Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Real Italy: Rapallo

Rapallo is a beautiful tourist seaside resort. Since the last century it has been considered a fashionable holiday centre where a lot of people like to spend the coldest part of winter thanks to its mild climate. However, it is a busy town all year round.

Distance from GENOVA, nearest big city: 33 km
Altitude: 2 meters above sea level
Nearest airport: GENOVA
Train connections: easily accessible from GENOVA and LIVORNO
Zip code: 16035
Telephone: dial +39.185 before the number you want to call

The town of Rapallo has ancient origins. The first news about it can be dated back to 1240. In that period Rapallo was a Medieval village surrounded by town walls with five gates. It became a Comune in the XII century, but its autonomy lasted for a short period only. In fact in 1229 it began to be ruled by the nearby Genova until 1797 when it became part of Savoy. During the past centuries the pirates sacked Rapallo many times. For this reason, the Castle was built in 1551, after a particularly heavy raid in 1549. Today Rapallo is an important seaside resort and has some small shipyards and maritime engines factories. You must start your visit in Rapallo on the promenade, where, walking among palm and olive-trees, you can enjoy a wonderful view of the whole bay. Facing the town, you see the beautiful coloured buildings housing caffes, hotels and restaurants, while on the other side is the sea, the Castle and the port. The busy tourist port is at the west end of the promenade. The ancient Castle, instead, is at the other end.

The Castle

A few metres from the shore, surrounded by water, is the Castle built in 1551. It was designed by Mastro Antonio Carabo to protect the town from the raids of fierce pirates, who ransacked Rapallo in 1549. Its structure was intended to suit the use of firearms, which were beginning to replace traditional weapons at that time. Originally it had two floors. On the lower floor were the dungeons, while on the upper one was a firing square. It was built entirely in stone with walls that were over two metres thick. Its only external openings were meant for the cannons in all four directions. At the beginning of the XVII century a new floor was added, which served as a new firing square. A tower was also built with ornamental battlements without embrasures. Shortly afterwards a small apartment was built for the 'Captain of Rapallo'. When the Castle was no longer needed for defence it was converted for civil use. It was finally restored in 1964 and today it houses temporary exhibitions. Walking on along the promenade past the wharves, you get to Villa Porticciolo and Casale Park.

Villa Porticciolo and Villa Casale are two beautiful villas amid the nature of Casale Park. From the middle of the XVII century Villa Porticciolo belonged to several well-off families, untill Countess Maria Casale, its last owner, gave both the building and the park to the town of Rapallo. Villa Casale was built by the Spinolas in the XVII century. It has been owned by the town of Rapallo since 1974 and now houses the International Library and the 'Museo del Pizzo e del Tombolo' (the Lace Museum) created to preserve several beautiful examples of local handicrafts. The most interesting pieces come from the private collection of Mario Zennaro, who donated its collection to the town of Rapallo in 1968.

On the way back to the town centre from the park, you can see the long porch of the Oratorio delle Clarisse. It was started in 1633, but it was opened only in 1691. After the nuns left it in 1902, it became the property of the town of Rapallo, which converted it into a theatre where most of the important local events take place. Walking through the arch of the porch of the Oratorio and down a narrow street, you arrive in front of the Church of San Francesco.

Church of San Francesco

It was built in 1519, together with the convent next door. Its parvis is very particular because it is made with white and black cobble-stones following Ligurian tradition. Inside, the church contains a notable wooden Christ by Anton Maria Maragliano, an important XVII century sculptor, whose works are to be found in many churches on the Italian Riviera. Some of them are now also in other European countries and America.

The town-hall is connected to the monumental complex of the Church of Santo Stefano, the Civic Tower and the Oratorio dei Bianchi. Once the building was used to house the Hospital of Sant’Antonio, abandoned in the XV century because of frequent floods. Near the Town Hall is the Oratorio dei Bianchi, which contains an altar made of black marble, besides a painting made in the XVIII century by the Cambiaso school and a precious XVIII century organ. The Civic Tower was erected in 1473. In 1581 it was heightened and the clock was moved to where you see it now.

The Church of Santo Stefano, the first parish church in Rapallo, is the oldest building in town. It was built before the XI century, but the first news about it can be dated back to 1155 when a new parish church, dedicated to St. Gervasio and Protasio, was erected.

The Church of 'Santi Gervasio e Protasio'

This building, standing in Corso Italia, was erected in the XI century and renewed in the following century. Finally, in 1606 it acquired its present structure. The bell-tower was erected in the XVIII century and the facade can be dated back to 1857.

Inside, notable paintings are can be seen: there is a 'Miracle of St. Biagio' by Domenico Fiasella and a 'Deposition' attributed to Luca Cambiaso. Following Corso Italia, you arrive in Piazza Cavour where Via Venezia, Via Mazzini and Via Marsala begin. This is the centre of historical Rapallo. Here was the Medieval village, whose first news can be dated back to 1240. It used to be accessible through five gates, of which only one still survives: Porta delle Saline, giving onto the road to Santa Margherita.

From Rapallo you can take a boat to Santa Margherita, San Fruttuoso, Portofino, Chiavari and Lavagna and experience the unique beauty of the Gulf of Tigullio. Alternatively, you can walk to the Sanctuary of Madonna di Montallegro, founded in 1557. It is 612 metres above sea level. For this reason, the scenery is absolutely marvellous. If you are afraid the walk may be too tiring for you, you can take a cable car. The town of Rapallo is surrounded by the wonderfully blue Mediterranean Sea, the hills behind and Casale Park.

Casale Park is on the east side of the gulf of Rapallo. You can arrive here following the promenade beyond the Castle. The lower part of the park is equipped with some small huts, a pond, a locomotive and also a small wooden fort for smaller children. It is really a lovely place where kids can have a great time. Walking on in the shade of secular trees, you arrive at Villa Casale. From the terrace right on the cliff you will have a breathtaking view of the gulf and the town. It is really a peaceful place where you can relax yourselves.

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