Savona Port
Savona Port – Photo © michelledd-2009

Savona is the Provincial capital, the largest town on the Riviera di Ponente.

The name Sann-a has ita roots in the town’s ancient inhabitants, tha Sabazi Ligurians, who sided with Carthage in the Punic war against Hannibal, unlike the Genoese who became allies of the Romans: while there’s no love lost between Savona and Genoa, the two thousand years.

In the 13th century Savona was a free Commune, at war with the Genoese nonetheless, who seized power once and for all in 1528 and razed the town’s fine port to the ground. It was Napoleon and, in the 19th century, the Savoia dynasty who turned Savona back into a town worthy of the name, building it a real port. Savona still has traces of the medieval and baroque in its old docks, of 19th century style in its long, straight porticoes and elegant Piedmont-esc squares and of the modern movement along the banks of the river Letimbro, often no more than a stream.

cathedral of st maria assunto
cathedral of st maria assunta – Photo © bifoto

The core of the town stood on a hilltop overlooking the sea, where in 1542 the Republic of Genoa built a imposing military stronghold, the Priamar, now home to the non-hostile museums of contemporary art.

In the 17th century, it was here that the Republic of Genoa’s chief archer, Giovan Battista Baliani, experimented with friction and mechanical bodies just as Galileo did before him; Baliani anticipated Torricelli’s studies and distinguished between the concept of weight and mass as Newton was to do later.

Savona’s Medieval historic center is clearly Ligurian in its layout, complete with carruggi and houses within towers. Its buildings are of great historical importance not least for their architecture: the State Archives house the first document written in the Ligurian vernacular (the Dichiarazione di Paxia, 1178-1182).

The heart of 19th century Savona lies in porticoed Via Paleocapa, its buildings richly decorated with Art Nouveau motifs, and Piazza Diaz, dominated by the imposing Chiabrera Theatre which is named after Savona’s greatest poet, the greatest exponent of 17th century literature.

Towards the sea at the end of Via Paleocapa stands the short but imposing Leon Pancaldo tower, the last remaining traces of the 14th century walls; it is named after a Savonese sailor who accompanied Magellano on his travels.

Opposite stands the modern cruise terminal, reflecting 21st century Savona’s vocation for sea travel and tourism, welcoming and friendly towards all visitors.

Our tour centers on the square formed by Via Paleocapa, Corso Italia, Corso Mazzini and the old Docks. Start from the Medieval towers which rise above the oldest part of the port: the Corsi and Guarnieri towers date from the 12th century, as does the tower of the Brandale or belltower (the brandale was actually the pole from which the Commune’s flag flew). Its Huge bell stands in Campanassa.

Nearby Palazzo degli Anziani was once the seat of the podesta or magistrate. This marks the start of Via Pia, once known as the Fossalvaria and the oldest thoroughfare in old Savona. The road still has an important commercial role to play today. Its main feature is the 15th century Palazzo Della Rovere, built by the family which produced two great Renaissance popes, politicians and patrons both: Sixtus IV and Julius II.

There are many buildings and ruined towers worth visiting in the nearby area. Via Pia leads on to the porticoes of Via Paleocapa, but it is worthwhile making a detour along Via Aonzo towards Piazzetta del Vescovado and the 18th century Palazzo Vescovile, not to mention the Cathedral square which stands at the rear of Palazzo Della Rovere.

The Duomo or cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was built in the late 16th century to replace its predecessor which was demolished following the construction of the Priamar fortress.

It was Celle-born Francesco della Rovere, pope Sixtus IV from 1471 to 1484, who commissioned this chapel and its much more illustrious counterpart in the Papal Palaces of the Vatican. Savona’s own Sistine Chapel stands next to the chatedral. It was built by Lombard craftsmen between 1481 and 1483 as a mausoleum for the pope’s parents. In the mid 18th century it was transformed ino a light, airy rococo jewel, decorated with colorful floral motifs in stucco work and embellished with paintings, a choir and 17th century organ and the funereal monument built in 1483. It is without doubt one of the region’s greatest artistic treasures.

Woodlands around Savona: you can see that Savona is the Provincial capital with the greatest forestry cover in the whole of Italy as soon as you leave the town and begin to climb the hills around it: this was Savona Wood, vast forests of prized timber which for centuries supplied the shipyards of the Republic of Genoa, particularly those in nearby Varazze. The woods are just as densely packed and untamed today; very few roads run through them and you are much more likely to come across a herd of grazing cows than a car. It is well worth travelling up through the valley of the Letimbro to the 6th/7th century Sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Misericordia, with its pretty square and Palazzo Pallavicino and Tursi, not to mention a marble depiction of the Visitation, perhaps by Bernini. The road rolls on into the countryside towards Montenotte, site (in 1796) of one of the numerous battles which launched Napoleon’s ephemeral conquest of Italy and Europe. After the hush of so many trees, the Giovo pass offers more obvious traces of human civilisation, first in the shape of a refuge, final destination for the forest’s many mountain horse riding trails which offer views of the stunning natural landscape that no motorised means can rival. Then the landscape begins to slowly change from the mountainous to the agricultural as you make your way down towards the sea through the isolated villages of the Commune of Stella, amid terraced gardens, broom trees and olive groves.

Where to stay in Savona

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