History

Portofino, a World apart
    25
    February 2017

    The Carpenters & the Builders

    portofino-maltese-falcon-portofino-bay

    Like the boatmen, who had met up with success dedicated to the marine traffic of passengers, a rosy horizon was foreseen, for there were other port people who felt that the pleasure boat business was to be divided between them, bringing a large economical profit to Portofino. The axe teachers and the “calafati” (specialized workers in waterproofing a ship) that work in the dockyard, dedicated themselves to repairing and building pleasure boats, much looked for in seamanship: There was a transformation, and a part of the activity went towards craftmanship. The wood teachers, besides repairing, started to build small boats, launches and “gozzi” (rowing boats): after the rowing boats, motor boats were built. It’s possible to name those who worked with wood: Gaetano Viacava called “Gheita Baciarin”, Giulietto Vignale, Giovanni Franzon and his son Roberto, Giacomo Gallino from Rapallo, G. B. Viacava called “Ba” and other boys… These characters were distinguished for their willingness and ability in artistic craftmanship. One person in particular was distinguished in the naval constructions not only for the type of boat, but also for the refined workmanship: he was Gaetano Viacava called “Gheita Baciarin” His “gozzi” have reached the maximum of prestige, and a boat owner was proud to own one: the activity was inherited by his son Giacomino that, with the same ability and silence, is carrying on his father’s craft.

    20
    November 2016

    The Taverns, Restaurants and Hotels

    portofino-zina-nana-lianna-love

    Already in the last centuries they spoke about public places in Portofino, which can also be read in other books on the Village. From 1800 to today it’s possible to list some that were quite a numerous amount, taking in to consideration the “size” of the tiny Village and the passing of ships and boats in its important port: the demand for food stuffs and places to stay were in fact superior to the inhabitants, because the port was visited by Popes, emperors, prelates, politicians and soldiers for a few days and even weeks, until the southwest and southeast winds fell and the good weather returned. At the end of the XIX century, Portofino had a motor road which united them to Santa Margherita: this important piece of work transformed almost totally the local economy, leaving the sea life, the mills and the peasant country to transporting passengers by land. Like this Portofino gave start to a touristic economy in continual increase, which gave rise to a great number of shops which became a question of worry. The first restaurant of the Village was the “Stella” that, years ago, was also a boarding house: the roms looked over the “Marconi Quay” and they still belong to Gazzolo today, descendant of the restaurant owner’s family. The Gazzolo families, at Portofino, were the ones who had more faith in the touristic activities, like that, other relations opened activities in the field of hotels, restaurants, grocery shops and transport in general.

    06
    August 2016

    The Coachmen

    portofino-panoramic-1920

    At the end of the XIX century, Portofino ceased to be isolated from the continent, where roads didn’t exist and you could only arrive by sea, or along the mountain foot paths. The motor road that connected the village of Santa Margherita was built in the eighties-nineties: which brought to Portofino a big economic transformation that, together with the touristic knowledge already acquired, permitted to establish a new category of workers. Transport services were organized in a short period of time, connecting the train service with other inherent activities giving well-being to the population. The first person to have concession to carry the post was Silvio Gazzolo called “Baxian”, who was for a long period of time the Village’s postman. His son Angelino continued his father’s work, increasing the service, as apart from the local post there was an increase in passing tourists. His niece Anna Bruno remembers: “Thinking of the most beautiful years of my youth, exist many memories that fill my mind: they belong to a family that had found a reason to live through work, continued in our different generations.

    11
    June 2016

    The Lace Women

    portofino-the-lace-women

    Another activity that in time has become almost an economy is the work of pillow lace: pillow lace is an embroidery achieved by a design traced by pins on cardboard. It is carried out by the embroiderers interlacing the thread with wooden bobbins, called in genoese dialect “caige“: at the beginning the grandmothers, mothers and daughters, to economically help the family budget, and make up the balance, sold their asked for laces. In their free time, early in the morning they worked on their pillows, even the fishermen, rising to go fishing, could here the rustle of the women’s wooden bobbins. In the antique period of seafaring, there was a big demand for these laces in the Americas, they were sold by the sailor husbands who had a good sense of commerce, not only for laces, but also other products that were exchanged and imported. A particular acknowledgement must go to Caterina Crovo called “dei pizzetti” (Lace Lady), she was a pioneer of this work amongst many other embroiderers of pillow lace: a very important native of Portofino, born in the first years of the second half of the last century and bride of Nicole Traverso, an excellent joiner from Genoa Pra, called to Portofino to carry out precious workmanship in Lord Carnarvon’s new villa, the discoverer of the Tutankhamon tomb.

    04
    May 2016

    The Boatmen

    portofino-the-boatmen-1936

    At Portofino the boatmen have represented a true institution, a new economical transformation that slowly increased in the shade of the residential guests: this work was carried out mainly in the summer period with the guest’s boats, furnished with curtains ad cushions, that they seemed like the “carriages of the sea”. This new economy involved about thirty families of which ten of them worked for themselves: the work was by oars or sails and it was only after 1920 that an outboard motor was used. The people who used this service were Bianchi Cavallo, Finollo, Steimman, Villa, Raggio, Spizz, Nina Toie, Bruzzo, Croce, Basso, Braum Cunigan, Rivetti, Clifford, Rocca, Oder Marsano, Vigorelli, Bocciardo di Niasca, Trossi, Potenziani and others, plus four scandinavian Consuls. As you can see, there were a great number of people who passed through Portofino during the summer season and every name corresponded to a villa or apartment: lots of youngsters took their first steps in this new category and they learnt how to sail, to handle the first engines, and in particular, they lived amongst people who lead different lives to ours, teaching them how to administer themselves and learn new languages. Finally, a real nautical school was formed.

    16
    March 2016

    The Fishermen

    portofino-protected-marina

    The position of Portofino has made fishing one of the most antique professions in the world. Before 1700, this category of people dedicated themselves also to fishing coral. With tiny boats, called “leudi”, they went west to the island of Gallinara and to the deep sea of provenza, their next door neighbours, so to speak, from Rapallo, and San Giacomo of Corte took their coralline boats and went towards the Sardinia west coasts. The story says that the natives of Portofino had a secret, about (the different spots on the nautical chart) called “poste”, that is the “armie” (nautical points), a secret that was handed down from father to son, and from the old sea captains of `700: these secrets were robbed by the Portofino sailors who had gone to fish coral with the catalan searchers already in ‘600. Families existed in the Quay that from immemorial times have constantly carried out the fishing profession as though it was a business: they were the owners of the certain spot fishing, this work was very interesting and functioned throughout the year, because the port existed, not like the other neighbouring places. When the anchovy season began to approach, that is May-June, when the sea and the weather are usually calm, who owned the biggest fishing boat armed with a latina sail started out to “make the season” to the Gorgona island, supplied with special wooden barrels for the “salting” of the anchovies. On the contary the spot fishing with nets, was carried out for a certain quantity of fish, with the “sciabega“, that is the net pulled by the fishing boat for other qualities: always in the various spots other equipment was used for different qualities of fish, for example mullet, white anchovy, cuttlefish, aguglie( edible fish), coneri (another edible fish) and other equipment for fishing from the “surface”, that is in eye’s view.

    09
    March 2016

    The Cult of St. George

    Portofino San George Bonfire April 23

    For centuries the small church of Saint George in Portofino has stood on the isthmus in domination of two halves, two human destinies: that of the open sea and that of the sea enclosed in the small port of Portofino. This church conserves a ritual that is probably unique in the world. Before leaving on long sea voyages, the sailors of Portofino wish to have the benediction of Saint George and the church bells peal out, calling the faithful to climb up the steep way to the church square to assist the sacred rite. The priest begins mass by taking the urn containing the relics of the saint from a crypt; he puts the urn on the altar and intones the chant of this martyred soldier, «Deus tuorum militum». Then, holding the urn high in his hands, the priest goes out onto the church square and with the urn itself makes a large sign of the cross towards the open sea and another towards the port; he blesses the horizon that the sailor is going to attempt, the small port where one day the sailor wants to return and sanctifies the audacity and the peace, the fatigue and the repose, the conquest and the home, the unknown and the certitude. This rite is very ancient and goes back to the time of the crusades. The Genoese, inhabiting the coastline, were among the first to take part in the crusades in so many numbers that on the stone of the Holy Sepulchre one reads the phrase, «Praepotens Genuentium Praesidium witnessing the strength of the Ligurian crusaders».

    08
    March 2016

    Historical Personages

    portofino-von-mumm-remembering

    Many personages in passing through Portofino or anchoring in its port have left memorable recollections behind them: Konrad of Swabia (see Caffaro), Richard, king of En-gland, Odeardo, duke of Parma, Ferdinand, king of Spain, Pope Adrian the VI, Andrea Doria, and Francis I, king of France. Francis I, retreating towards Spain after his defeat at Pavia, was handed over to Andrea Doria who held him prisoner for some days in the tower —still existing today — of the Monastery of Cervara (see F. Accinelli). Not to be forgotten is the time when the ships of Pope Gregory the XI took shelter in the port. In October 1377 the pope, escorted by thirty one ships, sailed from the port of Marseille on his return to Rome from Avignon. (Holy See from 1309 to 1377). On the 28th he reached Genoa and stayed there for the celebration of Saint Simon and Jude’s day. That same night he put out to sea as the weather seemed favourable for navigation and all conditions made a happy voyage hopeful when suddenly a violent storm came up: the rain, hail and lightning filled the voyagers with dismay and many feared for their lives, but at dawn they found themselves near Portofino and took shelter in the port. The following day, Thursday, the pope, his retinue and crew took a rest; on the eve of All Saints’ Day, the 31st, they again put out to sea and had already gone twenty miles when another storm came up forcing them to return to Portofino. Perhaps then Pope Gregory understood that it was God’s will that he remain there to celebrate All Saints’ Day. He set out on foot for the nearby Cervara Monastery, which had been chosen for the solemn occasion, and there celebrated high mass before the altar of Saint Jerome. There is a plaque set in the wall of the Saint Martin parish church in commemoration of this occasion.

    25
    February 2016

    Artisans in Portofino

    Artisans in Portofino Italy

    This category in Portofino had a long period of prosperity, at the beginning of the second half of the 19th century dragged along at alternate stages, because of war events. There was a new economy as time went by, which gave rise to a change in economical activities that gave well-being to the Village. After the annexation of the Genoa Republic to the Sardinia Kingdom, a remarkable number of foreign families who represented their Countries at Genoa, discovered Portofino and, one after another, they established an international residential colony in Portofino: with much attention, they jealously preserved their property handing it down from one to another for about a century. The italians were able to put foot there only after the second world war. At the first “appearance” of the residential constructions, who gave orders to start work painting and preparing the foundations to build the houses was an artisan called Benedetto Gardella, said to be “Beneitu”, whom we have alredy spoken about in the previous chapter. This important man, besides other things, was very clever at constructing stone walls with the stones of Portofino, because he had a very good knowledge of the “cutting the stone” system and choosing the right stone: this was not an easy operation because they were made of “pudinga”, a mixture of a very hard pebbles.

    19
    February 2016

    The Peasants

    Portofino The Village Italy

    The population of the Village of Portofino was also made up of very old workers, whom lived with their very numerous families in the country of the Mount; they were very toilsome people, who lived to survive. The most part, at least 90% weren’t owners of land and they lived in houses with terrible hygenic conditions, not everyone had a bathroom in their home, and many lived in the stables with the animals and chickens, being situated near the houses. These families that took care of the ground product had to give to the owners one third of the harvest (excluding the orchard), that consisted in picking olives, the primary income: there was also the vine cultivation and the cutting of wood, the trunk went to the owner and the twigs to the peasants (this was done to control that healthy trees weren’t cut and no trade was done); then there were other fruit and vegetable products and some peasants who possessed “pieces of land cut in a horizontal way” (agricultural terraces) wide enough to reap wheat.

    17
    February 2016

    Michele Cascella, ambassador of Portofino

    Portofino Michele Cascella

    Michele Cascella arrived in Portofino in the 1930’s, but he had already begun to love the hamlet even before seeing it thanks to the stories of Salvator Gotta. He was convinced immediately that it was the ideal place for a painter who valued above all, contact with nature, the open air, the sky, and the countryside. He therefore decided to buy a little two level house in the famous Portofino Piazzetta. It had a small terrace where the eye could scan the range from the peninsula to the mountain. Later he also rented a little house beneath the Brown castle in the middle of the olive groves which became his open air studio, the house of Faffy as he loved to call it. From those cliffs he painted the little piazza, surrounded by the olive groves which reminded him of Abruzzo.

    16
    February 2016

    The “Springwater” Mills

    Portofino Niasca Mills Paraggi

    A part of the population of Portofino worked as millers along the torrents of the “springwaters”, that gets it’s name “flowing waters” because, nearly at the top of the Mount at 400 metres above sea level, exist perennial water sources which gush out between two types of stone: on one side the rocks of Portofino called “pudinga“, on the other side the stone called “dell’antola” originating from Mount Antola. A good quantity of water flows out of these springs, at least 1300 cubic metres daily, even when the drought period starts, it lessens, but it is always enough for the function of the water-mills. Like that, a long time ago, buildings were built with adjoining houses so that the millers could work serenely: work was guaranteed for the families that, in time, became 35; other people were involved carrying the corn, especially the inhabitants of the port during the summertime and the drought period when, from the two Riviere, they reached Portofino by boat to grind their products.

    10
    February 2016

    The Seamen

    Portofino Larry Ellison Yacht

    With the coming of the new State of Sardinia the Ligurian Navy, that had for centuries taught the world the craft and art of sailing, underwent a massive awakening that in a short period won back the marine economy in a talented way. In Portofino existed families who had alot of familiarity with the sea, making a real fleet, like we read in books of sea stories about the Ligurian ships. These sailing-ships were crewed, by the captain to the ship-boy, by people exclusively from Portofino, moreover it is certain that other captains and sailors were commanding the ships of the ligurian shipowners: these men were not only good navigators, but also good traders, sensing which products were to be exported, and which to be imported. The shipowners of Portofino, who were also captains of their sailing boats, worked very well with international hiring to the point that their sailing lasted for years, as long as they travelled the world transporting for foreign firms, different types of goods from one continent to another and gaining remarkable earnings that they invested in real estate and possessions that even today belong to the families of their descendants.

    05
    February 2016

    Portofino after the Congress of Vienna

    Portofino Sailing Boats

    At the end of seventeenth century, Europe was in quite a turmoil due to the war between different countries, and also the Ligurian Republic was made an object of conquest. From that moment on for 30 years, it was tormented by invaders, from spanish to english, from austrians to french and, even, by Pisa and Tuscany dukes. This Republic was object to attacks, even though protected by one or another, it was always occupied and robbed by foreign troupes. Being at the centre of the coast with a safe natural port close at hand, it was continuously occupied by invaders and considered very useful for repairing ships; furthermore at Portofino munition and, provisions were deposited and the troupes that arrived from the mounts settled there. During many repairs, the Ligurian Magistrate of the Fathers of the Communes made frequent visits and made different suggestions for the defence of the Village.

    30
    January 2016

    A little history and it’s origins

    Portofino 1960 Dolce Vita

    The original name of Portofino, the old Portus Delphini, is uncertain; there are different suppositions, three are the most probable: that the name has come from the numerous dolphins that have always populated the port and it’s surrounding waters; a second supposition, maybe the less probable, that it would give it’s name to the singular resemblance of the shape of the Peninsula of Saint George, that, seen from the Hill of Mountain Camp, seems to be like a dolphin swimming on the surface of the waters, a last supposition, is probably that the Promontory of Portofino has always been surrounded by luxuriant pine trees, from which comes the name of “Pine Port”. Portofino definately existed during the Roman domination, but it didn’t suffer in any particular way: the Peninsula divided the Genuati from the Tigulli and since Medieval Times Portofino has been an important safe landing place for ships.

    A lot of news has been found in the family archives, in the ligurian shipping books, from the genoese “Mercantile” archives and from many history books about Liguria: I would like to quote different editions that I keep in my tiny history archives: 1 – “Saggio storico civile e religioso del Comune di Portofino“, dedicated to Monsignor Salvatore Magnasco, native of Portofino, archbishop of Genoa. Typography: Letture Cattoliche, 1876.

    04
    January 2016

    Friends of Portofino

    Greta Garbo in Portofino

    Standing out from the wall of St. George’s on the side leading to the churchyard entrance are some plaques, set there by the association, «Friends of Portofino», to render homage to those persons who either spiritually or materially helped Portofino :

    • MONS. SALVATORE MAGNASCO
      Portofinese (1806 – 1875) Archbishop of Genoa – Noble spirit dear to God – pray for us.
    • GUGLIELMO MARCONI
      From onboard the Elettra, c the ship of miracles x. anchored in the bay of Portofino March 26th 1930, transmitted the short wave signals that turned on the lights at the Sidney World Fair in Australia.
    • AMISANI GIUSEPPE (1880 – 1941).
    • GUERELLO DOMENICO (1891 – 1951).
    • MERELLO RUBALDO ( – 1922).
      Painters – worthily illustrated Portofino.
    • RAFFAELE CALZINI (1885 – 1954).
      Illustrated the beauties of Portofino in numerous writings.
    • ALEXANDER CLIFFORD (1909 – 1952).
      Journalist – with great enthusiam acquainted England with Portofino.
    • JEANNIE WATT VED. VON MUMM (1866 – 1953).
      Benefactress of Portofino.
    • ETTORE BOCCIARDO (1865 – 1953).
      Spurred by a great love of the beauties of Portofino was the first to provide for their legal protection.
    • GOTUZZO CATERINA VED. GUERELLO (1802 – 1890).
      Benefactress of Portofino.
    • DOTT. PARIS LUIGI (1863 – 1938).
      Benefactor of Portofino.
    25
    November 2009

    Rex Harrison in Portofino for love

    Portofino Rex Harrison 1964

    The great American actor Rex Harrison – in the picture in Portofino – famous for his brilliant interpretation in the film “My Fair Lady“, had a villa built above the Splendido  that cost him $50,000 in the first years after the war. Previously, in the same spot, there was a bunker in which the Germans had mounted a battery of cannnons. Harrison went to live there with his wife Lili Palmer, an actress of German origin.

    Lovers that they were of entertaining guests and of the “party set”, they invited half of Hollywood to Portofino, where Clark Gable, Jennifer Jones, David O. Selznik and many other legends of the cinema were guests at the Spendido. We narrate an interesting anecdote taken from the book by Antonio Nannicini, Letter From Portofino.  When Harrison won the Oscar, he returned to Portofino and wanted to re-celebrate the event with his friends from Portofino at “La Gritta” the famous American bar that faces the wharf. Naturally they had been drinking a bit, anymore I couldn’t say, but in the euphoria of the moment the golden statue wound up in the sea and afriend had to dive in the water to retrieve it.

    08
    May 2009

    Portofino and its kinds of lace.

    Portofino Other Vicoli Italy

    Under the arches of the porticoes in Portofino and at many of the street doors the workers-from little girls of six to wrinkled dames of seventy- sit in front of the three-legged stands which support the pillows on which their work is produced, and on all sides you hear the click of their wooden bobbins. To an uninitiated onlooker, the dexterity of the more accomplished workers seems magical: he marvels at the rapidity with which the bobbins fly from side to side of the complicated pattern, at the unerring exactitude with which just the right ones are selected, and wonders that the innumerable threads never become entangled amidst such a forest of pins. During the season for visitors, the streets are hung with lace; stalls, bearing every article of feminine adornment that can be made on a tombola, are erected on the piazza and at all the points where prospective buyers are likely to pass; so that how to get by without stopping to admire and purchase becomes a most difficult problem.

    24
    February 2009

    The foundation of San Fruttuoso

    Portofino San Fruttuoso

    From the foundation of the first church of San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte to the apogee of the Abbey. When one speaks of San Fruttuoso with someone who knows this splendid locality on the promontory of Portofino, few are aware that the complete name of the nuclear abbey of this little village is San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte. Capodimonte explains the name; San Fruttuoso explains the legend which we will briefly relate.

    Arriving from Spain, the priests Giustino and Procopio of Terragona wanted to reach the coast of Liguria and bring the bones of San Fruttuoso, the archbishop of Braga and founder of monasteries in Spain and Portugal. He would later be mart yered in 262. A strong tempest surprised them in the area of Portofino and it was here that an angel of the Lord appeared to Giustino and promised to bring him to safety in a narrow’avine in the cliffs and from which he would chase away a pestiferous dragon. The priests would then have to construct a church there among the rocks by a gushing spring. It was thus that the locality where the church was constructed and later the monastery, first of thefollowers of Saint Colombano and then of the Benedictines, came to be called San Fruttuoso. Here the Abbey that was to have such great importance for the Tigullian Gulf until the twelfth century developed.

    23
    February 2009

    Portofino until the Kingdom of Italy

    portofino-our-lights-2015

    Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure until the formation of the Kingdom of Italy

    From here on the history of Santa Margherita Ligure (see photo below) and Portofino revolves around the story of the families and their relationship with the parishes. There were always animosities and parochialism was never stronger than in this part of Liguria. Between Portofino and Nozarego, Santa Margherita Ligure, San Giacomo and San Siro, and Rapallo there was tremendous competition with regard to the treasures that their respective churches possessed and the magnificence of the processions that were sponsored: in Santa Margherita the paintings of Bernardo Castello and the De Ferraris, in Nozarego the paintings of Cambiaso and the Crucifix of Maragliano, in San Giacomo the frescoes of Nicolò Barabino. etc.

    There was even a series of arguments over a procession to be held on territory whose boundaries were in dispute for decades. Symptomatic of this rivalry is the following episode of a certain Giacomo Costa who, after having long contested the rights of Rapallo over San Michele of Pagana, was shot in the seat of his pants with a shotgun while crossing the street. Santa Margherita disputed its primacy with San Giacomo of Corte over a long period of time. Given its central position and with the advantage of having a long beach on which boats could be pulled up on dry palates, Santa Margherita eventually overcame Corte.

    01
    January 2009

    From the Ancien Ligurians to Monasteries

    Portofino OUR LIGHTS

    It all began with a few cottages built on supports over the water at the mouths of two rivers: the S. Siro, (where today stands the Cinema Centrale, formerly the Savoia) and the Magistrato (where to- day stands the International Pharmacy). When violent rains didn’t provoke over- flowing and flooding, two smaller rivulet flowed from these river.

    In the summer they were dry and the cause of bad odors and swarms of mosquitoes.

    Let’s immagine here, exactly were Santa Margherita Ligure is now, the site of the first primitive settlement of a group of Tigullians that were conquered only by the Romans after the Ligurian wars that ended in 166 BC. Allied with the Ligurians of Velleia on Mount Penna, they were “beaten but not tamed”.

    But the Tigullians of this locality, which was then called Pescino, had little to do with the Romans. Occasionally some Roman galleys would arrive at Portus Delphini (Portofino) whose name was of Roman origins although its port had al- ready been used by the Phoenicians being the only existing shelter between the Gulf of La Spezia and the port of Ge- noa. The inhabitants of Pescino, intent on cultivating what little could be pro- duced from the small fields in the val- leys, rarely went to Portus Delphini. Any encounters they might have had with the Romans were on the sea, in their little gulf where they went fishing.

    23
    February 2008

    Gea of Portofino, a fable for a child

    Portofino Sailing Boats

    The house of Gea was not certainly the richest, nor the host elegant in the village, but it was undoubtedly the most fanciful and famous of the place. It was not in the centre of the inhabited area, but it was placed in a little valley close to the mountain and it was celebrated everywhere for its prodigiuous characteristic: at every season it changed it’s colour, naturally, without anybody’s intervention with brushes and paints. In Spring it adorned itself with pink and soft green shades, in Summer it took up the tonalities of golden yellow, in Autumn it was transformed for warm variation of brown ochre, while in Winter it lighted up with white touches. Experts had come from all the world to carry out researches into the causes of those colourings, but they had tried to explain the mysterious phenomenon, linking it up vaguely with the influence of the sun.