During a stay in Tuscany I could not resist to go up the coast towards Cinqueterre. It is one of the most beautiful places in Italy – after the Amalfi coast (for me at least).
So one noon we took off towards the mountains and then down to the coast along Viareggio and up the seaside. I didn’t want to go as far as to Cinqueterre but just to see Porto Venere which is in the very south of Liguria, just under the famous villages and very similar.
We arrived in the early afternoon and parked in a busy center of Porto Venere.
We both – especially my friend – were thrilled by the beauty of this place. Also a little crowded by tourists it was still clear: this is definitely a place for a special holiday.
Porto Venere is inhabited since the 1st century BC. Its name comes from a small temple to the goddess Venus just on the site where today stands the St. Peter the Apostle’s church.
It was mainly a fishing community then but became eventually after the fall of Rome a base of the Byzantine fleet. The village was destroyed in 643 AD and after hundreds of years and many raids finally they built the wall and the castle in the 12th century.
After the lost of its importance it became part of the Ligurian Republic, Kingdom of Sardinia and later in 1861 of the Kingdom of Italy finally.
Nowadays the beautiful ‘borgo di Porto Venere’ lives mainly of tourists. They are everywhere and the shops and restaurants ‘smell’ of tourists. Walking through the streets I saw a lot of hotel names, b&b’s and guest houses. In the restaurants everything is is written in English as well. And during summer time for sure the little port will be packed with yachts of all nations.
While we walked the picturesque streets of Porto Venere we arrived at the – I would say – most important sight of the place: the Gothic church of St. Peter. But first we had a glimpse on the Byron’s Grotto and the bay. It is said that the great poet and diplomat swam from here to San Terenzo to visit Shelley in Lerici in 1822.
The church opens on a promontory and the view on it is really amazing. On the left there are the walls, a long step way leading up to the white and gray facade of the church. The open space in front of the church is called Piazza Lazzaro Spallanzani. The view in the Gulf of Poets – golfo dei poeti – is beautiful as the view backwards to Porto Venere itself.
The church can be entered by beautiful. Greenish doors with a great work of figures on it. I saw a few photographers taking photos in strange positions to get the best out of the figures.
The church itself was consecrated in 1198. The typical black and gray facade is only from the 13th century. It’s a part restored in the last century. An original church of the 5th century has gone but the bell tower is still a remaining from the original one.
Inside the church there are more black and gray works and in its simplicity it has an amazing beauty. I liked the statue of Christ I found in a niche. Eugenio Montale, one of the greatest poets of Italy, dedicated a poem to the church:
There – comes Triton
from the waves that lap
the threshold of a Christian
temple, and every near hour
as ancient. Every doubt
takes you by hand
as if by a young girl friend.
There – no one’s eyes
nor ears are bent on self.
Here – you are on the origins
and deciding is foolish:
re-begin later to assume a nature.
We walked back through the narrow streets of Porto Venere and just sitting at the shore we relaxed a little more longer. The way back was long especially because of many beautiful views on the bay of La Spezia, the villages along the shore and the sunset.
Pisa to Porto Venere, Liguria/Italy: