CINQUE TERRE — Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the first of the Cinque Terre Villages as you come from the direction of La Spezia. The origins of Riomaggiore can be traced back to the 8th century when the inhabitants of the Vara Valley were searching for a place with a milder climate so they could grow their grapes and olive trees without worrying about pirate raids. In 1250 all the population along the coast of Casen, Cacinagora, Saricò and Lemen decided to join together and form Riomaggiore. The town is named after the stream, Rivus Mayor which still flows today under the main road.

The town of Riomaggiore is nestled between two steep hills that are covered in vineyards and the area is famous for its white wines especially the sweet wine known as ‘Sciacchetrà’. There is a small harbour and port where you can catch the ferry boat that takes you to the other villages in the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore has a small beach — Fossola Beach which can be reached by climbing some stairs found on the south side of the harbour. This is a great place to see a beautiful sunset.

The sights found here are:
Torre Guardiola
Castle of Riomaggiore
Church of St Giovanni Battista
Church of the Confraternita dell’Assunta
The Oratory of San Rocco
The Tower Houses of Riomaggiore
The Sanctuary of our Lady of Montenero

Torre Guardiola

Torre Guardiola
The promontory which overlooks the town is where a former fortress was found but is now a natural park for birdwatchers. This is one of the best lookout spots in town. Here also is the Environmental Education Centre of Torre Guardiola which organises events for nature lovers of all ages including an open-air workshop for creative writing. To reach this area you follow the path that starts in between the beach and the port.

Castle of Riomaggiore

Castle of Riomaggiore
You can reach the Castle of Riomaggiore by climbing the steep road from the railway station. Work on this fortification began in 1260 by the Marquis Turcotti, who was the owner of this area at the time. He them sold his property to Niccolò Fieschi who then passed it on to the city of Genoa in 1276. The castle has a square base with the longest sides overlooking the sea. The outer wall has two circular towers with the entrance located between them. A narrow external staircase leads up to the tower where there is a large clock. Over time the castle has been renovated and until few years ago it housed the town cemetery. The castle on a hill divides the two little valleys of Rio Maggire and Rio Finale and from here you get a panoramic view.

Church of St Giovanni Battista

Church of St Giovanni Battista
This church is found in the highest part of the town. It was built in 1340 in the Gothic style by the Bishop of Luni, Antonio Fieschi. The interior of the church is divided into two side aisles and a nave. Highlights of the interior include a beautiful wooden crucifix as well as an organ dating from 1851. On Corpus Domini (sixty days after Easter) there is a procession from the church down to the sea where there is a boat with an altar on it and a mass is conducted here.

Traveller's Tip

Outside of the church is a lovely square offering beautiful views of the town and the sea. It is very popular on Saturday evening with the locals where they socialise and children play games. On any other evening it is a great place to come and watch the lights of the town.
Church of the Confraternita dell’Assunta

Church of the Confraternita dell’Assunta
The Church of the Confraternita dell’Assunta is a 16th century Oratory of the Disciplinati. In its facade is a marble cornerstone dated 1476. Inside the church is a 15th century triptych of a Madonna with Child found between St Giovanni and St Domenico. There is also a wooden statue of the Madonna of the Chains.

The Oratory of San Rocco

The Oratory of San Rocco
The Oratory is found next to the castle, on the hill of Cerricò. It was built in 1480 after a plague and there is a carving of St Rocco which shows him having the disease. Inside the Oratory there is a triptych representing the Madonna with the Child and Saints.

The Tower Houses of Riomaggiore

The Tower Houses of Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is characterised by the typical medieval type of narrow tower-houses called case torri which have coloured facades and slate roofs. They are higher than they are wide and are organised into parallel rows with narrow winding alleyways, archways and stairs in between. This pattern of housing creates light and shadow effects that have enchanted many artists including the Florentine painter, Telemaco Signorini, and was the subject of some of his paintings. This type of tower-house has an entrance both from the main front entrance and from the back of the house at the level of the higher road. In ancient times this guaranteed an escape route in case of attacks. The finest examples of the tower-houses can be found on the way down towards the boat harbour.

The Sanctuary of our Lady of Montenero

The Sanctuary of our Lady of Montenero
The first mention of this Sanctuary is in 1335. Over time it has had various renovations with major ones in 1740 and 1847. The interior of the Sanctuary as it is today consists of three aisles and there is a 18th century fresco by the artist, Battaglia. There is a legend attached to this Sanctuary where a precious Byzantine icon was hidden to save it from an invasion by the Longobards of King Rotari. When it was found again, a spring suddenly gushed water and so the Sanctuary was built where this was supposed to have happened. There is a path taking you from the top of Riomaggiore up to the Sanctuary. It takes around 45min to get there but you will be rewarded by the incredible view that you get when you arrive over the Cinque Terre.