Located at the eastern end of Lungomare Vittorio Veneto, surrounded by the sea and connected to the mainland by a pier, its unmistakable silhouette is one of the symbols of Rapallo and is reproduced in engravings, postcards, stamps and souvenirs.
It was built in 1550 for defensive purposes after the plundering and destruction of the settlement by the corsair Dragut, who enslaved many inhabitants. Used for a long time as a prison, it has been restored and is now a prestigious venue for exhibitions and conferences.
It is also the star of the highlight of the town’s patron saint’s festivities: every year, on 3 July, on the last evening of the festivities in honour of the apparition of Our Lady of Montallegro, the Castle is the starting point of the fireworks display known as ‘la sparata dei ragazzi’, at the end of which it is artificially set on fire. The effect of the white pyrotechnic cascade cascading down into the sea from its roof and the red smoke billowing from its windows is unique.
Who has never heard, with a certain thrill, of Dragut’s assault on our village? Well, behind this name, which in the documents of the time is mispronounced as Droguth, Draguto, Dragute, Dorghutto and in many other forms, is the menacing figure of that Torghud who, captured in June 1540 by Giannettino Doria in the Bay of Giralata near Ajaccio, had ended up chained to the rowers’ bench on board one of the Genoese galleys of the great Admiral Andrea Doria.
And in this miserable condition, he would certainly have ended his adventures if Khair-Ad-Din, the most powerful Barbary corsair, sadly known by the name of ‘Barbarossa’, had not ended his captivity after a few years by paying the conspicuous ransom.
So Torghud was soon able to take to the sea even more swaggeringly under the banner of the crescent moon, casting terror everywhere, in an overwhelming rise that, from success to success, would lead him first to be the most feared pirate among the ‘infidels’ and then to the government of the city of Tripoli. A cannonball finally killed him on 25th June 1565 under the walls of besieged Malta.
The assault on the village
In the spring of 1549, Torghud ‘Dragut’, who had returned free from captivity at the hands of Andrea Doria, was ready to begin a new series of raids. At first light on the 4th of July 1549, the Turkish ships, which had approached the coast in the darkness, swiftly aimed for the heart of Rapallo Bay. The men, in fast boats, took land in three places: at the Porta Saline, at the Marina delle Barche, in the centre of the coastline, and in the Stella district, in Avenaggi. Brandishing their weapons, the pirates throw themselves thirsty for prey on the houses, sweeping in every direction. The surprise is absolute and there is no attempt to organise a somewhat effective resistance. The inhabitants, therefore, have no choice but to seek salvation with a desperate escape. Documents tell of the capture of more than twenty-two Raphaelese who, in the painting depicting Bartolomeo Magiocco in the council chamber, were landed in Algiers. Unspeakable suffering will begin for them and for their relatives the torment of trying to redeem them at the cost of enormous sacrifices. Considerable material damage was also suffered by our village due to the devastation of shops, craft workshops, and houses.
This is the context for the heroic episode of the young Bartolomeo Maggiocco who, contemptuous of danger, descends into the village, rushing to the Porta Saline to confront the pirates and save his fiancée Giulia Giudice. The Maggiocco, portrayed in a painting that decorates the council chamber, will always be remembered for this gesture and will also deserve the naming of a street.
The construction of the 16th-century castle
The assault they suffered caused the people of Rapallo to plead with the Genoese Senate for the erection of a fort to protect the beach; a delegation, led by Fruttuoso Vassallo, submitted the request, which was promptly granted.
From that moment on, the Castle formed, with the fortifications of San Michele di Pagana, Santa Margherita Ligure, Paraggi and Portofino, the Tigullio Gulf’s defence system.
The fort underwent modifications and extensions over the years and also changed its original purpose. When Rapallo was made a captaincy in 1608, it was temporarily used as the Captain’s residence, while later it also functioned as a prison, even having a chapel for prisoners.
Passed into state ownership under the law of 1st April 1865, the castle, which mistakenly began to be called ‘mediaeval’, was adapted as the headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza, although the magistrate’s prison also remained there.
By resolution of 20th October 1958, it was finally purchased for 6,700,000 lire by the municipal administration and, in 1963, the radical restoration work that transformed it into a prestigious exhibition venue was begun. Major restoration works, undertaken thanks to the contribution of the Fondazione della Cassa di Risparmio di Genova e Imperia, between 1997 and 1999, have given the castle new splendour.
Today, the Ancient Castle by the Sea has been transformed into a prestigious exhibition venue, enhanced and made even more impressive by further restoration work carried out in 2005.
The Rapallo Castle is also the protagonist of the highlight of the city’s patronal festivities: every year, on the 3rd of July, on the last evening of the festivities in honour of the apparition of Our Lady of Montallegro, the Castle is the starting point of the fireworks display known as ‘la sparata dei ragazzi’, at the end of which it is artificially set on fire. The effect of the white pyrotechnic cascade cascading down into the sea from its roof and the red smoke billowing from its windows is unique.
The Antico Castello sul Mare is currently closed to the public, except for the possibility of opening it for special needs and during exhibitions and shows.
Please consult the timetable of any current exhibitions at the Castle in the Calendar of Events section.