The Five Lands are a jagged stretch of the coast of the eastern Ligurian riviera close to the La Spezia Province territory, which is divided into five areas, now called borghi (small towns or villages) but known as “lands” in ancient times.
Throughout the centuries, man has re-shaped the territory without altering its delicate ecological equilibrium, but rather enhancing its beauty: by terracing the slopes, an agricultural technique used to exploit the steep slopes degrading towards the sea, with the result that the landscape is now one of the most characteristic and fascinating in Liguria.
The first evidence of man’s presence in the Five Lands and neighborhood dates back to the Paleolithic period.
Further evidence of the presence of man in ancient times are the menhir, discovered in the Campiglia Tramonti area.
No material proof or document have as yet been discovered but the Latin origin of a few place names such as Manarola (“Manium arula” , Mani’s little altar), Corniglia (Cornelio’s estate), Riomaggiore (“Rivus Maior”) and Monterosso (“Mons Ruber”) induces us to think that the ancient prehistoric coastroad was used by the Romans and that horse stables of some kind had been erected . The little towns and villages in the Cinque Terre , as we know them today, had their origin in the X1th century, when the inhabitants of Val di Vara settled down on the seacoast, thus forming the five “ towns”. The oldest document referring to the Five Lands dates back to March 1056, drawn up at Monterosso.
What made the population of Vara abandon their homes to move to the coast? Two historical events common to all western Europe explain the phenomenon: the demographic growth and the end of the Saracen menace in the Mediteranean Sea. The climate on the coast was better for the cultivation of such products as olives and grapevine. The Five Lands did not originate as maritime villages but rather as agricultural areas, and the inhabitants were compelled to reclaim the land which was not naturally suitable for agriculture:they terraced the mountain slopes making fields out of them.
In due time the inhabitants got accustmed to the marine element: they found it was an easier and faster way of communication and it provided food; their work now consisted of farming as well as sailing according to necessity and the seasons.
Ever since the Cinque Terre territory became a Genoese possession, it shared the history of the Republic and of the entire Ligurian territory.
In 1997 the Cinque Terre, Porto Venere and the Palmaria islets Tino and Tinetto, were inserted in the list of Unesco’s Humanity Patrimony.
The first documented reference to Portovenere dates back to the second century A.D. : in an ancient naval nautical itinerary Portovenere is indicated as a naval station for Roman routes to Gaul and Spain. The promontory was, however, certainly inhabited before that time and its name derived from a temple erected in honor of Venus Ericia on today’s St. Peter’s promontory (from the latin Portus Veneris).
In 1113 it became “a Genoese military vanguard” in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was the Genoese who actually built the fortified village as we see it today. Portovenere has been closely bound to the great maritime republic of Genoa ever since the Middle Ages, in particular during the long war between Genoa and Pisa. In time, however PV lost its “invulnerability” as a military base but maintained its importance as a port in itineraries of commercial navigation. Consequently, PV appears today practically as it did for the last eight centuries.
Close to the ancient wall surrounding the town can still be seen the celebrated first route connecting PV to the “Cinque Terre“; the route winds its way half down the slopes of Muzzerone and Castellana. Recently a deviation, known as “the path to the infinite” has been opened across ancient marble quarries and close to the cemetery overhanging the steep cliffs.
Right in front of PV, lying north to south, can be seen the Palmaria islands (separated from the coast by a narrow stretch of sea) and known by the names of Tino and Tinetto. From these islands comes the grey stone (“portoro marble“) used in the construction of the churches, houses and fortification of PV; one can still see the point where the massive amount of material came from. The “grotta azzurra” and “grotta dei colombi” (“the cave of pigeons”) are an attraction on these islands, the former at sea level and the latter higher up, because in them have been found traces of Mesolithic settlements.