Category Archives: Ventimiglia Alta and surroundings

Posts in this category are inspired by my home in Ventimiglia Alta, the medieval suburb of Ventimiglia on the Ligurian coast in North-west Italy.

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!

Holy Stairs and a gateway to nowhere

Of Ventimiglia Alta’s eight town gateways the only one that can’t actually be walked through today is the Porta del Ciòussu. The word ciòussu derives from ciòuxe, a Ligurian dialect word meaning enclosure, since this was once the gateway to an area inside the walls, leading to number of vegetable gardens which helped the town survive when it was under siege. Originally the area was a very steep-sided ravine: in order to cultivate the area, it was terraced with  a series of dry stone walls which are often around two metres high and linked by stone steps and ramps.

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The green Ciòussu area and the gateway in the mid-ground

The Ciòussu is in fact still Ventimiglia Alta’s green heart: a number of vegetable gardens and orchards thrive there. A natural spring in a cleft in the rock provides a good supply of irrigation water for three of these gardens, so it is a haven for frogs too.

Last blog post I showed you my vegetable garden: it is situated on the shady north-facing side of the Ciòussu. Along our garden’s northern boundary there’s a steep drop down onto a completely overgrown pathway that passes under the archway of the Ciòussu Gateway. below are two views of the Ciòussu gateway taken from the vegetable garden.

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Although it’s impossible to walk along the pathway nowadays you can get a great view of the gateway from La Scala Santa – a stepped walkway attached to the town’s main fortification wall on the sunny, south-facing side of the Ciòussu.

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The gateway dates from the 13th century. Of the eight gateways, this is the only one that still has the original simple but elegant, rounded archway. The pathway that it guarded led from the river – where at that time a lake-like area had formed that was used as a sort of river-port –  to the northern area of Ventimiglia Alta in Via Piemonte where the main focus of activity would have been around San Michele church, built in the 10th century, and Porta Piemonte gateway, which opened onto the main route inland to northern Italy.

Access to the lower end of  La Scala Santa is from the Borgo area at the foot of Ventimiglia Alta, near the river. Walk along in front of the shops and turn into Vico Molino. This leads to the Scala Santa. There’s a gateway on your left just before you come to the steps – this is where you would have turned to take the path through the Ciòussu and up into the town. About half way up the steps you can see the Ciòussu gateway very clearly, and looking straight down you can admire a small cactus and succulent nursery.  

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Under this archway and to the left, a gate bars access to the heavily overgrown Ciòussu pathway. This archway in the town’s fortification wall is where Vico Molino meets La Scala Santa.

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The Scala Santa with San Michele church’s fortified bell tower on the skyline.

 La Scala Santa, meaning The Holy Stairs, probably gets its name from being a route for pilgrims to reach San Michele church. At the top of the steps, more vegetable gardens line the path on one side and on the other side doors and gates in a stone wall open into private homes and their gardens.

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The E Foltzer Touring Oil sign dates from the 1920s and is incorporated in a hedge in the Scala Santa, while the street sign is entangled in a network of ivy.

The two views below were taken from the top of the Ciòussu area, looking down to where the pathway would have been (photo on left) and looking through the archway under the houses in Via Piemonte where the pathway would have reached the town (photo on right).

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Goodbye summer in the vegetable garden

During October as the autumn sun passes lower and lower behind the houses in Piazza Rocchetta the piece of land where my friend Delia and I have our vegetable garden gets less and less sun, until by the middle of November the entire plot is in the shade – and it will stay that way until early February.

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This fantastic rim of ancient houses is the back drop to our vegetable garden and a total sun screen during winter.

Before the sun has gone completely we pick the last of the tomatoes and make a tangy green tomato and ginger chutney – a treat with cold meats or with cheese. The recipe is never twice the same but the general idea is this:

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The ingredients assembled in the photos are for double the recipe – 2kg tomatoes

1 kilo or 5-6 cups of finely chopped green tomatoes

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup sultanas which you have soaked overnight in strong tea or spirits of your choice – rum, whisky, tequila, limoncello …

1.5 cups sugar,

600ml vinegar

A good handful at least of finely chopped or grated fresh ginger

1-2 teaspoons of ground chili pepper.

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When all the ingredients are ready put them together in a large saucepan and boil gently for as long as it takes for the mixture to become thick enough for you to see the bottom of the pan when you run the wooden spoon through the mixture from the side of the pan towards the centre.

Spoon into hot jars and leave to cool wrapped in a blanket.

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Meanwhile, in the vegetable garden it’s time to take down the tomato stakes and cover the beds for the winter. To one side of the plot we have various brassicas, some artichokes and some lettuces. In a raised bed near the warmest edge of the garden we’ve planted leeks. This is where the very last of the sun can still get through the gaps between the houses until about the 10th of November, and where in February the first rays of early spring will appear. Some of the young leeks have been squashed by a visiting cat deciding to take its siesta on them. Hopefully the rest will do well.

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Brassicas, lettuce, leeks

Over the embers of last Saturday’s barbecue lunch we roasted the final picking of red chilli peppers. Cleaning the seeds out of them is quite a messy task but when it’s done and the chillies have been reduced to a paste in the food processor, we freeze the paste in teaspoon-sized portions – enough to really liven up our winter dishes. (Other previously picked chilli peppers are already drying at home – they will be ground later on, to use in our sauces and chutneys.)

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Two ways of dealing with chilli peppers

recycled building material and a saint with a broom

 

Wherever the Romans built a settlement it was inevitable that when the empire crumbled those constructions became a ready source of material for early Christian buildings. This happened in Ventimiglia. Massive stone blocks and columns were hauled a good two kilometres away from Albintimilium (the Roman settlement in the east of what was to become Ventimiglia) across the river and up the hill to be used in the building of present day Ventimiglia Alta. The same occurred in Frejus. Here, recycling building materials from the Roman arena and theatre was certainly much easier than in Ventimiglia as the terrain is quite flat. There was no river to cross or hill to conquer in order to construct the town’s 5th century baptistery and its first cathedral. As in Ventimiglia, Frejus’s baptistery is octagonal, although unlike Ventimiglia’s, it sits on a square base.

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Ventimiglia Alta’s octagonal baptistery on the left and the one at Fréjus on the right next to the Cathedral.

Outside and in the baptistery and adjoining cathedral and cloister glow with warmth as they are constructed in deep red volcanic stone from the Massif de l’Esterel – one of the oldest land masses in Europe.

In early Christian times, baptisms were by full immersion. The unbaptized person entered the baptistery from outside through a small, low doorway. They undressed and entered the font, protected from view by a curtain which hung from pillars around the font. After the baptism they entered the cathedral directly through a much wider and taller door. The wrought iron door that we use today is a recent opening. The full immersion font, which was originally lined with marble, is no longer used.

Only one of the pillars that held up the curtain around the baptismal font remains.

Only one of the pillars that held up the curtain around the baptismal font remains.

The baptistery stonework is nearly all original.

The baptistery stonework is nearly all original.

While the baptistery has remained almost entirely as it was when it was built in the 5th century, the Saint Léonce Cathedral has undergone numerous changes. Very little remains of the original construction: most of what we can see today dates from when the town was rebuilt between the 11th and 14th centuries after it had been destroyed Saracen pirates. The cathedral is in fact made up of two churches: the original Notre Dame cathedral and the adjoining Saint Etienne parish church: these were made into one in the 13th century.

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I was intrigued by this statue standing quite high up in a corner of the cathedral: it’s the first time I’ve seen a female saint with a broom and a demon. In fact there’s something of a contradiction between the domesticity of the broom and her warrior-like domination of the demon. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems from my book of saints and their attributes that this must be Saint Martha of Bethany. She’s the one who was a close friend of Jesus’s: he rebuked her for doing housework while he preached. And the demon must be the man-eating Tarasque – it supposedly lived in the woods along the banks of the Rhone between Arles and Avignon, so not all that far from Frejus. Martha is said to have come to Provence to preach and to have tamed the Tarasque by sprinkling it with holy water.

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The cloister and a reproduction of one of the strange paintings in the wooden ceiling

Unlike a convent or monastery cloister which was usually for the exclusive use of the nuns and monks, Frejus’s bishops opened the cathedral cloister to the public as a place for meeting and contemplation, and apparently as a way of showing off their wealth! In the 1300s an upper gallery was added around the cloister. The ceiling of the main gallery was covered with 1,200 larch wood panels painted variously with pictures of religious figures, scenes from everyday life and a fantastic range of bizarre creatures such as beasts that are part man, part animal; or part animal, part bird. There is no real explanation for these strange drawings and sadly only 300 of them remain.

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Six of the original ceiling panels

A very strange creature on the catherdral facade.

A very strange creature on the catherdral facade.

A shop near the cathedral - they may well be mopping their brows but at least the lentel is resting on cushions

A shop near the cathedral – they may well have head aches even if the lintel is resting on cushions!

 

 

Roman Frejus

A Roman soldier or a medieval nun: it’s hard for me to imagine which of them I would rather – or rather not – have been. However, according to a psychic friend of mine, I’ve been both in my past lives. Perhaps this explains why I feel so at home in Ventimiglia Alta. For the same reason a perfect day out is a trip to Frejus, which like Ventimiglia lies along the Via Iulia Augusta – the Roman Empire’s east-west highway. Situated in the south of France about 120 kilometres west of Ventimiglia, Frejus was a purpose-built Roman settlement, founded by Julius Caesar in 49 BC. In fact the town’s name derives from the Latin Forum Iulii or Julius’s Forum. In this respect Frejus differed from Ventimiglia which wasn’t a purpose-built town – the colonists simply took over and expanded an existing settlement inhabited by the Intemeli, a native Ligurian tribe. As the Roman Empire expanded, coastal Frejus gained a significant river port and ship building yards: many of the galleys which sailed to Actium against Anthony and Cleopatra were built here. The port and canals which linked it to the open sea have long since silted up as Frejus was built on a low plateau in the Argens River valley between the Massif de l’Esterel and Massif des Maures mountains: the town is now a good three kilometres from the sea and surrounded by extremely fertile agricultural land.

two views of a scale model of Roman Fréjus, showing the river canal and just how close the town was to the coast 2000 years ago.

  two views of a scale model of Roman Fréjus, showing the river canal and just how close the town was to the coast 2000 years ago.

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The Roman constructions which have survived the last 2,000 years are not only reminders of everyday life in one of the empire’s military outposts: they are also a thought provoking commentary on how such constructions can be adapted to fulfil a role in modern times.

The aqueduct brought the Roman town’s water supply from about 50 kilometres away – below are some of the remaining pillars and an arch – the channel through which the water flowed is visible at the top of each pillar. As with the other Roman constructions in Frejus, the aqueduct was built using the  reddish-brown volcanic rock from the nearby Massif de l’Esterel.

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The fourth photo of the aqueduct above is a fresco in the Archeological Museum, showing some of the joined up arches. The aqueduct is also clearly visible in the bottom left of the second photo of the model of Fréjus above,

The easy-on-the-eye perforated steel seating tiers which have been put up inside the Roman theatre are arguably an ideal way to keep this ancient space in use for putting on shows and performances, while at the same time respecting the Roman construction. The modern seating is completely detached from the original stonework which dates from the 1st century AD: wandering around between the new seating and the old it is still possible to capture an idea of how the theatre would have been 2,000 years ago. The column on the left of the second photo is where the original stage area would have begun. The theatre is clearly visible in the photo of the model of Fréjus.

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In creating an entertainment venue in the Roman arena – rock concerts and bull fights are held here – vast amounts of concrete have very recently been poured directly onto the ancient stonework. The arena, which seated around 10,000 in Roman times, had over the centuries been reduced to about half its original height, although the complete elliptical shape had remained intact. By building the walls back up again to their full height with concrete and edging the seating structure in corrugated roofing, the millenniums-old, warm, red stonework has been dwarfed into sorrowful insignificance. Only a colour photo in one of the corridors reminds us of what a beautiful construction and tribute to Roman builders this was, until about 5 years ago.

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Many thanks to Fabio and Daniela, Ventimiglia’s Archeological Museum, the International Institute of Ligurian Studies – Intemelia section, and all who organised this wonderful day trip to Fréjus, and to the staff of the museum and sites in Fréjus who welcomed us. Many thanks too to the young bus driver who coped so well with Ventimiglia’s difficult traffic system.

 

The Tenda connection

When autumn comes here in Ventimiglia we barely even notice it: palms, prickly pears, agave and  olives trees are hardly known for their autumn colours! But higher up the Roya Valley, October sees the deciduous vegetation turn stunning shades of gold, amber and red. Wherever you look patches of colour light up the mountain sides, scattered among the rocks and scree slopes. In October 1977, on my first trip to northern Italy, I drove through France to Nice, over the border to Ventimiglia and then up the Roya Valley, en route to Turin. I was enchanted then by those vibrant autumn colours – a sight I have never forgotten, and I always enjoy returning to the upper reaches of the valley at the same time of year.

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The road and railway line out of Ventimiglia follow the river north into the Alps, past the villages of Airole and Olivetta-San Michele and then cross the border into France. The first French village is Breil sur Roya, followed by Fontan, Saorge, and St Dalmas de Tende: each with its own particular charm, architectural gems and variegated history such as can only be found along an international border which has been redrawn and redrawn again several times over the last thousand years. Finally, before tunnelling under the Tenda Pass back into Italy, road and rail reach the small mountain town of Tende (its French name) or Tenda in Italian.

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Although nearly 50 kilometres apart, the history of Ventimiglia and Tenda are closely linked. Until the mid-13th century the Counts of Ventimiglia ruled a vast territory which extended in a wide swathe all the way from the coast to Tenda and beyond to the northern slopes of the Alps. However in 1249 the Republic of Genoa took over the Counts’ southern strongholds, including Ventimiglia, and Tenda become their central settlement. In 1261 Count William Peter I of Ventimiglia married Eudoxia Lascaris, the 13-year-old daughter of Theodore II, the Emperor of Byzantium. With a view to their offspring one day being able to claim their right to the Byzantium throne, Count William Peter and Eudoxia founded a new branch of his family: the Lascaris of Ventimiglia and Tenda.

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Their castle in Tenda must have been massive, judging by the single watchtower (now a clock tower!) which remains along with a lone, precariously tall and narrow slither of stonework, pointing skywards above the town.

All that remains of Tenda's castle.

All that remains of Tenda’s castle.

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The images above show a doorway adorned with a giant thistle flower (left) and on the right, one of the town gates with the Annonciade Chapel of the White Penitents. The chapel, in a former  guard house, was decorated in the 15th century with a number of beautiful frescoes.

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Beatrice Lascaris of Tenda was born in Tenda in 1372. She was put to death by her second husband on a false charge of adultery in 1418,  and is remembered here in the name of this alley.

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Saint Michel Church features paintings  with views of Tenda as their background. On the left Jacob dreans of angels going up and down a ladder – a typical stepped alleyway – and on the right Saint Christopher carries Christ across the Roya River.

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Tenda’s museum highlights the Bronze Age rock engravings in the Mercantour National Park

All steamed up about the Ventimiglia-Cuneo rail link

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There’s something about a steam engine that brings out the kid in a lot of us and if we’re regular train users as well, rumours that one of our favourite rail links is in danger of closure really gets us protesting. Combine the two and a great day out is a certainty. The railway line that runs for almost 100 kilometres, north up the Roya River Valley from coastal Ventimiglia, via Breil sur Roya, Tenda and Limone to Cuneo in southern Piemonte passes through spectacular, mountainous terrain.

Saorge - clinging precariously to the mountainside

Saorge – clinging precariously to the mountainside

It lifts passengers from sea level to an altitude of 1,040 metres, over almost 400 bridges and viaducts and through 81 tunnels, four of which spiral around inside the mountains. It is the only railway line in Europe that conquers such steep gradients with regular gauge tracks rather than narrow gauge or cog-rail. In spite of all this, it is not only a scenic, touristic feature – it is a life line to the people who live along its route.

Coming out of the Berghe spiral tunnel, the Scarassoui Viaduct over Highway20 is 70 metres below. This bridge replaced the original one which was destroyed during World War II

Coming out of the Berghe spiral tunnel, the Scarassoui Viaduct over Highway20 is 70 metres below. This bridge replaced the original one which was destroyed during World War II.

The story of its construction reads in many respects like the last 160 years in the history of western Italy and neighbouring southeastern France. Train travel was still a novelty in the mid1850s when the idea was first put forward for a railway line running from Turin, the capital of the Kingdom of Savoy, south across the plains to Cuneo and from there up the Vermenagna valley, through the Maritime Alps and down to Nice, which at that time was still part of the Kingdom of Savoy. In 1860 the border between France and Italy was redrawn: Nice became part of France with the new border just a few kilometres west of Ventimiglia. Around the same time the kingdoms, dukedoms and states which had until then populated the Italian peninsular were united as the Kingdom of Italy. Nice lost its importance for Italy  so the new rail route (still on the drawing board) was redirected through Cuneo to Ventimiglia. The first short section of the line, to the outskirts of Turin, was inaugurated in 1848 and by 1870 it had reached Cuneo relatively easily across fairly flat, open country. From Cuneo the need for tunnels and bridges to negotiate the Alps all the way to the coast slowed progress down: another 21 years to 1891, to cover 30 more kilometres to Limone and a further 22 years to tunnel 8.1 kilometres through the highest point in the mountains – the Col di Tenda – and to descend another 10 kilometres to Tenda, the first small town on the southern side of the Alps, reaching there in September 1913.

A newspaper article from September 1913 selebration the inauguration of the last section of the line from Cuneo to Tenda.

A newspaper article from September 1913 celebrating the inauguration of the last section of the line from Cuneo to Tenda.

At the same time as the line was being lengthened it was also gaining dramatically in altitude: from 239 metres above sea level in Turin and 541 in Cuneo to 1000m in Limone, 1040m at its highest point inside the Col di Tenda tunnel  and then steeply down 822m in Tenda.

While the line was creeping southwards from Cuneo to Tenda, work had begun in Ventimiglia on the northbound line up the Roya Valley. However, by the outbreak of World War I it had only covered 20 kilometres to Airole. Meanwhile, and again interrupted by the war, another line was being built northeast from Nice to join the Cuneo-Ventimiglia line at Breil sur Roya. Finally in October 1928 the lines were all completed – the celebrations must have been fantastic events. At last the small towns and villages along the route had access to jobs, schools and universities, cultural activities, hospitals … everything the cities had to offer.This massive station at St. Dalmazzo di Tenda was built when the village was still in Italian territory (before 1947).This massive station at St. Dalmazzo di Tenda was built when the village was still in Italian territory (before 1947).

The line’s history doesn’t end here though. During World War II many of its bridges were destroyed – some to be rebuilt and then blown up again. In 1947 the French-Italian boundary was redrawn once more: all the villages from the southern end of the Col di Tenda tunnel to Breil sur Roya became French. What had been a line through Italian territory now started in Italy, passed through an eastern corner of France and then back into Italy! The two nations’ political differences were eventually overcome and in 1979, again with great festivities, the line was reopened.

Mainly following the course of the Roya River from Ventimiglia to Tenda, the Vermenagna Torrent from Limone to Cuneo and the narrow, winding ribbon of highway 20, and with so many attractive and interesting villages along its route, the line is, in spite of the not inconsiderable time spent in tunnels! – an attraction in itself – not to be missed when visiting this area.

Needless to say then that protests began last year with the closure of some of the stations along the route  – since then demonstration marches and conferences have shown how passionate people are about keeping the line and its stations open.

This weekend’s activities began with the inauguration of an exhibition of drawings entered in a Europe-wide competition entitled “I disegni alla riconquista della ferrovia”.

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Yesterday (Sunday) a steam engine travelled up the valley from Ventimiglia to Tenda as part of the centenary celebrations of the arrival there of the first train from Cuneo on 7th September 1913. Judging by the enthusiastic throng and the festive atmosphere in Tenda yesterday keeping this railway route alive is a real must for many: to quote the Mayors of Tenda and Limone “It is the valley’s umbilical cord!” and “Long live the Ventimiglia-Cuneo railway line!”.

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Gateway to the Vegetable gardens

 

When Ventimiglia Alta was still a fortified town the military would patrol behind the walls, checking the surroundings and approaches to the town from various strategically placed lookout towers. The route that defined their beat is called la ronda in Italian.

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Vico della Ronda, turns into Salita alla Mura

Even though over the years houses have been built backing onto the fortification wall, the alley named Vico della Ronda recalls those less peaceful times. It opens into Salita alle Mura, an alley that rises steadily towards the highest part of the wall. Behind the houses we catch glimpses of the wall and its many loopholes.  When we’ve nearly reached the highest point another alley, Via Appio, plunges away steeply on our right.

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Salita alle Mura widens at a point where the wall has broken away so that we can see the Roya Valley lying spread out far below. Immediately outside the wall the hillside is terraced for ease of cultivation but further north the hills give way to mountains: bare now in early autumn but they’ll be powdered with snow any time soon.

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looking north up the Roya valley from Salita alla Mura

Around to the left Porta Morro de Bo comes into view. It gets its name – Ox Nose Gateway – from the fact that it opens in the top northwest corner of the fortifications where the wall was angled in such a way as to allow the stocky lookout tower to protrude from the wall on three sides. From inside the walls, the area above the gateway is an intriguing construction of arches and ramps, layered one upon the other like the pieces of a puzzle. A door on the right of the wall gave access to the stairs to the lookout tower. This would have commanded a fantastic view not only up and down the valley from the mountains to the river mouth, but also of the flat land to the east where the modern town of Ventimiglia now lies.

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The Morro de Bo Gateway itself is a relatively recent feature. It was opened in the wall in August 1892. By then the military garrison had withdrawn and the tower was no longer needed for defense purposes. This new gateway gave the inhabitants of Ventimiglia Alta easier access to their farmland, olive, fig and citrus groves and to their orti – vegetable gardens.

I love walking out here. It has an immediate country feel to it, and even today any little piece of cultivatable land has been given over to growing vegetables. Where in other countries we might have planted flowers or laid a lawn, here there are, for example, the last of summer’s tomatoes and eggplants already interspersed with thriving cauliflowers and broccoli (photo below).

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In the photos below artichokes and chard alongside lettuce with marigolds to deter insect pests. Nowadays no orto would be complete without a table and chairs under a shady tree – a place to relax with friends after the exertions of gardening or maybe have cheese and salami with a glass of wine on a summer evening.

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A lane, Via Mon. Daffra, continues up to the right past houses, vegetables gardens and olive groves, while to the left it follows the outside of the town wall down a ramp to Piazza Funtanin.

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The little sentry box is within sight of both Porta Morro de Bo (just out of sight to left of photo) and Porta Nizza (about 50m to right).

Before motorized transport became widespread, these ramps, with their low gradient and wide, shallow steps, were routes used by mule trains: who knows if maybe one day, as in a village not far from here, the mules will be brought back to do the door-to-door recycled rubbish collection!

Inspiration from the ramparts

Welcome to Ventimiglia Alta Words from the Ramparts and Beyond.

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Sometimes my little terrace garden is just that. I open the french doors that lead to it from the kitchen to water my plants, to admire the view or to check out what’s going on in the street four floors below. Other times though, especially very early in the morning when there’s hardly anyone else about, when I step outside I’m struck with awe at being in the ramparts of a medieval town. Ventimiglia was fortified as early as the 11th century. Very little remains of those original walls: as  the town grew its boundries were extended and new, stronger walls were built. I live above Porta Nizza, in a part of the wall which dates from the 16th century when Ventimiglia was under the control of the Genoan Republic.

On my right as I step outside the parapet is almost taller than I am. Through a loophole I catch a glimpse of the sea. Standing on tiptoe I can see further out to sea – I love these crisp autumn days when Corsica dominates the far horizon in the morning and fantastic sunsets captivate the early evenings.

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A lower parapet on the other side of the wall gives me a birds-eye view of Ventimiglia Alta’s main street, Via Garibaldi. At the end of my terrace a narrow flight of steps leads down to a walk way under the ramparts – you can see this walkway from inside the gateway.

Via Garibaldi - my place is top floor in the sun

Below the walkway is Porta  Nizza– Nice Gateway – in Italian Nizza is the name for the nearby French city of Nice. Clearly the gateway hasn’t always been called that. In 1600, the Prior of San Francesco Convent referred to this gateway by its earlier name – San Francesco Gateway as the former convent is almost immediately inside the gateway. Only later it was renamed Porta Nizza as it was the main gateway on the road to the west and to France and all the traffic travelling east and west along the coast passed along Via Garibaldi. If you have a chance to see some old postcards of the early 1900s you’ll see the horse-drawn omnibus that was used then.

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In 1895 the town bought the gateway and walls from the State with the promise of keeping it in good condition. The surround in great blocks of stone dates from the 1830s when the construction of the Annunziata Redoubt and the reconstruction of San Paolo Fort overlooking the town brought the town’s 16th C fortification walls into line with modern defence systems. From outside the wall, in Piazza Funtanin, you can see the damaged stonework in the gateway’s top left corner, caused by allied bombardment towards the end of WW II when Ventimiglia Alta was incorrectly believed to have been a German stronghold. Above the centre of the archway you can make out the trace of an earlier brick archway.

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To your left  in Piazza Funtanin are two excellent eateries: Bar-Ristorante-Pizzeria-B&B Porta Nizza and Antica Osteria U Funtanin specialising in fresh fish.

In the weeks ahead we’re going to explore Ventimiglia Alta together, looking at its other gateways, its fascinating alleyways, picturesque piazzas and more …

In the meantime, if you’re impatient to know how a New Zealander comes to be living in Ventimiglia Alta – and loving it – you might like to read my book “Portraits of the Riviera” by Carolyn McKenzie ISBN 0-14-301911-2, Penguin NZ.

And if you’re going to be in Ventimiglia Alta soon you might like to look at my ebook for PC and kindle How to explore Ventimiglia Alta on the Italian Riviera” by Carolyn McKenzie http://amzn.to/11I5YcK or look at www.ventimigliaalta.it

My other ebooks with a local them are:

Several slightly spooky short stories set on and around the Italian Riviera http://amzn.to/18RxYgu

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Virtues – a Miracle, a Pilgrimage and an Easter picnic

http://amzn.to/1bu2Oex

How the British came to Bordighera on the Italian Riviera http://amzn.to/1bjXoW3

You may also enjoy:

An A-Z of Italian street names and the stories they tell of Italian history http://amzn.to/11I6eZs How to Get Ready to Live Your Dream as a Happy Expat in Italy http://amzn.to/12lkh1X

How to turn your photos into 3D greeting cards http://amzn.to/1axBD4k

Antica Osteria U Funtanin

Piazza Funtanin, Ventimiglia Alta. Ph 0184 231209 /cell 347 7848942

Fresh fish specialities. Closed on Mondays

Bar-Pizzeria-Ristorante Porta Nizza with B&B

Piazza Funtanin Ventimiglia Alta. Ph 0184 238437, open 7 days a week