Historical Guests

Portofino, a World apart
February 2009

Federico Nietzsche in Portofino.

“Home is in those places where the soul is enchained” wrote Voltaire the great french thinker. Fredrich Nietzsche confirms this affirmation and demonstrates how there is a profound connection between the places that have inspired artists and intellectuals and their works. In his bookEcce Homo” he defined Portofino as a “small forgotten universe of happiness“.

The magical charm of Portofino is a “waking dream “.

Not many people know that it was here in Portofino that he wrote a good part of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra“. When he wrote the apology for voluptuousness and sensuality he describes the pro- montory in these terms: “In a dream, the Jietzsche last dream of the morning, I found myself on a promontory protruding beyond the world, I was holding a scale and I was weighing the world”. Of his sojourn in Tigullio, which coincides with one of the most important periods of his life, there exists few traces, and these few come mostly from his own pen, in some letters and in his memoirs. The first part of the above mentioned work was born in 1883 in the “quiet, precious cove of Rapallo, carved between Chiavari and mount Portofino”.

In a letter of Decemberof the same year addressed to Peter Cast, Nietzsche writes: «My kingdom now extends from Portofino to Zoagli, I live in the middle, that is in Rapallo, but my daily walks take me to the borders of my kingdom. The principal mountain of this zone, which one must climb from my residence is called Mount Allegro, a fitting name”. But Nietzsche’s stay in Rapallo and Portofino was not one his best due to his ill health. Besides, that winter of 1883 was very cold and exceedingly rainy. He was staying in a little hotel along the shore, the “Marsala”, or today “Vesuvio”.

At night the crashing of the waves prevented him from sleeping. It was probably during those hours of insomnia that wrote his famous work. Despite its author’s precarious health and the unfavorable conditions, “Zarathustra” was born in that winter. All things considered it offered the writer what would seem to be the very opposite of desirable conditions for creation, but as he hi mself wrote: «Anything decisive is bom, irregardless of everything». To assuage this pain which brought him to think of an imminent “end of everything” the German thinker found a way to reinvigorate his spirit during the day with long walks that he would later write about.

In the morning he would head south, climbing the splendid road that leads to Zoagli surrounded by pine trees with the broad expansive sea below. In the afternoon, when his health permitted it, he would go all around the bay of Santa Margherita Ligure arriving at PortofinoThe work was finishedin April 1885 in another fine location, this time in the mountains; Maria Sils in Engadina. Nietzsche returned to Tigullio in November 1886 but instead of Rapallo, this time he chose Ruta of Camogli, a few kilometers from a section of Santa Margherita Ligurecalled San Lorenzo della Costa.

, he stayed in a modest room in a pensione, or “a country tavern” with a view of the sea but far from the roar of the waves. His stay in Ruta was protracted until March of 1887. He returned the next year in the month of February and March. There are some who claim that Za- rathustra was completed in Ruta but, as we have been able to see, in 1886 the work had already been finished for a year and Nietzsche was already knmm, though his fame was in its early stages. From Ruta he wrote about the promontory of Portofino thus: “You must imagine an island in the Hellenic archipelagos, on which mountains and forests alternate capriciously, and that one day, for who knows what phenomenon, you’ve navigated towards land and there you anchor and never leave“.

The nature of mount Portofino represent to perfection the perfect apollinian-dionysian ideal contemplated by Nietzsche. The philosophy of the great thinker is based on an ardent and enthusiastic love of life realized through the exaltation of the aristocratic values; the aesthetics, sensuality, and the culture, that is, life in the most complete aristocratic sense. Between 1888 and 1889 the madness, which was lying in wait, seized him de- finitively in Torino. A decade of darkness followed. On the verge of death he was watched over by his mother, then his sister. But his doctrine of the superman was destined to go far beyond the borders of Liguria and his influence would be fit in several successive political currents.

Of him, Nicola Abbagnano, one of the great living philosophers and himself a frequent visitor in Tigullio, said: “Like Plato he wished that leadership of humanity be entrusted to philosophers, but not those whom he considered the “workers of philosophy” but to those who were also legislators and dominators and utili- zed the truth to its utmost power“. Nietzsche died on August 25, 1900 at the age of 56, when his madness had by then completely dominated him. We can be certain that the years spent in Portofino Bay represented the ultimate of his period of serenity. Here he had searchedfor some comfort from his afflictions. But more than anything else, along the two roads, the one towards Zoagliand the other towards Portofino, he had found the right inspiration. “In that environment I encountered the first Zarathustra” he wrote in his memoirs, “and above all that very type of Zarathustra itself assailed me.”

Federico Nietzsche

Portofino, a World apart.