Castle of Bonassola
Strada per Montaretto - 19011 Bonassola (SP)
Telefono: 0187 81 38 11
Fax: 0187 81 38 30
Il Castello di Bonassola Il Castello di Bonassola Il Castello di Bonassola Il Castello di Bonassola

The gulf of Bonassola opens between Levanto and Framura, at the feet of the last reliefs that descend from the Bracco pass. Once belonging to the Da Passano family, in the 13th century Bonassola passed to Genoa, which used the small and well protected gulf as a naval base.
The Castle, of which only a few ruins remain after the construction of the railway, is positioned on a hill behind the village and was built in the second half of the 16th century after being plundered disastrously by pirates. It was never involved in important battles, and during the 19th century it was used as a cemetery. The structure was subsequently transformed in 1963 as the railway was moved upstream.

The building today is square-shaped with two round corner towers and the town clock; it has three levels, one of which is partially underground. The northern façade is characterised to the east by the round corner tower, to the west by what remains of the watch tower and in the centre by the entry systems. Currently the main entrance is in the centre of the façade and can be reached by way of a few steps; at this level the antique staircase begins which, together with the hanging passage, allowed and still allows today, thanks to the fact that the treads have been replaced with new slate surfaces, direct access to the higher level.

The south façade was modified and the area was reinforced following the creation of the railway, which made it more difficult to interpret the original consistency. Above the retaining walls, built as a result of the railway, portions of the walls of the two square towers that characterised the total layout of the original bastions and parts of the walls of their central section are still visible.

There are various rooms inside, the walls of which are made from local stone with inserts of brickwork and recovered material; the integral or partially collapsed vault roof is made of brick, and the vaults are particularly awe-inspiring.

The surrounding walls facing the mountain and the sides are the best preserved sections of the external walls, and are those that best witness the layout and weave of the original walls, while the side facing the sea is the one that has been remodelled most over time.

A little bit of history

Bonassola castle is in an architectural and typology context that is characteristic of the land of Lunigiana. This area, between the provinces of La Spezia and Massa Carrara, is rich with castles and defences along the coast that can be traced back to Medieval times. The structures were built upon the desire of local families or those who lived in the land, and were rarely for residential or military purposes, being used more often as watch towers or as a resting place for defending the antique coastal villages. This typology can be traced back to an architectural model of easy conception and production, recognisable by the internal distribution characteristics that were extremely clear, by the structural and formal directness of the volumes and the almost total lack of decorations.

The castle was the answer to the increasingly more frequent pirate plundering in the area.
On 23 February 1557 the inhabitants of Bonassola, Montaretto and San Giorgio met in Framura church to discuss the construction of a defence post. Following a new assault by pirates in 1560 and again in 1561 on the church of San Giorgio, the plans for constructing a tower in the Bonassola marina, strongly desired by the members of the main families in the area, were definitely made. The place, “in a small hill that lies in the middle”, was designated by the patrician Francesco Fornari, called as arbitrator between the parties, assisted by the architect Bernardo.

Subsequent news, dated 1565, mentions the “Fort in Bonassola” among the receivers of sums that the Republic of Genoa intended assigning for artillery, therefore confirming the presence of not just a watchtower but a true castle, with the characteristics of a military outpost for the Republic at that time.

During the 19th century, at this point no longer necessary for defensive purposes, the castle was transformed into a small cemetery. After being adapted for this use and after the remaining artillery was removed in 1814-1815, the progressive abandoned state of the building became evident.

In 1934 the Ministry for National Education – Administration of Monuments, Museums, Galleries and Archaeological Excavations classified Bonassola Castle as an object of important interest and certified commitment to the relative Government department. In June 1957 the Municipality of Bonassola obtained a certificate of no impediment for carrying out aesthetic and formal modifications to the clock structure, among which the addition of a bell.

The Castle and its protection again became the object of a debate starting in 1962 when the Genoa – La Spezia Railway line was doubled, because the new railway station in the living quarters of Bonassola is positioned next to the Castle.
The work on the railway stretch continued beyond 1967, developing in two different directions: the strictly functional work for installing the railway and the work for protecting the area adjacent to the Castle and the protection of the Castle itself, with the damaged walls being partially reinforced and numerous binding chains being added.

The intervention

The continuance of the abandoned state of the Castle and the absence of any maintenance determined such a condition of neglect that it remained inaccessible for safety reasons and destined the building to continually growing degradation.

With the Development of the natural and cultural resources of Liguria project (Level 4 of the ROP ERDF 2007-2013) the intention is to return the whole fort complex to the community, maintaining the image held in the material consistency of the building, and aiming at using it again and renewing the surrounding routes and green spaces.

The external façades will be cleaned and the walls and mortar cleaned and reinforced, with removal of dangerous material.

The indoor areas will be restructured in general, creating a centre for hosting exhibitions and events, creating a pole of cultural interest for the whole area.

The aim of building recovery, inserted in a program for upgrading and recovering emergencies already started by the Municipality with interventions on churches, the historical centre and routes, is to increase the attractiveness of the area for tourists using its historical-cultural roots and return continuity to the urban fabric of Bonassola that was truncated by the railway line: the Castle, given its position in the area upstream from the tracks, is no longer abandoned but a point of interest, and contributes in rebuilding a bond between the sea and the mountains.


The 18th century buildings in the village, such as Palazzo Farina and Palazzo Saporiti, are interesting. The parish church of Santa Caterina dates back to the 16th century: a San Francesco attributed to Bernardo Strozzi can be seen inside the church, together with other works by Ligurian artists and a prestigious organ from the 18th century. A little further on is the church of San Giorgio, in the village of the same name, built with the stones from the antique clock tower which collapsed when the ground under it ceded; the Madonna della Punta little church, on the rocks of the western headland, is the destination of an easy and suggestive walk.

The antique centres halfway up the hillside are just as interesting.
Montaretto can be reached from Bonassola by following a trail that winds between vineyards and olive trees. Just a short distance from the town there is an antique “hospitale” (guesthouse) for pilgrims, restructured for the Jubilee in 2000. Continuing, you reach Reggimonti, another very ancient village, where the church of Santa Maria Assunta which dates back to the 13th century can be found.

Levanto can be easily reached on foot by following the route, immersed in Mediterranean maquis, that follows the sea and which in some sections crosses with the old abandoned railway.

Sighting and defence systems can easily be seen along the curvature of the neighbouring coast, witnesses of the fact that Bonassola was in a much larger fort system: from castles with structural complexes that are still well preserved, such as Portovenere Castle and Riomaggiore Castle, to smaller watch towers along the routes halfway up the slope - Vernazza, Framura, Deiva Marina – to forts like the one described here.

Inside the same municipal ground, another example is the now ruined Torre di San Giorgio (Tower of San Giorgio) or Torre degli Ardoino (Ardoino tower) which, located upstream in the antique village of San Giorgio di Reggimonti, was built following the demands of the citizens in 1544 but which, because of probable soil subsidence, was soon destroyed and not re-built; the original character of the construction can be seen among the ruins, easily placeable in the form and construction typology of the nearby and slightly later Bonassola Castle.


For those who taste it for the first time, it is simple ravioli that has been fried and filled with vegetables. Few people know that the Gattafin originates from the wild herbs that were gathered by the workers of an old stone quarry in the "la gatta" region, near Levanto, and used by their wives to prepare this dish, which became known as "finezza della gatta", or Gattafin. Onion and artichokes are sautéed and then mixed with chard, wild herbs, and Parmesan cheese, then the mix is closed in pastry and fried in boiling oil.

A more valued etymological explanation traces the origins of the name to gattafura, a word from the 14th century that indicates “rafioli” (ravioli) and cakes. Both Maestro Martino, one of the most famous cooks of the 15th century in his "De arte coquinaria” and Bartolomeo Scappi, the secret cook of Pope Pius V, left some information about Gattafura.
In book V of his famous Work (157), he gives the recipe for Gattafura alla Genovese, a cake made with herbs and cheese, similar to the more recent Easter cake.

A typical local dish, Gattafin is honoured in a feast that is held every year, usually in June, in the village of Montaretto.

Nota: Liguria Heritage freely offers services and technological tools but accepts no responsibility for entrance fees to the sites nor their direct management. Please refer to the individuals owners and managers regarding the implementation or changes to entry times, conditions of use and accessibility of the various sites.