated in 1198. It was built over a pre-existing 5th century Palaeo-Christian church, which had rectangular plan and semicircular apse. The new part, from the 13th century, is marked externally by white and black stripes.
  • The Romanesque church of St. Lawrence, erected in 1098 by the Genoese. It probably occupies the site of ancient temple dedicated to Jupiter. The church was damaged by a fire in 1340 and by the Aragonese attack in 1494, and was further restored in 1582.
  • The Doria Castle with the walls around the historic center.
  • The Grotta dell’Arpaia (now collapsed), known as Byron’s Grotto, from which the English poet Byron swam across the gulf of La Spezia to San Terenzo to visit Shelley in Lerici, in 1822.
  • The medieval nucleus of Le Grazie is set around the 14th-century Church of Our Lady of the Graces; nearby is a medieval convent, which once belonged to the Olivetans.
  • the remains of the 1st century BCE Roman villa of Varignano. Finds from recent excavations at the villa are held in the Antiquarium della Villa Romana del Varignano in Porto Venere.
  • In Fezzano the medieval alleyways are noteworthy, along with the church of St. John the Baptist (1740) and the recently restored Villa Cattaneo
  • Natural areas :  Among the natural places in the Porto Venere is the famous sea caves Byron (Cala dell’Arpaia), Azzurra or Blue Cave (semi-submerged) and Tinetto  the cavity of the Doves and the wall of Tino, the shoal of Dante and Small and Big creeks. The Byron’s cave, named after the English poet George Gordon Byron in this place that drew inspiration and meditation for his literary works, it is located at the spur of rock below the church of St. Peter and the old defensive position, the marine cave has a minimum depth of five meters and a maximum of twenty along the side.
  • Regional Natural Park : The Regional Natural Park in Portovenere offers a unique landscape with its high coasts, caves and vegetation that permeates the atmosphere in any season with the changing shades of color. An element that blends and harmonizes every detail is the sea, sometimes calm and clear, so as to reflect like a mirror enchanted multicolored rocks and seagulls, sometimes rough and almost angry. To crown the Park archipelago with three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, defying the blue sea in a swirl of aromas and looks towards the infinite. But the park is not only Nature, History dwells here since prehistoric times with the Cave of the Doves, until the recent past in which Guglielmo Marconi experimented in front of the village his innovative studies.

Events :  Porto Venere is one of the maritime villages that participate each year in Palio of Gulf. Traditional procession of the White Madonna along the streets of the village set up in celebration and evocative Roman torches lighting the headland of Punta di San Pietro, the icon of the Virgin Mary (17 August 1399) is carried in procession through the streets of village. The procession of the “White Madonna” brings hundred of tourists every August.
Feast of St. Venerius (patron of the Gulf of Spezia and lighthouse keepers of Italy) on 13 September on the island of Tino.
Feast of the Basil of Caesarea, is celebrated every year on 9 April.
The market is held every Monday morning in the center of the town.

Activities : sightseeing / photo opportunities / trekking

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