Vernazza is one of the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre region. Vernazza is the fourth town heading north, has no car traffic, and remains one of the truest 'fishing villages' on the Italian Riviera. It is the only natural port of Cinque Terre and is famous for its elegant houses.
The first records recognizing Vernazza as a fortified town date to 1080. Referred to as an active maritime base of the Obertenghi, a family of Italian nobility, it was a likely point of departure for naval forces in defence of pirates.
Over the next two centuries, Vernazza was vital in Genova's conquest of Liguria, providing port, fleet, and soldiers. In 1209, approximately 90 of the most powerful families of Vernazza pledged their allegiance to the republic of Genova.
The first documented presence of a church dates to 1251, with the parish of San Pietro cited in 1267. Reference to the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia of Vernazza occurs in 1318. Some scholars are of the opinion, due to the use of materials and mode of construction, that the actual creation of the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia took place earlier, some time in the 12th century. The Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia was expanded upon and renovated over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, and thereafter was erected the octagonal bell tower that rises from the apse.
In the 15th century, Vernazza focused its defence against the dreadful and regularly occurring pirate raids, erecting a fortifying wall. In the mid-17th century, like many of the Cinque Terre villages, Vernazza suffered a period of decline that negatively affected wine production, and prolonged the construction of the trail system and harbour molo (mole constructed to protect against heavy seas).
In the 19th century, after a long period of stagnation, Vernazza returned to wine production, enlarging and creating new terraced hillsides. The result was a revitalisation of Vernazza's commerce. Also at this time, the construction of the Genoa–La Spezia rail line began, putting an end to Vernazza's long isolation. The population of Vernazza increased by 60% as a result. Meanwhile, the construction of La Spezia's naval base also proved important to Vernazza in providing employment for many members of the community.
With the arrival of the 20th century, Vernazza experienced a wave of emigration as working the land was viewed as dangerous and the cause of disease, and the ability to further exploit agriculture diminished.
In 1997, the Cinque Terre was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and in 1999 the National Park of the Cinque Terre was created. Today the main source of revenue for Vernazza is tourism. However, as a testimony to the strength of centuries-old tradition, fishing, wine and olive oil production still continue.References:
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.