The charming town of Porto Venere, which rises on a peninsula diving into the sea, still today is considered a real panoramic miracle in the Gulf of La Spezia.
It is true when we say that Liguria contains an unending array of priceless treasures, in fact, Portovenere and the surrounding area has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, because it represents a cultural site of outstanding value, with the harmonious interaction between people and nature, which produce a landscape of exceptional quality.
In the past, Porto Venere was a notable maritime center since the Roman Age, and the ancient town developed in the area around San Pietro Church, presently Spallanzani Square, where there was a temple dedicated to Venus Ericina, from which it took its name. In 643 AC the town was destroyed by the Rotari, who extended the Lombard dominion as far as the Ligurian sea.
In the Middle Ages this suburb had a prosperous life, also because a great monastic movement arrived here, as it is demonstrated by the remains of a monastery on the Tino and Tinetto islands. After 1113, the area was controlled by the Genoese who contributed enormously to the architectural building of the maritime town, ordering the raising of three high towers, the walls encompassing the town, the characteristic row of fort-houses placed along the coast and strengthened for the military defense, and the town gate, making it a great stronghold and developing its military and marine potential.
During the long war against Pisa, Porto Venere was an unconquerable bastion of the Republic of Genoa, in fact the characteristic church of San Pietro on the cliff top was built by the Genoese as a gift for the decisive contribution of the local inhabitants in the conquest of Lerici. The “upper castle” was built by the Byzantines and resisted two Pisan sieges in 1165 and 1198; nowadays it is open to the visitors and used as an exhibition space for shows and cultural events. During the following centuries, the harbor of La Spezia began to gradually assert itself, and contributed in this way to the military decline of the Colony.
The name of Porto Venere with no doubt reminds the famous and unique San Pietro Church, rising on a rocky promontory diving into the sea, in a harmonious architecture. It seems appropriate to date its origins around the half of 11th century. The church is made up of two buildings, which are linked: one of gothic style, more recent; the other one is Romanic, much more ancient.
The more recent building was begun in 1256 and finished in 1277 by the Genoeses, and it was built on the foundations of an ancient Benedict abbey and on new pillars and huge arcades. The inside of the church is decorated by large black and white bands, and the chancel is endowed with two lateral squared chapels, covered by ogival vaults. For the brave technique of its structure and for the refined elegance of its sculpture, is one of the exemplary buildings of the Gothic-Genoese architecture in Liguria.
As its position facing the sea, easily vulnerable during the wars of that time, undertook several and serious damages by the wars, the wind and the sea. The church was sieged during several years by different populations: Aragon, Austrian-Russian troops and also the army of Napoleon Bonaparte, and finally it was restored between 1929 and 1934. Today it is the favourite destination of lovers coming from every part of Italy and all over the world who want to celebrate here their special wedding day.
In 1116 the Genoeses wanted to dedicate a church to San Lorenzo and they built it in the medieval suburb: it was the San Lorenzo Church. The official church of the Colony was built on the rocky hill between 1118 and 1130, in Romanic style by the Antelami Masters, skillful builders who came from the Valley of Antelamo, on the Maggiore Lake.
The church was consecrated in 1130 by Pope Innocence 2nd. Unlike the church dedicated to San Pietro, inside San Lorenzo Church we find several artistic treasures. In fact, among the others, you can marvel at a triptych which dates back to the 15th century, the anonymous board with the crucifix which reminds the work of the great Andrea del Castagno, the precious polyptych with San Martino and other Saints, and many more.
In addition, we find precious and valuable pieces of sculpture in marble, and among them, not to forget is the one which at the bottom of the right nave frames the painting of Madonna Bianca (“White Madonna”), miraculous image for whom Porto Venere’s citizens have a sacred veneration.