Italy - Liguria And The Riviera Of Genoa
( Originally Published 1920 )
LIGURIA is but a narrow slip of land if' we compare it with the broad plain of' theto, but it is one of the most clearly defined districts of Europe, and its inhabitants hase retained many original traits. The contrast between the Padane plains and the littoral region beyond the barren Apennines is striking, hut if we travel in the direction of Provence or of Tuscany the landscape changes only by degrees. The rampart of the Apennines surrounds the whole of the Gulf of Genoa, and there is not a single break in it. These mountains are very different in character from the Alps, though joined to them as the branch of a tree is united to its trunk. It is not possible to tell where one chain ends and the other begins. If the main direction of the mountain is to be the criterion, the Ligurian Apennines may be said to begin at the frontier of France, near the sources of the Tinea and Vesubio ; but if great height, pastures, and perennial snow are considered sufficient to constitute an Alpine region, then the Apennines only begin to the east of the Col di Tendit, for the fine summits of the Clapier, Fenętre, and Gordalesque, to the west of that pass, attain a height of 10,000 feet. They are quite Alpine in their character, and may boast even of small glaciers, the most southerly in the mountains of Central Europe. Geologists usually draw the line where cretaceous and tertiary rocks take the place of the crystalline rocks of the Alps. But this, too, is only a conventional division, for these crystalline rocks, which constitute the crest of the Alps in the west, extend far to the east, and occasionally they break through the sedimentary formations which overlie them, and rise into summits similar to those of the Alps. Thus the granitic summits of the mountains of Spezia remind us of the mountain mass near the Col di Tendit.
The chain of the Ligurian Apennines is by no means of uniform height, but, like that of the Alps, it consists of mountain masses separated by passes. The lowest of these passes is that to the west of Savona, named indifferently after one of the neighbouring villages, Altare, Carcara, or Cadibona. This pass is hardly more than 1,000 feet in height, and is popularly looked upon as constituting the boundary between the Alps and Apennines. The possession of this pass during war has always been considered of great importance, for it commands the approaches to Genoa and the upper valleys of Piemont, and the Tanaro and Bormido, which rise near it, have often run with blood.
The Apennines to the east of this pass have an average height of 3,300 feet, and beyond the Pass of Giovi (1,538 feet), through which the road leads from Genoa to the northern plains, many summits attain a height of 4,500 feet. Several spurs, abounding in ravines, extend here to the north. The main chain, at the same time, retires from the coast, and the Pass of Pontremoli, which separates the Ligurian from the Tuscan Apennines, and through which leads the road from Parma to Spezia, is no less than thirty miles from the sea. In this eastern portion of the Genoese Apennines a spur detaches itself from the main chain, and terminates in the fine promontory of Porto Venere, a magnificent rock of black marble, surmounted formerly by a temple of Venus. This spur, which protects the Gulf of Spezia against westerly winds, has at all times constituted an obstacle to the intercourse between neighbouring peoples, not so much on account of its height, but because of its steepness. In some places the crest of the Apennines is hardly more than four miles from the sea. The slope, in such places, is exceedingly steep, and roads can ascend it only in numerous windings.
The small width of the maritime slope of the Ligurian Apennines accounts for the absence of perennial rivers. The most considerable streams to the east of the Roya, which runs for the greater part through French territory, such as the Taggia or the Ceuta, only assume the appearance of rivers when the snows melt, or after heavy rains. Ordinarily they are but small streams, closed at the mouth by bars of pebbles. Between Albenga and Spezia, for a distance of 160 miles, there are only torrents, and in order to meet again with a real river we must go beyond the Gulf of Spezia. This river is the Magra, which separates Liguria from Etruria, and which, up to the epoch of Augustus, formed the boundary of Italy. Its alluvium has converted an ancient bay of the sea into a lake, and formed a beach, 1,300 yards in width, in front of the ancient Tyrrhenian city of Luni, which formerly stood on the seashore.
The want of great rivers in Liguria is compensated for to conne extent by subterranean water-courses. Several springs rise from the bottom of the sea, at some distance from the shore. The springs of La Pella, in the Gulf of Spezia, are amongst the most bountiful amongst them. They have been isolated by the Italian Government from the surrounding salt water, and their water is supplied to ships.
Owing to the absence of rivers, the sterility of the soil, and the steep escarpments, this portion of the Mediterranean coast region contrasts strikingly with other parts of temperate Europe. having reached the summit of the mountains beyond the magnificent chestnut forests at the head-streams of the Ellero, the Tanaro, and the Bormida, we look down upon a scene almost African in its character. Scarcely a blade of grass is to he seen between Nice and Spezia, and only the grass-plots, kept up at great expense in sonne pleasure-gardens, remind us that Piemont and Loin- hardy are near at hand. Pines and brambles would have remained the only verdure in these Ligurian valleys and ravines if it were not for the transformation wrought by gardeners and agriculturists. Strange to say, trees do not ascend to the same height on the slopes of the Apennines as in the Alps, though the mean temperature is far higher, and at an altitude at which the beech still attains noble proportions in Switzerland we find it here stunted in growth. Larches are hardly ever seen.
The sea is as sterile as the land. There are neither shallows, islands, nor sea-weeds affording shelter to fish. The cliffs descend precipitously into the sea, and the narrow strips of beach, extending from promontory to promontory, consist only of sand without the admixture of a single shell. The Genoese fishermen, therefore, resort to distant coasts, those of the " Ponente," or west, going to Sicily, whilst those of Camogli, on the Riviera di Levante, visit the coasts of Tuscany. This sterility of laud and sea accounts for the large number of Genoese met with in other parts of the world.
But though au unfruitful country, Liguria is exceedingly picturesque. A traveller availing himself of the railway between Nice and Genoa, which follows the sinuosities of the coast and pierces the promontories in numerous tunnels, is brought within reach of the most varied scenery. At one time the line runs close to the beach, with the foam of the sea almost touching the track on the one side, while tamarisks hearing pink blossoms overshadow it from the other. Elsewhere we creep up the steep slope, and obtain a view of the cultivated terraces raised at immense labour by the peasantry, whilst the bluish sea is seen afar to the right, almost hidden by a grove of olive-trees, and stretching away until lost in the direction of Corsica. Towns, villages, old towers, villas, ship-yards, and other industrial establishments impart an almost infinite variety to the scenery. One town occupies the top of a hill, and, seen from below, its old walls and towers stand out boldly against the sky ; another is built amphitheatrically, close to the strand upon which the fishermen have drawn their boats ; a third is hidden in a hollow, and surrounded by vines, olive, orange, and lemon trees. A date-tree here and there imparts an oriental aspect to the landscape. Bordighera, a small place close o the French frontier, is quite surrounded by palm-trees, whose fruit, however, but rarely ripens.
The climate of Albenga, Loana, and some other places on the Genoese coast is far from salubrious, on account of the miasmata exhaled by sheets of stagnant water left behind by freshets. Even Genoa cannot boast of an agreeable climate, not because there are marshes near it, but because the southerly winds charged with moisture are caught there by the semicircle of mountains, and are made to discharge their superabundant humidity. The number of rainy days at Genoa averages 121 a year. There are, however, several towns along this coast protected )v the mountains against the north, and yet out of the usual track of the moisture southerly winds, whose climate is exceptionally delightful. Bordighera and San Remo, near the French frontier, are the rivals of Mentone as regards climate ; and Nervi, to the east of Genoa, is likewise a favourite place of resort, on account of its clear sky and pure atmosphere. Villas and castles rise on every promontory and in every valleys of these favoured districts. For a dozen miles on either side of Genoa the coast is lined by villas. The population of the city has overflowed the walls which once confined it, and is establishing itself in populous suburbs. The long street which winds between factories and gardens, scales promontories, and descends into valleys, will continue to grow in length until it extends along the whole coast of Liguria, for the charms of the country attract men of leisure from every quarter of Europe.
The historical development of the ancient Ligurians, who were probably of Iberian race, was largely influenced by the nature of the country they inhabited. The cultivable land being only of small extent, the superabundant population was forced to look to the sea for a livelihood, and engaged in navigation and commerce. Antium, the modern Genoa, was an " emporium " of the Ligurians ever since the time of the Romans, and its vessels frequented every corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In the Middle Ages the Genoese flag was carried into every part of the known world, and it was Genoa that gave birth to Christopher Columbus. whose name is inscribed upon the first page of modern history as the discoverer of America. It was a Genoese, too, Giovanni Gabotto, or Cabot, who afresh discovered the coast of North America five centuries after its original discovery by the Northmen. The hardy mariners of Genoa have thus navigated the seas from the most remote times. Even now they almost monopolize the navigation of the great rivers of the Argentine Republic. The Genoese likewise enjoy a high reputation as gardeners, and are met with in every large town of the Mediterranean.
As long as the Apennines were not crossed by practicable carriage roads, Genoa possessed no advantages whatever over the other ports of Liguria, but ever since it has been placed in easy communication with the fertile plains of Lombardy and Piemont, the great advantages of its geographical position have told upon its development. Pisa was the only republic on the western coast of Italy which contested this superiority of Genoa, but was defeated after a sanguinary struggle. The Genoese possessed themselves of Corsica, the inhabitants of which were treated most cruelly ; they took Minorca from the Moors, and even captured several towns in Spain, which they restored only after important commercial privileges had been granted them. In the } gean Sea the nobles of Genoa became the proprietors of Chios, Lesbos, Lemnos, and other islands. At Constantinople the Genoese merchants were as powerful almost as the Emperor. Katfa, in the Crimea, was one of their wealthy colonies. Their factories and towers were met along every commercial high-road in Asia Minor, and even in the recesses of the Caucasus. The possession of the Black Sea gave them the command of the trade with Central Asia. These distant colonies explain the use of a few Arab, Turkish, and Greek terms by the Genoese, and though the dialect spoken by them is decidedly Italian, the intonation is French.
Nevertheless Genoa, though more powerful than Pisa, failed in wresting the command of the sea from the Venetians, who enjoyed immense advantages through their connection with Germany. Her political influence has never equalled that of Venice, nor has she produced as many men eminent in literature and art as has her Adriatic rival. The Genoese ha the reputation in former times of being violent and false, fond of luxury and power and indifferent to everything which did not enrich them. " A sea without fish, mountains with-out forests, men without faith, women without modesty—thus is Genoa," was a proverb ever in the mouth of the enemies of the Ligurian city. The dissensions amongst the noble families of Genoa were incessant, but the Bank of St. George never allowed civil strife to interfere with business. Wealth flowed into the city without any cessation, and enabled its citizens to construct those palaces, marble arcades, and hanging gardens which have won for it the epithet of la Superba. In the end, however, ruin overtook the Bank, and that justly, for it had supplied princes with money to enable them to wage war, and its bankruptcy in the middle of the eighteenth century rendered Genoa politically impotent.
The capital of Liguria, in spite of its small extent, its sinuous streets, its ramparts, stairs, and dirty narrow quays, may justly boast of palaces equally remarkable for the splendour and originality of their architecture. Many of these magnificent buildings appeared to be doomed to ruin during the decay of the town, but, on the return of more prosperous times, the citizens again devoted themselves to the embellishment of their city. Genoa is the busiest port of Italy. Its shipowners possess nearly half the Italian mercantile marine, and three-fourths of the vessels annually built in Italy are furnished from its ship-yards. The harbour, though 320 acres in extent, no longer suffices for the hundreds of sailing vessels and steamers which crowd into it. Nor is it sufficiently sheltered against the winds, and it has therefore been proposed to construct a vast breakwater far beyond its present limits. Genoa fancies that its interests are not sufficiently attended to by the Central Government. A second railway across the Apennines is urgently demanded, in order to manage the traffic that will be created by the opening of the direct railway through Switzerland, which will place Genoa in direct communication with Western Germany.
In the meantime Genoa is expanding in all directions. Its factories of macaranli, paper, silks and velvets, soap, oil, jewellery, metal-work, pottery, ornamental flowers, and other objects are ever increasing; and orrar del Genoes-Genoese industry—is a marvel now, as it was in the Middle Ages. San Pier d'Arena (Sampierdarena), to the west, has become a veritable manufacturing town. Coruigliano, Rivarolo, Sestri di Ponente with its large shipyards, Pegli, and Voltri are populous towns, having spinning-mills and foundries. Savona, whose port was fill 'd up by the jealous Genoese, occupies the bottom of a vast bay. It has glassworks and potteries, and is connected by a railway with Turin. Elsewhere on the Riviera di Ponente the towns are crowded closely together. Such is the case with the twin cities of Oneglia and Porto Maurizio, the one built on the beach, the other on a steep hill close by, and known as the " Fountains of Oil," because of their extensive plantations of olives. At San Remo, however, olives are more plentiful still.•
On the Riviera di Levante town joins town like pearls in a necklace. Albaro, with its charming mansion, Quarto, whence departed the expedition which took Sicily from the Bourbons, and Nervi, a health resort for persons suffering from pulmonary diseases, constitute a long-stretching suburb of Genoa, extending in the direction of Recco and Camogli, two towns abounding in shipping. The rocky promontory of Porto Fino, thus named after the dolphins which formerly frequented it, imposes an insurmountable obstacle to the further extension of Genoa in this direction. Having traversed the tunnel leading through this promontory, we reach another group of towns, viz. Rapallo, the industrious; Chiavari, a great place of trade ; Lavagna, with its famous quarries of grey slates ; and Sestri di Levante, a town of fishermen.
The coast beyond Sestri is but sparsely inhabited, for there hold cliffs approach the sea ; but having doubled the superb cape of Porto Venere, we enter the fine Gulf of Spezia, with its numerous forts, ship-yards, arsenals, and other buildings. The Italian Government has been busy ever since 1861 in converting this gulf into a first-rate naval arsenal, but no sooner has a portion of the work been completed than the progress made in the arts of destruction compels the engineers to remodel it— a very costly task. Whatever future may be in store for Spezia as a military port, it has none as a commercial one, for though it affords excellent shelter to vessels, no railway connects it with the fertile countries beyond the Apennines, and its exports are limited to the produce of the valleys in its immediate vicinity. Spezia is indebted for its high rank amongst the cities of Italy to its beautiful gulf, the rival of the Bay of Naples and the roadstead of Palermo. From the summit of the marble hill above the decayed town of Porto Venere we look down upon a marvellous succession of bays and promontories, and far in the distance the mountains of Corsica rise indistinctly above the blue waters. Looking to the east, we behold the picturesque towns on the opposite side of the gulf embedded in groves of olive-trees and cypresses, the Apuanic Alps and the Apennines bounding the horizon. Right opposite is the charming town of Lerici, and to the south of it the shore upon which Byron reduced to ashes the body of his friend Shelley : no spot more appropriate for this mournful holocaust.