Manarola, medieval village overlooking the Ligurian sea | Bellarome

Manarola, medieval village overlooking the Ligurian sea

Manarola is an ancient village on the Ligurian Riviera di Levante, and is a fraction of the municipality of Riomaggiore, in the province of La Spezia, and is one of the Cinque Terre. Manarola originated from the migration of populations that from the Val di Vara and the Roman settlement of Volastra moved towards the sea to exploit its resources.Manarola

Its name derives, perhaps, from the Latin Manium arula, which means “small temple dedicated to the Mani”, but this etymology remains very uncertain.

The structure of the town develops around the now covered course of the Groppo stream; a series of narrow stone-paved alleys start from it and reach the houses on the sides of the promontory and the vegetable gardens.

The village of Manarola stands both along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea and along the Groppa river, which flows towards the sea. From the northernmost point of the city, it is possible to see the river, which otherwise flows below the modern square and the railway station; what only remembers its presence is the sound of its slow flow towards the sea, clearly audible only when there is complete silence.

Parallel to the main axis is the path of the so-called Via di Mezzo, which was of great importance in the viability of the village before covering the stream.

The presence, upstream of the town, of the square where the religious buildings are concentrated is interesting. A curiosity: the white-painted concrete pyramid that stands out among the tallest houses is a trigonometric signal for sailors.

The Via dell’Amore also departs from the Manarola station, the famous path that connects the village to Riomaggiore.

Manarola is the second village of the Cinque Terre on the side of La Spezia. It is located at a distance of 500 meters from the first village. The station is separated from the city by a tunnel, and in this case, it is a large and well-made tunnel inside.

Under Genoa, the town experienced a progressive development, becoming one of the major producers of food, especially wine and oil, and it is to this agricultural vocation that Manarola owes the origin of its name, which historians claim derives from a dialectal Manaraea, earlier to the current Manaaea, dating back to an ancient magna Roea, that is, magna rota, a large water mill wheel.

In fact, in the lower part of the town you can still admire the old mill or oil mill, restored by the National Park.

Let’s start our tour in this lovely village of Cinque Terre!


Church of San Lorenzo

The church of San Lorenzo or of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary is a Catholic place of worship in Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV in Manarola (fraction of Riomaggiore, in the province of La Spezia). The church is the seat of the parish of the same name of the vicariate of the Riviera of the diocese of La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato.




According to historical sources, the religious building was built in 1338 in Ligurian Gothic style.

The salient façade, in local sandstone, has a portal with a Gothic arch and a bas-relief depicting the Martyrdom of San Lorenzo  in the lunette below; at the top there is a rose window in Carrara marble from 1375 with twelve columns, similar to that of the parish church of San Pietro in Corniglia (Vernazza) and attributed to Matteo and Pietro da Campilio.

The interior of the church, covered in Baroque style, has three naves with a barrel vault. A restoration at the end of the twentieth century has partly restored the original Gothic forms.

To the left of the entrance is the baptismal font. At its feet there is an ancient marble measure for measuring the capacity for grains and other dry materials, bearing the coat of arms of the Republic of Genoa and the words Comunitas Manarolae.

At the bottom of the right aisle is a Renaissance tabernacle with a fine 15th century bas-relief.

On the apse wall of the central nave there is a Crucifix from the second half of the 15th century.

Attributed to the Master of the Cinque Terre are the two main works of art kept inside: in the left aisle the triptych (15th century) (from the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Salute in Volastra) depicting St. Lorenzo among the saints Antonio Abbot and Bernardino of Siena; on the main altar the polyptych representing the Madonna and Child between Saints Lorenzo and Catherine of Alexandria and two other Saints, dated to the 15th century.

Separated from the body of the church is the quadrangular bell tower, built in the 14th century on the remains of an ancient lookout tower for sighting and defense from Saracen raids.


Riomaggiore Castle

The Castle of Riomaggiore is a historic building located in the upper part of the historic center of Riomaggiore, in the Cinque Terre, in the province of La Spezia. Originally used for defensive purposes, then converted into a cemetery, today the site is used by the local municipal administration as a conference room and cultural centre.

According to historical sources, a first defensive building was built by the Marquises Turcotti in 1260, lords of the village of Ripalta near Borghetto di Vara, on the ruins of an existing site (called “castellazzo”) near the hill of Cerricò.

After the domination of Count Nicolò Fieschi, a new castle, located on the hill that divides the Rio Maggiore valley from that of Rio Finale, was definitively completed by the Republic of Genoa in a period between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

With the advent of the French domination of Napoleon Bonaparte, and therefore with the Ligurian Republic, the internal area of ​​the fort was filled with earth and used for the burial of the local dead.

At the end of the twentieth century the entire complex will undergo a general recovery, converting the area to a cultural centre.

The structure has a quadrangular shape, with two large and squat circular towers.

The castle, with Riomaggiore as a frame, stands in a suggestive point of the upper part of the village. Overlooking the sea, it offers wonderful views.

The fort with a quadrangular plan with the longer sides slightly converging towards the sea, has a wall formed by two large and squat circular towers. Built in 1260 by the Marquises Turcotti, lords of Ripalta, it was completed by the Genoese in the 15th-16th century after the rule of Niccolò Fieschi.

Today, the castle is used as a location for events, demonstrations and ceremonies thanks to the dream scenario that offers its dominant position on the cliff below and on a large stretch of coast.


Via dell’Amore

The start of the path 592-1, better known as Via dell’Amore, is at the Riomaggiore train station. On the left, there is the access staircase with mechanical ramps for people with disabilities; in Manarola instead, a wheelchair ramp was built to allow you to enjoy the wonderful route.

A few steps and you are immediately from the cliff overlooking the sea. Along the Via dell’Amore you can admire the zoned sandstones of Riomaggiore with the folded, knee, hinged layers, the load and current footprints and the signs of marine erosion.

The exotic vegetation of agaves, pittosporums, prickly pears and the Hottentots of South Africa have adapted well to the brackish climate. Sea fennel, marine dauco, wallflower, rue and the rare Brassica robertiana (relative of the more common cabbage) grow among the cliffs most exposed to the winds. Upstream the Mediterranean scrub with tree spurge, mastic, and Aleppo pine, covers the rocks.

The flight of seagulls and house martins accompanies the walk. The last stretch is under the terraced vineyards and overlooks the Manarola railway station. The Via dell’Amore was made less anonymous by the students of the Brera Academy: under the guidance of the master Lino Marzulli, the students created frescoes inspired by the Cinque Terre.

The legendary Via dell’Amore is the shortest and most famous path in Cinque Terre. Everyone can walk here: from children to adults and even people with disabilities. Via dell’Amore is cut into the rock, just above the surface of the sea.

If you want, you can get off the rock and rest near the water. It is much more pleasant to walk in the evening, as when it gets dark the Way lights up. As you walk you can admire different types of sandstone and Mediterranean shrubs on the hills.

The beauty of this landscape and the suitability for the level of walking make this path the most visited in the Cinque Terre. Unfortunately, in 2012 the Via dell’Amore suffered a huge landslide that caused damage to the path.


Cinque Terre National Park

The Cinque Terre National Park is a national park established in 1999 in Liguria, in the province of La Spezia.

In addition to the Cinque Terre area (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso), the park includes a portion of the municipalities of Levanto and La Spezia (Campiglia Tramonti).

The park can be divided into three parts: the coastal area, the real national park and the marine area, the natural area of ​​the protected port.

Characteristic coastal stretch of the Cinque Terre with the mountains that reach the sea, creating a unique coast of its kind

The Cinque Terre National Park is the only institution in Italy aimed at the protection of an anthropized environment and provides, among other things, the safeguarding of the system of dry-stone walls that support the cultivated terraces overlooking the sea.

The park protects a coastal area where man has created a stable life of mutual coexistence between himself and nature. The villages and terraces with dry stone walls are immersed in a typically Mediterranean coastal environment where the Ligurian Apennine mountains reach the sea, creating a unique environment.

The economy that supports the communities that make up the park guarantees compatibility between the environment and the anthropic system.

The flora also obviously has Mediterranean characteristics, there are numerous microclimates often different from each other that have created an enormous variety of landscapes. There are maritime pines, Aleppo pines, corks and chestnuts. In the rocky environments there are many Mediterranean species such as sea fennel and marine cineraria. Shrubs such as rosemary, thyme, helichrysum and lavender are clearly visible everywhere. There are also numerous tree species and succulents clearly visible from many coastal paths.

The environment, favourable to the development of life and habitat of various animal species that find favourable environments in these localities. Among the birds there are the herring gull, the peregrine falcon, and the imperial crow. Among the mammals: dormouse, weasel, mole, badger, stone marten, fox, and wild boar (whose presence is highly contested due to damage to crops). Among the reptiles that thrive in the rocky environment we can find the wall lizard, the green lizard and various snakes such as the rat snake, the Aesculapian snake and the viper; around the streams live amphibians like frogs and salamanders.

The Cinque Terre Marine Protected Area was established by decree of the Ministry of the Environment on 12 December 1997 in the marine area between Punta Mesco to the west and Punta di Montenero to the east.


Church of San Giovanni Battista

The Church of San Giovanni Battista is a Catholic place of worship located in via Pecunia, in the municipality of Riomaggiore in the province of La Spezia. The church is the seat of the parish of the same name of the vicariate of the Riviera of the diocese of La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato.

Located in the upper part of the historic center of Riomaggiore, its construction took place in 1340, as stated by a plaque on the facade, at the behest of the bishop of Luni Antonio Fieschi.

An important and significant restoration of the entire building was carried out between 1870 and 1871, due to a collapse, with the extension of the complex and the reconstruction of the façade in the neo-Gothic style, keeping, however, the fourteenth-century rose window in Carrara white marble.

The single lancet windows and the two Gothic-style entrances, decorated with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic elements, remain visible today on the left side of the church. The interior is divided into three naves, with a basilica plan, and with pointed arches.

Among the works of art preserved are a triptych in the right aisle, attributed to the master Benedetto Antelami or to his sculptural school, a painting depicting the Preaching of John the Baptist, by the Sarzanese painter Domenico Fiasella, a wooden crucifix by Anton Maria Maragliano and the marble pulpit of 1663.

The parish church results as a valuable fourteenth-century work, the result of Antelamic workers.

A significant and important reconstruction of the neo-Gothic style facade and an extension of the entire building were carried out in 1870 following a collapse, while maintaining, however, the fourteenth century rose window in white Carrara marble. The two Gothic-style entrances and the single-lancet windows decorated with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic elements are what remain of the original structure.

The church, with a basilica plan with three naves separated by elegant ogival arches, contains a wooden crucifix by Maragliano, a triptych depicting the Madonna and Child and Saints Rocco and Sebastian from the 15th century, marble reliefs from 1530, a fine 18th-century pulpit and an organ Agati mechanic of 1851.


Sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Salute

The Sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Salute is a Catholic place of worship located in the hamlet of Volastra in the municipality of Riomaggiore, in the province of La Spezia. The sanctuary refers to the parish church of San Lorenzo di Manarola. The church is the seat of the homonymous parish of the vicariate of the Riviera of the diocese of La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato.

The sanctuary is part of the complex of the “Cinque Terre sanctuaries”, together with the Marian religious buildings of Our Lady of Montenero in Riomaggiore, Our Lady of Grace and of Our Lady of Reggio in Vernazza, and Our Lady of Soviore in Monterosso al Mare.

Built in the upper part of the town in the twelfth century in Romanesque style with subsequent inserts in Gothic, the simple gabled façade, with local stone ashlars, is decorated with a crowning of arches. The sandstone portal, with an ogival arch, is surmounted by a Gothic mullioned window. Narrow single-light windows are open along the side walls.

The interior has a single nave, rectangular in plan, with a barrel-vaulted roof. A narrow Gothic arched apse houses a Baroque altar.

In the sanctuary the image of a Madonna is venerated, who was crowned in 1891.

The 15th century triptych depicting San Lorenzo between the saints Antonio Abbot and Bernardino, attributed to the Master of the Cinque Terre, was originally exhibited in the sanctuary of Volastra and which is now preserved in the parish church of Manarola.

The church-sanctuary of our Lady of Saluta is located in Borgo Vittoria, within a quadrangular courtyard, surrounded by arcades, which creates a fair detachment between the lively life of the neighborhood and the Marian temple. Construction began in 1895 and ended in the mid-twentieth century with the completion of the crypt of the fallen. In 1971 the mortal remains of Leonardo Murialdo were moved from the church of Santa Barbara and placed in a new chapel inaugurated in 1992.

The church has a quadrilateral plan and has a single nave. The gabled façade has ashlars of local stone, is simple and decorated with hanging arches, which, unlike the Church of San Lorenzo, are not trilobed. The sandstone portal is framed between two slender side columns and is surmounted by a Gothic mullioned window.