Cervara Abbey was built in 1361 by Ottone Lanfranco, a priest at the church of Santo Stefano in Genoa, on land owned by the Carthusian monks. It was dedicated to St. Jerome.
Later, Pope Eugene IV transferred ownership of it to the Benedictines of Monte Cassino (c. 1420) and had it restored. The monastery became a center for the spread of Flemish artistic influence in Liguria, with works such as the Cervara Polyptych (1506), by Gerard David, and an Adoration of the Magi triptych by Pieter Coecke van Aelst.
The monastery was elevated to the rank of abbey in 1546. In the same period it was fortified in response to the increasing inroads made by North African pirates. In the late 18th century, after the French conquest of Italy, the abbey was suppressed and sacked. The precious Cervara polyptych was split up and sold separately. Four panels are now in the gallery of Palazzo Bianco in Genoa, while the other three are in Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
In 1804 French Trappists acquired the abbey and opened a school there, but they remained only until 1811. The complex subsequently became the property of the Diocese of Chiavari and, in 1859, was put up for sale. Marquis Giacomo Filippo Durazzo, a member of the Genoese nobility, acquired it in 1868; three years later he donated it to the Somaschi Fathers. From 1901 to 1937 the abbey was entrusted to the French Carthusians and in 1912 was declared a national monument.
The abbey is now privately owned, and is open to the public for cultural performances, concerts, and visits in small groups by appointment. Also private events are hosted indoors and in the gardens, such as weddings, business meetings, and conferences.
The abbey has a consecrated church, a 16th-century cloister, the tower, the main body of the building and a beautiful garden. The abbey was rebuilt for the first time in the 16th century, with more work in the apse, while during the 17th century were changed from the high altar and the choir. In the 18th century were added more decorations in marble and complete painting of the walls.
The church has a Latin cross plan, made by striking apse angle that simulates the bowed head of Christ. The columns separating the three naves appear to be built with blocks alternating slate and marble, in the typical architectural style of Liguria, are actually two colors of brick covered with plaster.
During the recent restoration work was discovered a burial which in all probability is the archbishop of Genoa Guido Scetten, poet and scholar, fellow student and friend of Petrarch.
The abbey's altarpiece, the Cervara Altarpiece, was painted by Gerard David in 1506 and commissioned by Vincenzo Sauli, a Genoese official and banker. The original work, now dismantled, is likely to have been a three-tier polyptych including depictions of the Virgin and Child, two patron saints, the crucifixion of Jesus with the Angel Gabriel and Annunciate Virgin to either side, and God the Father.
It is located at the entrance of the complex, opposite the entrance of the Church. It was built in the 16th century to defend against raids by Saracen pirates, and despite his sighting function has the distinction of being set back from the monastery, it is considered a sign of respect and subordination to the sacredness of it.
The cloister is quadrangular in shape and two orders of levels. The marble decoration dates from an 18th-century restoration.
What was once the garden of the Benedictine monks is now the only monumental Giardino all'italiana or Italian Renaissance style garden preserved in Italian Riviera. It is unique in that it directly faces the sea. The feeling is that of being on the prow of a ship on the promontory of Portofino, almost completely surrounded by the sight of the sea and coast, with the Gulf of Tigullio, and the inlets of Paraggi and Portofino.
The Italian garden is simple, linear, and proportionate. The Garden Monumental is created with hedges of boxwood and refined achievements of topiary cones and cones surrounding the 17th century marble fountain depicting a putto.
Around the garden and the main building, terraces and gardens alternate framed pergolas, columns painted or brick, rare plants and blooms that steal exceptional attention depending on the season. A shaded courtyard takes its name from a very old and monumental wisteria vine (Wisteria sinensis).
The monks' orchard has been preserved and enhanced with a collection of citrus trees. On the side facing the mountain, it has been kept a traditional vegetable garden where the monks since the Middle Ages grew the 'simple' (plant varieties with medicinal virtues), medicinal plants and herbs of the promontory of Portofino, low box hedges and particles alternating crops such rare species of citrus in terracotta pots, as was customary in monasteries.
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.