Rapallo, the picturesque pearl of Liguria | Bellarome

Rapallo, the picturesque pearl of Liguria

Rapallo is an Italian town of 29.711 inhabitants in the metropolitan city of Genoa in Liguria region. Its urban area of reference extends conventionally over its entire gulf, including the neighbouring municipalities of Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino in the west, and Zoagli in the east for a population group of about 43.000 inhabitants, the tenth of the region.


It is the sixth municipality in Liguria by number of inhabitants, preceded by Genoa, La Spezia, Savona, Sanremo and Imperia.

Traditionally, there are two different ways of indicating the inhabitants of the city: the Rapallini (Rapallin in the Genoese dialect), those who are natives of Rapallo and the Rapallesi those who simply reside in the Ligurian city; the dialectal term ruentini, better known in the Tigullio and Genoese areas, can instead be connected almost exclusively to the historic football club Rapallo Ruentes.

The town is famous for having been the seat of two important peace treaties, after the First World War, one between the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1920 and the other between the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union in 1922.

The city also has the unworthy merit of being the mother of the term rapallization, synonymous with wild and indiscriminate urbanization.

Let’s start our tour in this picturesque maritime town!


Castle of Rapallo

The Castle stands on a rock that juts out towards the sea, near the elegant Vittorio Veneto promenade; the fortification was strongly desired by the inhabitants of the town following the sudden incursion of the pirate Torghud, better known as Dragut, who stormed the center in 1549, sowing terror and devastation and capturing women and children who were brought to Algiers suffering from indescribable suffering.

Used for a long time as a prison, it has been restored, and is now a prestigious venue for exhibitions and conferences.

The castle is also called medieval castle with an incorrect definition since the construction dates back only to the second half of the 16th century.

The Castle is also the protagonist of the main event of the city patronal feasts: every year, on the 3rd of July, on the last evening of the celebrations in honour of the appearance of Our Lady  of Montallegro, the Castle is the starting point of the fireworks display called “the shot of the boys”, at the end of which it is artificially set on fire.

The effect of the white pyrotechnic waterfall that descends into the sea from its roof and the red smoke that comes out of its windows is unique in the world.

Inside, there is also a small chapel dedicated to San Gaetano built in 1688 with the characteristic dome with bell, clearly visible outside the castle.

It is the symbol of the Rapallo town and has been declared an Italian national monument by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

The castle changed over time for extensions and different destinations: in the seventeenth century it was used as the home of the captain of the city.

It was therefore a prison and then the headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza, until it was purchased by the Municipality in 1959 and transformed into an exhibition venue, further enhanced, and enlarged by the restorations of 1997 and, subsequently, of 2005.


Punta Pagana Tower

A few minutes from the center of Rapallo, immersed in the green of the Mediterranean scrub and overlooking the blue sea of Liguria, a Saracen tower dating from the sixteenth century stands on top of a promontory, which still retains original spaces and fittings.

Between San Michele di Pagana and the beach of Prelo emerges a promontory covered with maritime pines, among which one of the few Ligurian Saracen towers not nestled in houses or debased by improper uses nestles.

Erected in the second half of the sixteenth century, the Tower, a massive stone sentry with guard functions, is a document of a time when the Ligurian coasts were continually running the danger of raiding corsair ships.

The tragic and sudden landing of the morning of 4 July 1549, with the subsequent pirate assault on Rapallo by the Turkish admiral Dragut, prompted the frightened inhabitants of San Michele to ask that the village be put in greater safety.

A contribution of 600 lire was set for the construction of the Tower on 16 May 1562 by the mayor of Rapallo Gerolamo Giustiniani on the advice of the Senate of the Republic of Genoa.

In the 80s the tower was donated to FAI (Italian Environmental Fund), which decided to restore it and take care of the survival of the arboreal species of the context. The conservative restoration works restored the “bombarda room” on the roof, rediscovered the original brick-laid floor and preserved and integrated the seventeenth-century external plasters.

Today, the promontory and the tower of Punta Pagana represent a true corner of peace available to anyone wishing to undertake a serene incursion between nature and history enjoying the pleasant view of the sea.


The Church of San Michele di Pagana

Famous for hosting a canvas by the famous Flemish painter Van Dyck, the church of San Michele di Pagana, a hamlet of Rapallo overlooking the sea on the road to Santa Margherita Ligure, actually houses many works of art; some are visible and others are held in the oratory.

The parish church stands on a hill above the bays of Trelo and Prelo. The oldest news dates back to July 1133, and is found engraved on a small plaque on the right wall of the church.

Tradition has it that the temple was erected on a pre-existing pagan building from which the toponym San Michele di Pagana would derive. The temple remained in its original form for several centuries, although it likely suffered damage in 1432, when the Venetian fleet stormed the Tigullio.

A complete transformation was started at the end of the sixteenth century and lasted for some decades: the decision of the Genoese Senate of 1604, which authorized the disbursement for a three-year period of 250 lire per year to the inhabitants of Pagana, is also confirmed they had pointed out how ruinous their church is and lately the bell tower has shown signs of having to be ruined and the rectory is almost completely uninhabitable.

New changes to the church were made between 1749 and ill 1793. Today the interior, with a single nave, preserves on the main altar a precious wooden crucifix of the Maragliano school.

Two side altars are dedicated to Christ on the cross and to the Madonna of the Rosary. The Marquis Spinola have contributed over time to the internal enrichment of the church by donating, in addition to two Flemish tablets of the fifteenth century, paintings of great value attributed to Guido Reni, Guercino, Luca Giordano and other famous painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The noble Francesco Orero in 1643 donated the famous Christ, by Van Dyck, which the Flemish artist would have painted during his stay in San Michele between 1621 and 1624.

The canvas portrays the penitent donor kneeling under the cross with next to San Francesco and San Bernardo, who intercede for him.


Sanctuary of 0ur Lady of Montallegro

The sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro is a Catholic place of worship located in the hamlet of Montallegro in the municipality of Rapallo, in the metropolitan city of Genoa. The building is located on a hill at about 612 m.

Considered among the main Marian sanctuaries of the Genoese metropolitan area and Liguria, it was built by the Rapallese population between 1557 and 1558, together with the annexed shelter for pilgrims, after the apparition of the Virgin Mary on 2 July 1557 to the farmer Giovanni Chichizola. The current marble facade dates back to the renovation carried out by the Milanese architect Luigi Rovelli during 1896, and inaugurated with a solemn ceremony on June 21 of that year.

The Lady  of Montallegro has been the patron saint of the City of Rapallo since 1739, the year in which she was elected as patron saint of the Rapallo community, and of the parishes of Santa Margherita Ligure .This recognition is reproduced on the municipal coat of arms which, from 28 November 1948 bears a letter “M” placed in the center of the two griffins supporting the royal crown.

Together with the Madonna dell’Orto – who appeared in Chiavari on 2 July 1610- she is co-patron of the diocese of Chiavari, the latter erected with the papal bull of Leo XIII on 3 December 1892. The religious hymn of Our Lady of Montallegro, entitled Splende al alto, was composed and set to music by the master and priest Giovanni Battista Campodonico.

According to local tradition, the Virgin appeared in the early afternoon of Friday 2 July 1557 to the farmer Giovanni Chichizola, originally from San Giacomo di Canevale, a hamlet in the municipality of Fontanino di Coreglia Ligure, returning from the fruit and vegetable market of Genoa. Arrived in the Rapallo hinterland, in the wooded properties of the Della Torre Ghibelline family, at the height of Mount Letho (known by locals as “mount of death” or “of death” due to the numerous raids by brigands), the man – tired from the long journey on foot and exhausted by the heat – fell asleep near a spur of rock.

Suddenly, he was aroused by a flash: a “lady dressed in blue and white and with a graceful and gentle appearance” appeared to the farmer, as he later reported to the first commoners and to the civil and religious authorities who had come to the mountain.

The local belief, passed down orally, wants numerous historical events that happened in Rapallo to be linked to “miraculous interventions” of the Our Lady of Montallegro. Among the miracles mentioned most there is that of the liberation of the Rapallo village from the plague in the seventeenth century and from cholera during the nineteenth century.


Cableway Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro

It is the only ropeway system of this type active in Liguria.

The Rapallo-Montallegro Cableway Anonymous Company was officially established on March 31, 1928 in order to connect Rapallo with the sanctuary of Montallegro, parallel to the planned carriage road. Two years later the works for the construction of the plant were commissioned to the company Agudio di Leinì (Turin) specialized in the construction of cableway installations. The inauguration took place on August 29, 1934, but for the definitive opening to the public, the works were completed, it took place only on September 1, 1935.

Over the years, there were several adjustments and maintenance interventions: in 1951 the braking systems, trolleys and cabs were modified. The latter were replaced in 1956 with others of the same capacity. Still in 1959 safety devices were installed and, in 1964, the capacity of the cabins themselves was reduced. Other minor interventions occurred in 1969 and 1971.

After the forty-year concession expired in 1975, the cable car was suspended on January 10, 1976; the exhibiting company was declared bankrupt, the following year, by the Chiavari court.

The plant was abandoned until April 1983, when the restoration works began, according to the project presented by Piemonte Cableways. Rebuilt pylons, trolleys and ropes replaced, the system, radically renewed, reopened in 1984; the exercise was managed directly by the Municipality of Rapallo, to which, in 1994, the cooperative Co.fa.sa. which reactivated the exercise on October 8, 1995.

Further management changes occurred in 1999, when it was entrusted to TPT, Tigullio Pubblici Trasporti (which managed the cableway through the Custodi Automobili Cooperative of Genoa) and, in the early 2000s, during which TPT was succeeded by the Security Control of Trieste.

The valley station is located in Piazzale Solari, in the Betti district in Rapallo, and the mountain station just below the sanctuary, at an altitude of about 600 m over sea level.

The pulling rope is 5,000 m long; the horizontal length of the system is equal to 2,275 m (inclined length 2,345 m) for a vertical drop of 600 meters. The plant has two cabins, numbered 1 and 2, both with a capacity of 24 + 1 people. With a flow rate of 144 people / hour, the journey time is 8 minutes.

The plant operates all year except for the months dedicated to maintenance, typically November and January. In the summer of 2018, following a successful test, evening openings were organized in which the cable car was, for the first time in its history, put into operation in the evening.

Monastery of Santa Maria in Valle Christi

The monastery of Santa Maria in Valle Christi was a Catholic place of worship located in the hamlet of San Massimo, in via San Massimo, in the municipality of Rapallo in the metropolitan city of Genoa. The former thirteenth-century monastic complex is included in the list of Italian national monuments; it is one of the few surviving examples of Gothic architecture in the whole Ligurian territory.

It was inserted in the list of Italian national monuments. It is one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Liguria, and in fact it almost seems to be in front of a Scottish monument even if, at the same time, the ruins are to define the circuit of a golf course in which it is mystically inserted.

The monastery has its roots in 1204, at the behest of two Genoese noblewomen who had the desire for a place of peace away from the struggles between the factions of Genoa. The abbey belonged first to the Cistercian nuns and then to the Poor Clares of Saint Augustine until, in the second half of the sixteenth century, it was deconsecrated and intended for residential and agricultural use.

The architecture, typical of the French Gothic with a single nave, is characterized by the high Romanesque bell tower with the octagonal spire. You can admire the scenic remains of the church consisting of the still intact flat-bottomed apse and the transept with its chapels. The conventual body, very decayed, was three floors and had to include a ground floor for agricultural use with cellars, pantry, kitchens, canteen and, on the upper floors, accommodation for 20-30 nuns, used both for dormitories and for environments of work and prayer.

The three sides of the convent factory and the body of the church closed, inside, a rectangular cloister with a portico with small columns of white marble, of which you can now see only the planimetric shape revealed by the remains of foundations and a well. Being a place full of atmosphere thanks to its Gothic style and its little sunny location, there is no shortage of stories and legends that see it as the protagonist, such as the one that tells of a nun madly in love with a shepherd, who, in violation of the rule of chastity, remained pregnant and for this she suffered the terrible punishment of being walled alive in a cell together with her newborn baby: for this reason, at night, one hears a poignant lament that rises from the stones of the ancient monastery.


Rapallo lace

Rapallo, the picturesque town of the Riviera di Levante in the province of Genoa, in addition to making Nietsche and Hemingway fall in love for the splendid landscape that sees it as a protagonist, brings on stage another beauty, that of lace, a story closely connected to the tradition and local culture in key female.

It all started around the 16th century when the women of Rapallo began to demonstrate that skilful dexterity by mending the nets used by the fishermen husbands, the first approach with the thread led them to the next step, to grab the tools of the trade for pastime, to garnish household linens such as sheets, linens and fabrics in spare time cuttings once the household chores are finished.

What was a family-sized business slowly took hold in the Rapallese social and economic context and it was thus that the embroiderers, honing their knowledge, gave life to what everyone knows as “Rapallo stitch lace”. To witness the great boom, one must wait for the arrival of the nineteenth century when the processing reached the period of maximum prosperity and splendor.

The Manifattura Zennaro was very successful and, founded in 1908, brought this art outside the Ligurian borders while the Ligurian Lace School was inaugurated in 1969.

Everything is in the hands of women: they are the ones who, with great skill and patience, work on cylindrical cushions the sheet with the lace design which is first hatched with ink on strips of cardboard and then proceed with the weaving. The famous “Punto Rapallo” is very well known and requires a large number of bobbins and is characterized by rounded reliefs while, as far as the texture is concerned, it is very dense with a seed or leaf shape.

In an exceptional setting such as Villa Tigullio, the doors open to the Lace Museum, a beautiful showcase where you can admire over 1,400 artifacts made between the 16th and 20th centuries. It is impossible not to notice the lace panel made on the design of the painter Lele Luzzati ready to tell the Commedia dell’Arte Italiana.

Beautiful to see and buy, Rapallo’s lace is tempting to all those who love to fill the house with beautiful things: the reference point is in Piazza Cavour, we are talking about a historic shop, opened since 1920 and managed by Emilio Gandolfi who, for three generations, has been carrying on the tradition of the art of lace, which is why his fame knows no geographical limits enough to have orders from every corner of the world.