Portovenere is a beautiful fishing village, located at the western end of the Gulf of La Spezia, founded on a promontory between Palmaria island and the jagged and steep cliff overlooking the Cinque Terre National Park.
Its origins are millenary, since it already existed at the time of the Roman colonization of the city of Luni and was an important maritime station in the routes of Roman ships to Gaul and Iberia, so much so that in 161 A.C. appears in the maritime itinerary of the emperor Antonino Augusto.
It lives its maximum splendor during the dominion of the Republic of Genoa, of which it became a colony from the year 1113 for about 700 years and its evidence are the admirable gateway to the historic center, the church of San Lorenzo, the church of San Pietro and the Doria castle.
The most fascinating part of the village is composed of characteristic tower-houses with different and sparkling colors, lined up along the promenade, placed to protect the long internal pedestrian street, called “U Carugiu” in Ligurian dialect, which horizontally cuts the village until it ends on the pavement of the steep cliff where stands the splendid church of San Pietro.
The church of San Lorenzo, which can be reached along the steep vaulted stairways called “Capitoli” that from the long sea cut vertically the village, dates back to the year 1116, built with powerful blocks of Portoro, the local black marble, encloses inside valuable works of art, including the mysterious cedar trunk of Lebanon that arrived in Portovenere in 1204. Inside was found a golden cross with gems and various relics of saints, probably entrusted to the sea by the Christians of the East to subtract them from their Muslim persecutors.
The most famous religious building is however the church of San Pietro, built on the steep cliff that closes the promontory and has become the symbol of the village due to its position and its architecture.
The Doria Castle dominates the village from above and it is the most authoritative witness of the past power of Portovenere and of the defense works erected by the Republic of Genoa on the eastern frontier to face the attacks of Pisani rivals. Another important Genoese fortification is Torre Scola, built in 1606 on cliffs surfacing in front of the island Palmaria that held up to the British bombing of 1800.
In 1791 Napoleon entered the Gulf of La Spezia and decided to make it a stronghold of the French Navy, building numerous forts and the road that still connects the city with Portovenere.
Its municipal territory also includes the two seaside villages of Le Grazie and Fezzano. The first is sheltered inside a beautiful bay, with a great tradition of boat builders and divers, while Fezzano boasts Roman origins.
In Le Grazie you can visit the remains of the Roman villa of Varignano, dating back to the 1st century B.C., with its thermal plant, the presses for the production of oil and a large covered cistern used by Roman ships in transit along this stretch of coast.
Since 1997, Portovenere has been included in the sites declared by Unesco as a World Heritage Site for its unique landscape and historical-artistic peculiarities and since 2001 it is a Regional Natural Park of Liguria.
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