The province of Savona is one of four provinces of the region of Liguria in the northwest of Italy. Savona has a long coastline on the Gulf of Genoa. To the west lies Province of Imperia, while Genoa lies to the east. The region of Piedmont lies inland, with the Province of Cuneo to the northwest and the provinces of Asti and Alessandria to the north. The provincial capital is the city of Savona, while inland is the mountain chain formed by the Ligurian Alps and the Apennines.
The Province has had a long and fairly brutal past, especially in its capital city, Savona. This in part due to the city’s proximity to Genoa, which ensured a continual rivalry between the two cities. It also suffered heavy bombing in World War II and today’s Savona is the result of significant rebuilding. The city is now one of Italy’s largest ports and exports many products to the US, including cars from the Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. It is also one of the most important areas of the country for the iron industry, with foundries, shipbuilding, railway workshops and engineering facilities providing employment for the Province’s highly-skilled workforce.
Inhabited in ancient times by Ligures tribes, Savona came under Roman domain in the second century BC, following the three Punic wars (Savona had been allied to Carthage, which went 0 for 3). At the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it fell under Lombard rule in 641 AD, but that was only after being destroyed in the attack. After a short period as an Ostrogoth and then Byzantine possession, it was made a county seat in the Carolingian Empire. In the 10th century its bishops were counts of Savona, but later the countship passed to the marquesses of Montferrat and then to the marquesses Del Vasto.
After a long struggle against the Saracens, Savona acquired independence in the 11th century, allied to the Holy Roman Emperor. Savona was the center of religious culture from the 13th to 16th centuries, due to the work of two important monasteries – the Dominican and Franciscans. Subsequently, it fought against Genoa before being conquered in 1528. The Genoese destroyed the upper town and burned the port, but the writings one of the most celebrated inhabitants of Savona ensured that the town would not fall into obscurity. It was the great navigator – Christopher Columbus. He farmed land in the area while chronicling his journeys. Columbus’s House, a cottage situated in the Savona hills, is one of several residences in Liguria associated with explorer. Were it not for Columbus’s writings about the town, mentioned within his descriptions of his remarkable travels, the town might have never been rebuilt by the Genoese. As it turned out, once conquered, it then shared in the fortunes of the Republic of Genoa until Napoleonic times. Savona was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1815, eventually becoming part of the unified Italy.
Behind Savona’s sprawling port facilities, the city’s unexpectedly graceful medieval center is the first stop to make in the Province. Among the old-town treasures are the baroque Cattedrale di Nostra Signora Assunta and the lumbering Fortezza del Priamàr. In the years immediately following the town’s annexing, the Genoese built the imposing fortress in oldest part of the town on the Priamàr Hill. They systematically demolished all of the ancient buildings including the city’s cathedral, which dated from the ninth century. In 1559 Pope Paul IV built the Church of San Francesco, whose cloister still exists on the left side of the current cathedral. In 1584 construction began on the cathedral, which was completed in 1605. Remarkably, the bell tower took another three centuries to be finished and was only completed in 1929. The extraordinary Baroque embellishments, both on the interior and exterior make a stop at the cathedral a must for any visit to Savona. The imposing Fortezza del Priamàr contains several small museums including the Civico Museo Storico Archeologico. The citadel also has various terraces overlooking the seaside, proving the best views of the port.
Set amid two adjoining palazzi, Savona’s premier art collection is located in the Museo d’Arte di Palazzo Gavotti. It features an impressive collection of paintings dating back to the 14th century, including the Madonna and Child by Taddeo di Bartolo; The Crucifixion by Donato de’ Bardi and Giovanni Battista Carlone’s emotionally charged painting of Venus and Mars. Another area of the museum showcases 20th century art, with pieces by Magritte, de Chirico, Man Ray and Picasso. The museum also houses the Italian Riviera’s best collection of ceramics, with pieces spanning six centuries.
As you stroll around Savona, narrow streets open out onto sunny piazzas and wind past houses with façades of bright Mediterranean colors and unique architectural elements. You cannot fail to notice a number of towers lining the skyline. Perhaps the most impressive is the 14th century La Torretta, one of the symbols of Savona, it was built in the strategic position at the entrance to the harbor. Equally noticeable are the towers of le Torri del Brandale, in the heart of the old town.
Savona has provided Italy with two popes. In 1471 Francesco Della Rovere became Pope Sixtus IV and in 1503 Giuliano, his nephew became Pope Julius II. Dating from the 1480s, Savona’s Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) was created by Pope Sixtus IV, of course, the more famous chapel of the same name is in the Vatican. It was during the papacy of Julius II, ‘the Warrior Pope,’ that Michelangelo was engaged to paint the ceiling and front wall of the chapel in Rome. Though of far less renowned than its Roman counterpoint, this Savona site, a funerary chapel for Sixtus’ deceased parents, is a striking work of art.
As you leave Savona, you find a series of lovely towns that are removed from the bustling port city. Here lie the town of Alassio, with its beach of fine sand and its famous Muretto. It is a monument consisting of a wall with decorated ceramic tiles bearing the signatures of celebrities. Located on Corso Dante Alighieri in front of the historic Caffè Roma, the Mureto was originally conceived by Mario Berrino and Ernest Hemingway and secretly installed one dark night. Its tiles have since been signed by almost 1,000 celebrities.
The beautiful seaside town Loano is famous for its artistic fountains, while other towns include Pietra Ligure with its monumental square; Finale Ligure and its ample palm-lined seafront; Varigotti with its old center of colorful houses right on the waterfront and Spotorno, celebrated by Sbarbaro and Varazze and boasting a modern marina. Modern coastal resorts offer guests a vast choice of where to stay, where to dine and where to go for a night out. Whether in beach resorts, restaurants or night spots, there are always plenty of options along the Ligurian Coast.
Not far from the coast lie two small, pristine islands, Bergeggi and Gallinara, which are regional natural reserves protected for their precious landscapes. Further south is the historical center of Albenga, which stands out with its towers and alleyways set amid medieval palazzi that house museums and art collections. The Battistero (Baptistery) is one of the most important early Christian monuments in Liguria. A visit to the Province is a treat to be savored. Along the coast it seems that each town is beautiful, whether you visit Noli, an ancient maritime republic; Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, which developed around its castle; Laigueglia, a colorful fishing village, or Zuccarello, with its porticoes lining the streets, you will surely enjoy this gem-filled Province of the Ligurian Coast.