Historical Houses

Portofino, a World apart
    February 2009

    Grand Hotel Imperiale Santa Margherita

    grand hotel imperiale santa margheritaThe Grand Hotel Imperiale in Santa Margherita Ligure is an obligatory visit for all who come to Rapallo, Santa Margherita, and Portofino was constructed in 1889 as a luxury villa for the Costa family, industrialists who had made a fortune in Corsica in the area around Ajaccio. Upon returning to their homeland they had the desire to build a splendid residence in a location with one of the most beautiful natural landscapes of the Portofino harbor. As Santa Margherita Ligure was becoming an ever more sought after Mecca for rich and noble northern Europeans who wanted to spend the winter in a mild climate, the Costas thought to transform their villa into a Grand Hotel.

    Here they welcomed royal families, German and Russian dukes with their entourages and astutely learned to provide the aristocratic hospitality that their illustrious guests were accustomed to. During the course of this century, Queen Elena of Savoia was a guest. After the World War I the Treaty of Rapallo took place here (in those days the Hotel was within the city boundaries of Rapallo) and thus the guests included plenipotentiaries from Russia and those from Germany, who were interested in a separate peace and in the issue of German rearmament. In 1997, on May 21st, was the reviewed atmosphere of European cooperation and of Rapallo and Santa Margherita municipalities, the 75th anniversary of the overmentioned event was celebrated with a grand ceremony at the presence of many Ambassadors and Representatives of the international diplomacy.

    February 2009

    The Castles of Portofino and Paraggi

    Portofino Castle Brown

    When one speaks of the Brown Castle it is normal to think immediately of Portofino, however few know that the castle in Paraggi also belonged to the Browns. Timothy Yeats Brown, originally of a Scotch family, following the romantic footsteps of the poets Byron and Shelly, came to Italy, to Portovenere where he lived on the island of Palmaria.

    When he was named console of the United Kingdom to Genoa, he moved here with his family and raised his children who, while being British citizens felt Genoese in sentiment and loved Portofino. The oldest boy, Montagu, became console of S. M. Britannica when his father died. The second boy, Federico, was a great industrialist and businessman of the end of the nineteenth century.

    The castle of Portofino, which was a Genoese fort and over the centuries belonged to the Florentines, the French, the Spanish, and, after Waterloo, was conquered by the English, has very ancient origins. Montagu Brown acquired it from the State in 1870 for seven thousand liras and had it adapted for civil habitation by the noted architect Alfredo D’Andrade; from this splendid position he dominated the two seas and could see below him the village of Portofino and all the bays and ravines that mark the coast towards Santa Margherita Ligure. On the terrace that in the past had been the esplanade of the fort, he planted two pine trees that today, having grown imposing and stately, characterize the castle.

    June 2008

    The Villa Durazzo in Santa Margherita Ligure.

    Portofino Villa Durazzo Wedding

    The oldest residences on this coast were in Middle Ages the monasteries. There were as guests important personages visiting the area. In XVth century grand palaces of illustrious Genoese families and, later, especially in XIXth century, elegant residences, successively turned into hotels, were built. This brief study takes us next into the environment where the personalities that constitute the third part of this publication resided. There is no intention to advertise for commercial purposes these places, an inappropriate objective for a study of this kind. We would instead direct our atten- tion towards these splendid palaces for purely historic motives. Of some of these we will note the causes of their construction, rise, development, and in some cases their decline. We have no ambition to write anything new. We want to gather in one text a summary of what has been amply treated in a variety of works whose worth we refer to in the bibliography.

    The Villa Durazzo

    May 2008

    The Monastery of Cervara

    Portofino Cervara Monastery

    The Monastery of Cervara, found halfway between Santa Margherita and Portofino, is an important complex that fivm the middle ages received many illustrious guests who were travelling along the Dolphin coast. The name of the monastery derives from the Cervara family who were the proprietors of a good deal of land in the area.

    Interesting to note is the etymology of the name: Cervara derives from “cervaria” with the variations “servaria” “sylvaria” from “sarvea” which is a dialect word for the modern Italian word “selva” which means a thick forest. The forests and the presence of the sea rendered this solitary spot all but inaccessable and thus particularly suitable for prayer and meditation. The old church and the belltower were constructed in 1361 by the archbishop of Genoa, Guido Scetten, a gentile poetic spirit who, while visiting Portofino wished that the church of his dreams could be built on the highest peak in the vicinity called “Cervara”. Here he would be able to come to rejuvenate his soul much taxed by the numerous cares of his ministery.

    April 2008

    Villa Spinola in the Portofino Bay.

    Portofino Villa Spinola Sovrano di Malta

    We include the Villa Spinola, foto above, among the grandiose residences of the Portofino Coast even though technically from an administrative standpoint it is not a part of it being instead in the city of Rapallo.

    However, as I have already noted elsewhere, it was constructed right on point where Portofino Coast begins and thus I have elected to consider it. The point of Pagana has always constituted the border between Rapallo and the western part of the gulf. In the sisteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the danger of incursions by pirates, whether from the Barbari Coast, France, or Spain, was at its highest, the Republic furnished the coast with a series of strategically positioned guard towers. They were also used to block any unauthorized landings not checked for contraband.

    Two of these towers, very important for their position, were the towers at Praggi and point of Pagana. Later, the Republic decided to construct little forts at these points. They spent lots of money on these forts but they were never really made use of. Once constructed, they would often go without military garrisons to man them. Probably, even in those days there existed a kind of financial speculation on public works! The task of controlling for illegal landings could have been perfectly well by the towers already in existence. In 1601 the Orero family who, as one would surmise by their surname, came from the town of Orero in the Fontanabuona valley. They weren’t part of the nobility but were quite well-to-do and managed to acquire the land of the point of Pagana.

    March 2008

    Villa Costa – Lo Faro

    The villa Costa Lo Faro, in a floral style whose tower is visible from almost every part of Santa Margherita Ligure, is a “historic villa” that constructed in 1898 by Giuseppe Costa. The design is by Antonio Revelli, same architect who realized the facade the sanctuary of Mon tallegro. In addition to the original owners who lit there at first before moving to Genoa, fir villa has been the home of a number important names in Roman nobilit. Among these were the Centurione family, and then from 1912 to 1917, the princess Colonna di Stiliano, who was president of the Italian Red Cross. Due to the financial problems of Giuseppe Costa, the villa was sold to the Lo Faro brothers in 1922. Their father, a musician of Sicilian origin, came to Genoa for the festivities celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America in 1892.