Iron-clad doors return to Porta Piemonte and Porta Nizza

A few years ago my friend Delia and I were trying to figure out an innovative route for a self-guided circular walk around Ventimiglia Alta – a stroll that visitors could do alone, taking in some of the lesser known sites as well as the obvious ones like the cathedral and the other churches.

Delia had a brilliant idea: “Let’s join up the gates.” At that stage we didn’t even know how many there are. When we’d spread out our map and counted them up – there are eight – we easily linked them up into a walk which takes 2-3 hours at a leisurely pace. Being a circular itinerary it can start anywhere but as we wanted to have a Piazza Party to celebrate the creation of the idea, we made Porta Piemonte gateway number 1 because it is so near Piazza Colletta, or Piazza San Michele as it’s known locally.

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Two of the eight gateways in Ventimiglia Alta’s fortification wall still have their sturdy, iron-clad doors: Porta Nizza and Porta Piemonte. Last year these doors were taken away for restoration, thanks to the Lions Club of Ventimiglia. And this week they were brought back again to celebrate Lions Club Ventimiglia’s 50th birthday. Many happy returns Lions and Leos and keep up the good work.

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One of Porta Nizza’s double doors being unloaded – not a safety helmet in sight!

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One of Porta Piemonte’s doors – the iron cladding has been nailed down to prevent it from breaking away and the larchwood treated to prevent further deterioration. Considering this door is at least 500 years old and faces North it hasn’t done too badly. The other door in this pair couldn’t be repaired so a new one was made in the same style.

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Porta Piemonte – the gateway to Piedmont – or Porta San Michele to give it its original name, is a massive structure with a small guardhouse between its inner and outer walls. The gateway opens northwards onto the Roya Valley – in medieval times travellers to and from the regions of Italy north of the Alps, by way of the Strafurco Pass, would have left or arrived in the town this way.

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The gateway’s exterior appearance dates from the early 1800s and although it is quite stark, I love the photo below: the setting sun is just catching on the bell towers. I often think of weary travellers arriving in Ventimiglia in those days before cars and trains: some of them would have seen the sea for the first time that day, just as there’s a glimpse of it on the left of the photo.

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From afar Porta Piemonte (in the centre of the photo) looks rather forbidding, but once inside the wall, there’s a very welcome drinking fountain (dating from the 1500s).

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In the same way, since snow fell quite close to Ventimiglia last week, it made me think of how it can’t have been much fun trudging northwards in early winter in olden times.

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I took this photo just outside Porta Piemonte last week.

Ventimiglia’s celebration of the return of the doors on Saturday included the bishop’s blessing, succinct speeches, a guard of honour formed by ceremonial crossbow bearers, and drummers and  ceremonial flag throwers in medieval costume, as in the photos below.

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Notice the Bishop’s magenta skull cap in front of the banner, on the right. The doors were closed for a blessing and tape-cutting ceremony.

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Preparing to cut the tape at Porta Nizza and one of Ventimiglia’s champion flag throwers with five ceremonial flags on the go in Piazza San Michele. Breath taking!

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