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.

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Founded: 11th century
Category: Historic city squares, old towns and villages in Italy

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Lorca Castle

Castle of Lorca (Castillo de Lorca) is a fortress of medieval origin constructed between the 9th and 15th centuries. It consists of a series of defensive structures that, during the Middle Ages, made the town and the fortress an impregnable point in the southeast part of the Iberian Peninsula. Lorca Castle was a key strategic point of contention between Christians and Muslims during the Reconquista.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the site of the castle has been inhabited since Neolithic times.

Muslim Era

It has not been determined exactly when a castle or fortress was first built on the hill. The first written documentation referring to a castle at Lorca is of Muslim origin, which in the 9th century, indicates that the city of Lurqa was an important town in the area ruled by Theudimer (Tudmir). During Muslim rule, Lorca Castle was an impregnable fortress and its interior was divided into two sections by the Espaldón Wall. In the western part, there was an area used to protect livestock and grain in times of danger. The eastern part had a neighbourhood called the barrio de Alcalá.

After Reconquista

Lorca was conquered by the Castilian Infante Don Alfonso, the future Alfonso X, in 1244, and the fortress became a key defensive point against the Kingdom of Granada. For 250 years, Lorca Castle was a watchpoint on the border between the Christian kingdom of Murcia and the Muslim state of Granada.

Alfonso X ordered the construction of the towers known as the Alfonsina and Espolón Towers, and strengthened and fixed the walls. Hardly a trace of the Muslim fortress remained due to this reconstruction. Muslim traces remain in the foundation stones and the wall known as the muro del Espaldón.

The Jewish Quarter was found within the alcazaba, the Moorish fortification, separated from the rest of the city by its walls. The physical separation had the purpose of protecting the Jewish people in the town from harm, but also had the result of keeping Christians and Jews separate, with the Christians inhabiting the lower part of town.

The remains of the Jewish Quarter extended over an area of 5,700 square m, and 12 homes and a synagogue have been found; the synagogue dates from the 14th century and is the only one found in the Murcia. The streets of the town had an irregular layout, adapted to the landscape, and is divided into four terraces. The synagogue was in the central location, and around it were the homes. The homes were of rectangular shape, with various compartmentalized rooms. The living quarters were elevated and a common feature was benches attached to the walls, kitchens, stand for earthenware jars, or cupboards.

Modern history

With the disappearance of the frontier after the conquest of Granada in 1492, Lorca Castle no longer became as important as before. With the expulsion of the Jews by order of Ferdinand and Isabella, Lorca Castle was also depopulated as a result. The castle was abandoned completely, and was almost a complete ruin by the 18th century. In the 19th century, the castle was refurbished due to the War of Spanish Independence. The walls and structures were repaired or modified and its medieval look changed. A battery of cannons was installed, for example, during this time. In 1931 Lorca Castle was declared a National Historic Monument.

Currently, a parador (luxury hotel) has been built within the castle. As a result, archaeological discoveries have been found, including the Jewish Quarter.