Vicolo Piazza Da VicoThe historic centre retains the layout of the ancient medieval village and preserves its porticoes and some portals and frescoes. Today, the narrow pedestrian carruggi have become the streets of strolling and shopping, but if you look up, in several places you can still see buildings with windows emphasised by architraves or corbels with Baroque decorative elements in low relief.
Strolling along Via Mazzini (the famous Caroggio Drito), Via Cairoli, Via Venezia and the neighbouring alleys, it is easy to come across one of the many aedicules dedicated to the Madonna of Montallegro, niches opening on the corners of buildings or real frescoes depicting the apparition and standing out on the façades, along with the typical Genoese-style ‘trompe-d’oeil’ decorations. The Marian cult is of great importance in the Rapallo community and even in the city’s coat of arms the initial M appears, indicating that the city is under the protection of the Virgin.
The edicolette with the Madonna of Montallegro on the corner of Piazza Cavour and Via Mazzini is a small copy of an older one that was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1944.
A beautiful sight is offered by the recently restored Piazza Garibaldi, with its decorated buildings, among the best preserved in the centre, and its local stone pavement. The low 13th-century arcades around the Casa dpiintacircondano, which once protected the entrance to warehouses for storing goods and boats, also continue in the nearby, cosy Vico dei Fondaci, at the back of the Casa Garibalda. The atmosphere of the mediaeval seaside village also hovers in the nearby Piazzetta del Pozzo, the heart of the old Rolecca quarter, where there was once a public well, now reconstructed but without its primitive function.
In addition to the wayside shrines of the Madonna, in the streets of the centre one can admire some slate portals dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries (the ones in Via Mazzini and the one in Via Magenta, decorated with a bas-relief of the Annunciation, are beautiful) and some frescoed palaces, including one in Vico del Pozzo with images of prophets and evangelists, and one in Corso Assereto, painted in 1883 by Tiziano Bernasconi with figures of historical figures and coats of arms.
Houses painted in bright colours and with architectural decorations are characteristic of the whole of Liguria, and in Rapallo, too, one can find many houses decorated with frescoes using a technique that has been handed down for generations. The feature of the ‘false windows’ has a historical explanation: it was initially an ingenious ‘ploy’ to avoid a tax imposed in the 18th century by the Genoese Republic, in order to cope with the huge expenses caused by the War of Austrian Succession and the Corsica revolt. The extraordinary tax was levied on windows, so that owners, where they could, closed them to reduce their number and avoid the ‘window tax’. Instead of real openings, in order to make the façades appear harmonious and balanced, the Ligurians thus took to painting windows where there were none, maintaining the symmetry of the buildings and circumventing the levy.
Behind the mediaeval historic core, the wide Piazza delle Nazioni opens up, overlooked by the railway station, the Town Hall and the ‘Old Hospital’, which today also houses part of the municipal offices.
That the black stone of Liguria played a leading role among the materials used in the construction of houses in the Tigullio villages is well known to the extent that it even determined the name of the people who settled here in the mists of time. It is therefore providential that, after so many years, it still remains to mark and decorate not a few buildings like the echo of a language made up of ancient words, which addresses us, through evocative elements, to also give us confirmation of that consolidated religious spirit that we would like to revisit and recover.
In truth, there are now few examples in Rapallo’s historic centre that have survived the destruction wrought by a disrespectful and short-sighted wave of modernity. It is nevertheless worth pausing carefully in front of these worked slate slabs that frame the entrances to ancient dwellings and must once have been a constant feature of medieval buildings.
At 26 Via Magenta a door is surmounted by a large slate lintel reproducing, in a stylised mystical form, the scene of the Annunciation with the archangel Gabriel holding a scroll on which is written the invocation ‘Ave gratia plena’ addressed to Mary.
Underneath is the trigram with the cross (IHS) to remind us of Christ the saviour of mankind according to the devotion spread in the 14th century by St Bernardine of Siena and deeply rooted in our quarters too.
The symbol was intended as an indication of the inhabitants’ desire for peace and reconciliation in times of serious and bloody divisions between the most powerful families.
Smoothed by time, we also find one of considerable size in Vico dell’Oro at no. 20 allowing a precise interpretation of the component elements.
Also in Via Magenta, another slate bas-relief is inserted in the façade of the building at no. 30. The subject depicts the scene of the ‘Fiat’ of the Virgin and the good state of preservation enhances every detail.
Dated 1403 and 1544, two portals in ‘Caroggio drito’ (Via Mazzini), as well as a third without any indications, are decorated in the jambs and fronts with faces of ancient characters (apostles?) and decorative floral elements supported by little angels, while in one case, the stylised name of the Saviour returns.
They confirm the prayer and vow of good wishes linked to the home but also external to the community, founded on the bond of charity.
With the images and reproductions that lead back to the Madonna of Montallegro, which so many Rapallo houses display, these too, traced on the blackboard, are the clear signs of a witnessed faith, the heritage of a people who knew how to place hope in it.