Archaeological site of Carpena
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Comune di Riccò del Golfo: Via Aurelia, 150 - Riccò del Golfo di Spezia (SP)
Telefono: 0187 92 51 06
Fax: 0187 92 61 14
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Riccò del Golfo, a Municipality near La Spezia that is crossed by the two main roads of the Via Aurelia, is now known from a political-administrative viewpoint. Our attention will not, however, be concentrated on this small town but on its hamlets, and on Carpena in particular. Carpena, together with Ponzò, Valdipino and San Benedetto were a group of separate municipalities that remained prestigious until 05th February 1806 because of their position between the Gulf of the Cinque Terre and that of La Spezia. On that date they merged with Riccò, the village most to the south of the Vara Valley. Visit this territory and appreciate its historical events thanks to the Liguria Heritage audio-guides!

An administrative centre for many hamlets

The size of Riccò del Golfo has remained unchanged from its annexation with the Republic of Genoa until today, and it includes the territory from the uplands of the Graveglia Valley and all the orographic basin of the river Riccò.

In this region the industrial establishments have not modified the features of the landscape, which is still mainly rural and used for growing vines, olives and other types of plantation. Over the years the territory has been abandoned more, because preference lies in the city and its wide range of jobs, while those who remain loyal to their origins have at the same time chosen to remain tied in a working manner to the activities of this land, both agricultural and with small local businesses.

If we want information on the historical events that characterised this area, in a strategic position against the gulf of La Spezia, we have to mention Ponzò and Carpena, sites with fortified military bases that were nearby but at the same time far from the historical events they experienced.

Ponzò today is still a small fortified centre that developed around its castle, and the belt of houses, all in a central position, has arches into which the perimeter walls were constructed in order to create the effect of a single wall, separated only by lanes every now and for access. This military base was first under the domain of the Este family, and then the Malaspinas, but it was always object of the disputes of the local lords who wanted to increase their own power in this strategically prestigious area.

Anyone who has never visited this area will be a little surprised to discover winning historical episodes even in these valleys that mainly seem to be occupied by woods and agriculture. History in Liguria, though, is hidden in these upland regions, where fortified military bases were built that were envied not only by the local Lords, who saw in them the possibility of increasing their earnings from toll collection, agriculture, and an extension of their own dominion into new villages, but also by the great Lords of the Estensi and Malaspina, and obviously also by the Republic of Genoa, always ready to gather new occasions for conquering in the precious Ligurian East. Listen to the audioguide 1 to discover more about this land.

Carpena castle

The second important village in the valley is Carpena, the castle of which, or better the remains of which, are being improved by an intervention on the perimetral area of the castle to make it easier for tourists to visit. The village of Carpena was mentioned first in the 12th century, as the capital of a consortium that united the different important families of the land.
During the 13th century Carpena, together with Vezzano, swore loyalty to the Republic of Genoa which raised it to a podesteria with jurisdiction also on the nearby Spezia.

Halfway through the same century, the village was managed by two co-dominions. Disagreeing with the politics to be followed, however, one, Gilberto di Viano allied with Pisa while the other, Della Turca, remained loyal to Genoa. The clash was inevitable, at least as inevitable as the intervention of Genoa which re-established peace.
This was the first of the contrasts that involved Carpena during the Middle Ages, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Different events quickly followed, with some lords of Carpena selling the rights of the village and the castle to Ottobono Fieschi, he who a short time after became Pope Adrian V. After this the village and castle were ceded to Oberto Doria in 1237, but with the establishment of the podesteria of Spezia, the work of Simon Boccanegra in 1343, contrasts began for supremacy over the territory. The contrasts ended only when the two podesterias were united by the Doge Domenico Fregoso, who decided, however, to give supremacy to Spezia.

Carpena managed its own territory, passing through good and bad periods, up to the 14th century, and its castle is still in perfect condition, having survived centuries of continual clashes.
In the 15th century the situation changed because of an event that modified for ever the features of the village, which definitely lost its reference point. In 1411, taking advantage of the conflict against Florence that kept Genoa and Spezia busy on a single front, Carpena and its inhabitants decided to rebel, partly trying to reinstate their own original supremacy, and partly because tired of the disparity with which Genoa bestowed concessions to others of its property.

Spezia immediately requested help from Genoa through Antonio Doria, who attacked the castle, killing its five hundred courageous defenders and hanging twenty-two from the masts of the Genoese galleys that were anchored in the Gulf as a warning to not repeat the rebellion.

Visiting the site gives a perfect idea of what could have happened during this extremely violent episode; the castle is totally razed to the ground, what lies before our eyes are the remains of the perimeter walls, which in future may be interesting for archaeological digs that will finally supply the elements necessary for reconstructing the internal aspect and distribution. The position of San Nicolò church, next to the castle, offers an indication on where the castle church probably rose.

The remains of an antique castle, a view that opens over the whole valley, a church and some cannon balls positioned in a corner to remind us of the military episodes in which it took part. But what were these military events? And why did nothing remain of the castle? Listen to the audioguide 2 and let us tell you its story!

The intervention

All that remains of the castle today are the ruins of its fortifications, traces of its walls and the base of the tower.
The site has recently been subject to archaeological excavations that have discovered, along with other materials, artefacts in flint such as arrowheads and jewellery, which would suggest the existence of an older (castle) settlement of the Ligure tribe on the same site, a hypothesis that requires verification.

The terraced agricultural land below the castle ruins, to the south, features the reuse of ashlar and other materials taken from the castle, characterising the area as a miniature example of a historical ‘layered landscape’.
The site is in total ruin.

As part of the Development of the natural and cultural resources of Liguria project (Level 4 of Por Fesr 2007-2013), there are plans to make the archaeological area safe for visitors with the installation of suitable fencing, so as to enhance the archaeological heritage of the area and prepare it for use in educational and recreational ways.

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