Trail E Medieval Riomaggiore
within Riomaggiore Length
1 h Difficulty
The route within the village of Riomaggiore takes visitors to the discovery of the history and the traditions of this medieval village.
The stairs going to the Marina (aa Maina
) run below the rail lines, built in the second half of the 19th
century and subsequently doubled, which have split the village into two parts. The two parts were originally connected by a contrada called Marborghetu
. The contrada has now disappeared but a few physical and toponomastic traces remained, such as the street carrying its name. A curiosity: if you walk on top of Piazza del Vignaiolo (the square above the rail lines) you will see that there is an interruption in the line of tower-houses - the tall and thin medieval buildings lined along the shores of the river and delimiting the main street. The two streets on the sides of the square used to be surrounded on both sides by the houses demolished during the construction of the tunnels.
Going down to the Marina, immediately after the diving centre, on the right you will notice a portal with a crossed carved on the architrave. The cobbled pavement facing the door suggests this was originally a small chapel, probably the oldest place of worship in the village. After the last flight of stairs, under the terrace of a restaurant, you see the remainders of the trogi
, the public wash-houses used in a time when there was no running water in the houses. Other wash-houses were found in the central part of the village, under the Banchi loggia, next to the bakery, in the place now hosting the dehor of a bar. A curiosity: if you look at the street going to the Marina from the side opposite to your position, you will see a long and dark vault ended by the railway wall: in the past, this used to be the main street connecting the Marina quarter. It is namely from this vault that the macchiaiolo
painter Telemaco Signorini in the August 1860 discovered the Marina of Riomaggiore in all its beauty, stroke by the dazzling glare of light and colours encountered after the darkness of the vault.
3 Hidden passage
Going towards the sea, on your right you will see a series of arcades: this is the Pozu, the porch at the base of the oldest part of the village, made of tower-houses built in the late Middle Ages by Antonio Vivaldi, an officer of the Genoa Republic, for his five sons from whom the five branches of the family (Puuta, Trugni, Meghei, Feriei e Beli) derive. Tradition tells this was the starting point of a secret passage enabling inhabitants to rapidly flee to the castle during the attacks of Barbary Pirates. This Legend has always fascinated the children of the village, who spent their spare time looking for the secret passage. Most probably, though, the imagined underground passage was in fact a series of connections between the cellars of the different lines of tower-houses, enabling people to reach the castle without being exposed.
All Riomaggiore tower-houses have a double entrance, one on the front, below, and one on the back, above. The rear entrance in dialect is called Uservàn and originally enabled people to exit also in case of rough seas, when waves reached the top of the Marina, since there was no breakwater protecting it. The Uservàn became then a recurring characteristic of the village's houses, even in those where the sea could not get - in the rest of the village, it was used to get more rapidly to the path conducting to the fields. Some houses even have three entrances, each opening on a different street. Up to a few years ago, due to the low crime rates in the village, people did not lock front and back doors and therefore internal stairs were commonly used as shortcuts.
The old fortification protecting the village from the pirate attacks are on the two sides of the old stone port. Matteo Vinzoni in the atlas of the Republic of Genoa from 1773 described them as follows: "on the East side the S. James bastion, which name probably derives from an old place of worship, on the West side, the lower and smaller bastion of Traacà, from which departs the steep stair connecting the village to the castle through the contrada of S. Anthony".
TAKE THE STAIRS ON THE RIGHT
Probably part of the old fortification system, Pidapünta is an enchanting and solitary square directly facing the cliff, where you can enjoy a moment of rest after the first few flights of the stairway to the castle. Westwards, there's another small promontory called Pidature. Its name indicates that once the area hosted a sighting tower. A curiosity, when the sea hits these rocks with enough force, it creates a blow of water which comes out from a higher crevice in the cliff. To find the exact point, ask the people sunbathing on the rocks. If they are locals, they'll certainly know it.
At the end of the following flight of stairs, instead of climbing up to the castle, take the street on the right: you will arrive in the church dedicated to S. Anthony the Great, the smallest and oldest church of the village, dating back to the 13th century. On the 16th of January, during the Saint's celebration, the church hosted a curious tradition, a sort of ritual called gudìn: at the end of the mass, boys lined on the two sides of the narrow street and when girls came out from the church, they pushed them from one side to the other. When one of them reached the boy who liked her, he hugged her instead of pushing her away, declaring his interest in such way. After the game, everyone went home to taste the typical dish of Saint Anthony: the raviei - the local version of ravioli - made peculiar by the fresh thyme, which gives to the stuffing a intense smell.
8 Vicolo Sorchetto
The church of S. Anthony, is sided by the Surchetu, a narrow street leading to the castle. Streets in Cinque Terre are often very narrow. This one, though, is much narrower than the others and, as witnessed by the dark vault you meet further up, it was definitely part of the secret passage connecting the Marina to the Castle.
At the end of the Surchetu, you get to the main stairway: instead of taking it, turn right and walking a short piece of via Telemaco Signorini. Just before the Townhall, on the left you will find a nice and steep stone stairway: it's called aa Tagiada
(the cutting), and it will rapidly take you to the castle.
The Castle contrada was built in the 18th century and was the last part of the village to be built with the typical tower-houses. The castle is much older, it dates back to the 12th century. Once he lost its defence function, it has been long used as a cemetery. Today. the local word for "cemetery" is "casteu
" (the castle). Next to the main door of the castle, the one facing the mountain, you will see a poza
, one of the low walls found along the main paths, once used to lay heavy loads without bending over. In particular, they were used to lay the heavy grape baskets (corbe) during harvest time. Before the construction of the road, this was the starting point of the nice stone stairway which still reaches the crest along the Canpiòn hill, separating the two valleys in which the village is divided into: the one of Rio Maggiore and the one of Rio Finale.
11 S. Roch
The Oratory of S. Roch is in front of the castle. It was built around 1576 in sign of gratitude to the patron saint of the sick people for the end of the terrible pestilence, which killed almost half of the inhabitants of the village. According to the tradition, the family of the Puuta moved to the lands owned by the Vivaldi in the Rio Finale valley to escape from the disease. The area is still called San Rocu and hosts the ruins of an old chapel. The oratory hosts a reproduction of the fine tryptich with the Madonna and the Saints Roch and Sebastian. For safety reasons, the original work is stored in the parish church.
12 Parish church
By going down the stairway starting next to the Oratory, you arrive to the Church square (uu Ciasau
), belonging to the old contrada of Simaatera. You are now facing the parish church of S. John the Baptist, patron of Riomaggiore, founded in 1340 and reflecting the transition between the Romanesque and the Gothic styles. It is told that the bishop of Luni Antonio Fieschi, the founder of the church of Riomaggiore, stole a handful of the ashes of the Baptist from the Genoa cathedral for the church and immediately lost the sight, regaining it only after giving the ashes back. A curiosity: if you see the side wall, you will see that the stones of the front part are newer. In 1870, during the renovation works of an unstable facade, a bay was added to the building. The rose window is the only original part: the other marble decoration are kept in a room inside the bellfry and the only way to see them is asking a visit to the priest or the sacristan. If you don't get to see them, you can still admire the fine side door with the excellent proto-romanesque decorations representing medieval beasts. Please note the heads inside the small columns: the one on the right is oddly placed horizontally. Those decorations are alleged to be older than the church itself: the may be taken from the church of Saint Martin the Old, which ruins can be found on the hills surrounding the village. The pulpit too contains a low relief older than the pulpit itself. It depicts S. Martin sharing his cloak.
On the side of the church, the iron cross on a stone base marks the place where the oldest cemetery of the village used to be. Two steep stairs connect the square to the main road: locals call the one on the right uu Scintu.
If you take the street at the very end of the square, you will walk along another medieval contrada, aa Vale, which name stems from the fact that it was built around one of the many tributaries to the Rio Maggiore. At the end of it, walk through the old door of the village, followed by a narrow vault.
The small square paved with old stones in front of you is the very heart of the contrada of aa Cunpagnia
, named after the Oratory of S. Mary of the Assumption, which hosted the brotherhood with the same name. If you have a look inside, you will see the crosses and the lamps which are carried in procession by the brothers dressed with the traditional vests. If you are in Riomaggiore between Christmas and Candlemas (February 2nd), you can admire the wonderful Nativity hosted in a cellar next to the Church.
Going down, you enter in the Punte (Bridge) contrada, named after the fact that the main road was build above the river Rio Maggiore. Once the river used to be open and crossed by many bridges. The largest of them was the "Ponte Grande" (Large Bridge), in front of the bank. It gave the name to the whole contrada and was depicted in one of the most famous paintings of Telemaco Signorini. Curiosity: if you have a look to the different type of paving or to its different designs, you'll be able to find out the original location of the old road and the bridges crossing the creek.