Home > 2011 Posts > Genoese Gothic

Genoese Gothic

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Church of San Pietro, Portovenere

In a time long ago, when Genoa had just begun it’s climb to empire, a church was built on a rocky promontory at the mouth of a beautiful harbor.

The Byzantines had used that lovely port as the main base for their fleet when Justinian sent his greatest general, Belisarius, to reconquer Italy in the name of Rome (c.570). Back then, a smaller, black marble church stood on the site where a temple of Venus had been for 700 years.

Seventy years later, though, the Byzantines had too many problems elsewhere, like the Sword of Islam sweeping out of the Arabian desert, and Lombards drove out the last vestiges of the Eastern Roman Empire in the west.

For four hundred more years, Muslim pirates plundered at will down in the harbor watched over by the little black church. Italy’s whole western coast was made a wasteland. Only nearby and impossibly rugged Cinque Terre in the north and Amalfi far to the south held out.

But, eventually, the navies of Pisa and Genoa drove back the Saracens from the north. And, in 1198, the Genoese built a Gothic church and tower around the small, black, paleo-Christian building. They also fortified the valuable harbor. And, one of their leading families, the Dorias, built a great castle-fortress on the ridge behind.

Meanwhile, Genoa defeated Pisa and developed a maritime empire to rival Venice, ruling lands as far away as Azov in the northeast corner of the Black Sea. Until 1380, when, sadly for them, the Genoese lost a key sea battle to the Venetians. That was also a time when the remaining tatters of the Byzantine Empire lost Black Sea access to Muslim Turks. So, Genoa began it’s decline.

The Doria Castle-Fortress

There is at least one bright spot though. About a hundred years later, an enterprising son of Genoa named Chris did some useful work for a lady named Isabella.   

Today, the striking stone Church of San Pietro sits alone atop its massive rock, protecting the seafarers of Portovenere, just as some form of temple or church has done for more than two thousand years. Just below to the north is a small cove where the poet, Lord Byron, used to swim. And, a hiking trail leads further north toward the fascinating coast and small towns of Cinque Terre.

The view from the church is delightful, but to see San Pietro from the sea is much better. Do yourself a big favor and take a boat ride north from Portovenere.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: