"THERE IS NOTHING IN ITALY MORE BEAUTIFUL TO ME"

CHARLES DICKENS HAD MET GIUSEPPE MAZZINI THE ITALIAN REVOLUTIONARY EXILED IN LONDON. HE HELPED FUND MAZZINI'S SCHOOL FOR POOR CHILDREN OF FAMILIES THAT HAD FLED THE AUSTRIAN CRACK-DOWNS IN ITALY OF THE 1830S UPRISINGS.

AFTER SUCCESS FROM PICKWICK PAPERS, OLIVER TWIST, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY AND AN AMERICAN TOUR DICKENS FINALLY WENT TO ITALY IN 1844 AT AGE 32. HE PUBLISHED A BOOK ABOUT HIS TRIP: 'PICTURES FROM ITALY' WHICH HE HAD ILLUSTRATED BY SAMUEL PALMER!

DICKENS TRAVELLED THROUGH FRANCE TO PROVENCE AND THENCE TO GENOVA, THE BIRTHPLACE OF MAZZINI. 

OF OUR PART OF THE LIGURIAN COAST DICKENS WROTE "THERE IS NOTHING IN ITALY, MORE BEAUTIFUL TO ME, THAN THE COAST-ROAD BETWEEN GENOA AND SPEZIA".

SO WHAT'S THE HISTORY OF THE CINQUE TERRE?

AFTER THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE THE LIGURIAN COAST WAS TERRORISED BY SARACENS FROM NORTH AFRICA WHO LOOTED AND AND CAPTURED LOCALS AS SLAVES. GENOVA WAS ONE OF THE 4 ITALIAN MARITIME REPUBLICS (ALONG WITH PISA, AMALFI AND VENICE) THAT FOUGHT IN THE 11TH CENTURY CRUSADES THAT ALSO SUPRESSED SARACENS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN.

ONCE THE COAST WAS SAFE FROM SARACENS, SOME INHABITANTS OF THE MOUNTAINS MOVED DOWN TO THE COAST AND BUILT THE TOWNS OF THE CINQUE TERRE. THEY TERRACED THE MOUNTAINS TO GROW FOOD AND LEARNED HOW TO FISH. THANKS TO THE UNIQUE SEA AND MOUNTAIN MICROCLIMATE AND THE HARD WORK OF THE LOCALS BY THE 14TH CENTURY THE WINE OF THE MONTEROSSO AND CORNIGLIA WERE PRIZED ENOUGH TO BE MENTIONED BY PETRARCH AND BOCCACCIO.

THE COAST WAS DISPUTED BETWEEN THE REPUBLICS OF PISA AND GENOVA, AT LENGTH THE COAST NORTH FROM LA SPEZIA SIDED WITH GENOVA. the fortunes of liguria followed those of the republic of genova which declined somewhat from the 18th century, through the napoleonic era up to the unification of italy.

1850-53ish view of the port of genova by ippolito caffi. VENETIAN caffi fought against the austrians in the 1848 'first italian war of independence'. he was taken prisoner, escaped and went into exile, partially in genova. he made a good living painting views as souvenirs for visitors.

1850-53ish view of the port of genova by ippolito caffi. VENETIAN caffi fought against the austrians in the 1848 'first italian war of independence'. he was taken prisoner, escaped and went into exile, partially in genova. he made a good living painting views as souvenirs for visitors.

genova was a SETTING-OFF POINT for 18th and 19th century grand tourists who TRAVELLED by sea to livorno in order to get to Rome. visitors record hiring 'a felucca' and sailing down the spectacular coastline, past the cinque terre, which were tiny picturesque villages. a felucca is an exotic name for what we call a 'gozzo' with a lateen sail. WE STILL USE THEM TODAY BUT USUALLY WITH AN OUTBOARD MOTOR!

THE CINQUE TERRE REMAINED ISOLATED EXCEPT BY SEA UNTIL THE COMPLETION IN 1874 OF THE RAIL LINE FROM SESTRI-LEVANTE TO LA SPEZIA. IT WAS A SINGLE TRACK FOLLOWING THE PRECIPITOUS COASTLINE THROUGH 51 TUNNELS. IT IS FROM THIS TIME THAT SOME OF THE LARGER LIGURIAN VILLAGES BECAME RESORTS FOR WEALTHY TORINESE, MILANESE (AND LOCALS) WHO BUILT ZANY FIN-DE-SIECLE FANTASIES ON PROMONTORIES. THE CINQUE TERRE REMAINED QUIET HOWEVER: TOO SMALL AND TOO REMOTE FOR TOURISM.

IT WASN'T UNTIL THE 1990S THAT THE CINQUE TERRE WERE WIDELY DISCOVERED BY VISITORS SEEKING SPECTACULAR HIKING IN A UNIQUE SYNTHESIS OF WILD NATURE AND HUMAN INGENUITY. IN 1997 UNESCO INCLUDED IT IN ITS WORLD HERITAGE LIST, DESCRIBING IT THUS: 'The Ligurian coast between Cinque Terre and Portovenere is a cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value. The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, overcoming the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain, encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium.'