Tag Archives: piemonte

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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