Castle of Vernazza
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Comune di Vernazza: via San Francesco, 56 - Vernazza (SP)
Telefono: 0187 82 12 47
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"The Mediterranean, a small port ready to shelter war ships from ancient times, a Nazi anti-aircraft  post and more stories of saints, pirate raids, natural catastrophes and a record number of reconstructions all in the suggestive background of one of the Cinque Terre. 
You aren’t reading an adventure book. Listen to the Liguria Heritage audio-guides and you will discover that it is nothing more than the story of Vernazza".

Vernazza, 25 October 2011

The recovery of Vernazza following the catastrophic flood of 2011 is impressive. The photos and videos of that 25th October are still alive in our memory, leaving us speechless and opening our minds to reflect on the strength of the inhabitants who from that day began working for their fellow citizens, their homes, shops, roads.
They returned the correct value to the importance of “public thing”, seen as a treasure by a population.

They were repaid for this strength, and thanks to the help of institutions that contributed to its reconstruction, the life of Vernazza has now returned to normal, even if the signs of the mud, which in Via Roma can be seen on the lamp posts. They are images that cause you to shiver, thinking about the people trapped in their homes because of that insuperable obstacle that stopped them from exiting. The shops are now open, the small port and the beach have been returned to normal and the monuments can now be visited.

What remains in the memory of those who live in Vernazza is the fear of that afternoon in which the water never seemed to stop coming and the images of desolation the day after, but it remains an example, a model to be followed for all of us, because starting again is possible and Vernazza has taught us this.

"Listen to the Vernazza audioguide 1 . We will start from a recent period, the flood in 2011, to dedicate a brief homage to the strength of a town".

The Middle Age

The story of the flood moves us and makes us shake our heads because we all remember the recent events as part of the excerpt from history that we live through. Vernazza, however, is a town with antique origins and in its more than one thousand years of life it has lived through the stories of many people, many other events, many other dangers.

Nearer the year 1000 Liguria went through a radical change from geographic, political and military viewpoints. This in fact was the period when marks were established, territorial regions that fell under a Marquis and which could, in turn, be divided into committees.
The mark that Vernazza fell under, together with eastern Liguria, part of Lombardy and Emilia, was named Obertenga, from Oberto I, the Marquis of Milan and count of Luni who was the first one to govern it.

Managing a region like the Ligurian east could certainly not have been easy, he had in fact to deal with a border county that was always subject to invasion, a coast that was open to traffic from the whole Mediterranean and a hinterland in which religious establishments that requested protection from the Marquis were multiplying.
One of the first precautions that the people from Obertenga decided to take was to equip the coast with watchtowers, to control the movements at sea and have the time to organise defence in case of Saracen sightings.

It is in this historical context that the Doria Castle was constructed, known with the name of the last family that owned it. It is impossible to miss, with its 70 metres of height and the round tower that looms over it. It dominates the sheer rocky coast on the sea. It has a central body, irregular in size, which uses a rocky spur as its base. It also has a narrow circular tower used for sightings and different rooms which can be reached from the open space at the base of the tower.
Its privileged position and its role as a defensive post always made it appetising, and this characteristic was appreciated even in modern times. In fact, during the Second World War the underground rooms were turned into bunkers for the Germans who used Vernazza as an anti-aircraft post.

For those who think history is boring and static, just think about this: a castrum built in the 10th century was used during the middle of the 20th century. Maybe the ancients were looking…..one thousand years ahead!

"Listen to the Vernazza audioguida 2 to discover the origins of the castle, much older than the Doria era from which it takes its name".

Vernazza from the castle

Admiring Vernazza from the Doria Castle means pleasing the eyes with a view that is breathtaking to say the least. On one side you have the sea that stretches out before you, on the other you can see the beauty of this small town nestling between the mountain, as if it was clinging to them because frightened to slide into the sea.

The view of the small port and Vernazza square are made more enthralling by the church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia. It is similar to cult buildings in the Cinque Terre from between the 12th and 13th centuries, but we know that it was built in 1318, thanks to a document that refers to its construction.
This religious building, at this point difficult to imagine in its original shape given the different construction phases it underwent, is symptomatic of the importance acquired by the Magistri Antelami, settled in Genoa, to the point that its works could be extended to the riviera, laying the basis of Roman Genoese tradition. Not only the architectural elements attract our attention in this seat, but also the function of this building in relation to the context in which it appeared.

In the 13th century Vernazza had already lived through the apex of its vital impetus and was surrendering to the Republic of Genoa from political and cultural viewpoints. The birth of Vernazza parish church is a manifestation of this penetration and it developed in parallel with the events of the village.
The structure is extravagant: in Vernazza, just like in Corniglia, the church does not open onto the square, a space that is instead occupied by the apse. This choice, apparently unexplainable, answered instead two precise purposes. The first was tied to the fact that between the 12th and 13th centuries the new part of the village, which was expanding, had as its main nucleus the face opposite where the castrum was located, a symbol of antiquity and a feudal phase that had been passed over. The second was due to the fact that the church entrance corresponded with the end of the road which led to the sanctuaries of Nostra Signora di Reggio and Soviore, probably the oldest in Liguria. It therefore acted as a meeting point for pilgrims who travelled along this road.

"The landscape of Vernazza is characterised by important monumental presences. After having heard the story of the castle and village, listen to the Vernazza audioguida 3 and, moving between history, art and faith, discover the origins of the Church of Santa Margherita".

A village in front line

We are at the top of the watchtower of our castle and the view of the sea invades our eyes. From here it is easy to imagine how this corner of paradise represented an important opportunity for marine commerce and a stopping place for boats or ships for business and military purposes.
The characteristic of the Ligurian coast to be studded with marine villages represented its fortune from the beginning of history, but at the same time made it easy prey to invaders, attracted by the possibility of using the territory to expand their business or even simply as an opportunity to raid and pillage a large number of places.

We cannot fail to mention one of the great dangers that the Ligurian coast had to face, not once but several times: pirates. We are familiar with this danger even today, it had presented itself several times over these last years and we heard about attacks from modern pirates to the detriment of commercial ships. Just think what emotions passed through those who, because of their work, had to face the sea in the period we are talking of, when in addition to the risk of navigation, which at that time did not use today’s almost infallible instruments, there was also the great risk of being attacked by pirates.
But the word pirate is too vague to define this phenomenon that struck Liguria too often over the centuries. When the oldest part of Vernazza castle was being built, the “pirates” to face were a group of marauders of varied origin.

Some say they were Muslims from Andalusia or Basque bandits who were staying in Frassineto, a locality in southern France, from where they started their attacks, first in the surrounding areas, then moving to Piedmont and arriving at the Alpine passes. They were defeated by William I of Provence in 973, which seemingly improved the situation. With the marine Republics taking power, the Mediterranean was no longer the ideal place for raids but in the Modern era the problem returned. This time the pirates were mainly Muslims who, strong from the conquering of Constantinople and the South African coasts, saw in the Mediterranean the natural continuation of this lucky phase of their conquest.
Shall we give a name to these dangerous pirates who raided our coasts? The most famous was Dragut, an Ottoman commander who was known as the most bellicose. He was apparently so dangerous that Charles V was said to be obsessed with the idea that the Dorias would capture him. They did this in 1540 when, following a defeat by the Giannettino Doria fleet, he ended up in the hands of Andrea Doria, who only freed him in exchange for concession of the island of Tabarca. After having returned to Turkey as a free citizen, he wasted no time in planning his revenge and a few years later he attacked Laigueglia, where he captured all the inhabitants, and Rapallo, where he pillaged and devastated the city. Luckily he moved away from Liguria to die during the attack on Malta.

All this must not lead us to think, however, that while the pirates were busy on our coasts the Republic was not trying to gain profit from this situation. The plan of imposing taxes on the marine towns in exchange for protection was studied. This obviously was not enough, and this is why the communities equipped themselves for building towers of different sizes and types, to create a signal chain that would prevent being struck by surprise.

"From the top of the Castle, after having enjoyed the splendid view that appears before your eyes, listen to the Vernazza audioguida 4 . You will be catapulted into an era in which the Ligurian coast was one of the main sources of enrichment for pirates, which raided and plundered, spreading terror throughout our coast".

The intervention

This castle is located on the western edge of the town, on a rock overhanging the sea, and can be reached along narrow street lanes from the town centre.

Before the restoration work envisaged as part of the Development of the natural and cultural resources of Liguria project (Level 4 of Por Fesr 2007-2013), the bunkers on the eastern side and most of the inside rooms located under the ground floor were inaccessible, while the only room on the western side was in poor condition.

Apart from the restoration of the entire castle, the renovation project aims to improve and extend tourist information centre services, with an area set up for exhibitions and cultural events.

In order to achieve all this, a great deal of restoration work is necessary, including: the demolition of the bunker’s reinforced concrete structures, the removal of earth below them, the partial demolition of the vaulted roof, the floor above, the stone wall inside and the room’s floor. Then the aim is to reconstruct the vaulted roof, to install honeycomb insulation in the room, lay sandstone flooring and sandstone paving outside similar to the existing type and repair the room’s perimeter walls and the two breaches on the north side. Last but not least, the wiring system requires updating.

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