At the western end of the Lungomare Vittorio Veneto is the ‘Porta delle Saline’, which delimits and divides the pedestrian area of the old town from the sea.
It is the only one that has survived of the five gates of the ancient ‘walled village’, and owes its name to its proximity to the Saline, of which the Genoese Doria family had a monopoly, and which were in operation for many centuries in the flat area near the beach in the centre of the gulf. The part facing the old town is adorned with a Baroque altar housing a reproduction of the famous icon of the Madonna of Montallegro. It has avoided demolition thanks to successive restorations, unlike the other gates of the old village that were demolished over time.
The ‘Porta Occidentale’ (Western Gate), also known as ‘degli orti’ (of the vegetable gardens), stood at the beginning of today’s Via Mameli, not far from the Bell Tower of the Basilica, and even after its demolition in 1874, the people of Rapallo continued to call this place ‘in te porte’.
The ‘Porta Aquilonare’ or ‘Porta di Sant’Antonio’ was flanked by the hospital of the same name (today’s Town Hall) and through it one travelled upstream, retracing the ancient road that already in Roman times crossed the hills to reach Piacenza through the Fontanabuona.
It was demolished in June 1702 on the initiative of the hospital’s protectors, who undertook to build a portal-shaped aedicule in its place, dedicated to Our Lady, not far from the site where it stood, at the junction of the road leading to the church and convent of St Augustine (now the hospital).
The ‘Porta di Pozzarello’, also called ‘del Molinello’ because of the watermill located nearby, opened at the bank of the San Francesco stream, almost opposite the area now occupied by the Hotel Europa. It closed off access to Via Venezia and the heart of the ancient town, the ‘Rolecca’ where the well from which the people of Rapallo drew for many centuries was also located. According to what he writes in his historical memoirs, can. Stefano Cuneo this door would have been demolished in 1810.
The last of the five gates, the one to the east, was called ‘Porta Orientale’ or ‘Porta di S. Francesco’ and stood near the mouth of the stream. It was demolished in 1821 when the national road to Chiavari was extended.
Starting from the Porta delle Saline gate, the compact fabric of dwellings stretched upstream to the ‘orchard’ area (Via Mameli) and, bending north-west, embraced our parish church, then joined the hospital of Sant’Antonio (today’s Town Hall) to reach the right bank of the Monti stream and continue to its mouth.
The decree of 12th February 1629 by which the Genoese Senate proclaimed Rapallo a ‘walled borgo’ could lead one to presume that it then had a solid ring of protective walls enclosing the urban core; Indeed, we can detect confirmation of the existence of sections of wall from some earlier documents, but some scholars believe that it was more likely that the name ‘borgo murato’ (walled borough) referred not to a walled borough proper, but to the set of walls of the houses, leaning against each other around the narrow streets, so as to guarantee protection and a conformation similar to that of a walled citadel. The Saline Gate, sandwiched between two palaces, even though they have more modern forms today, is an example of this.
The oldest record of Rapallo’s walls is found in a notarial deed dated the 26th of April 1221 stipulated ‘in punta muri Rapalli’ (in the Middle Ages it was generally the notaries who went to the client and not vice versa). In another document dated the 27th of April 1240, a certain Guglielmo Embriaco cedes a vegetable plot near the Monti stream ‘prope murum burgi Rapalli’. Another document dated the 13th February 1264 records the sale of land by the Chapter of the Pieve ‘infra muratum burgi in planis de ponte bolagi’.
Even more explicit is the deed of 10th June 1455 with which the provost and the canons of the church of St. Stephen grant in emphyteusis a piece of land “infra muros burgi in contrada Roileche coheret versus boream murus comunis”.
To conclude, we would like to recall a little song in the vernacular that used to run on the lips of Rapallo’s youngsters, and which was about the gates of our village.
In a mocking tone it said: ‘Rapallin sottaera gatti/under e porte di sordatti/I sordatti son scappae/Rapallin ghe son restae’. The historian Arturo Ferretto, identifying a clear connection with the events that saw the Adorno and Fregoso families and their allies in the early 16th century, gave it this interpretation: ‘Rapallesi burying enemies under the doors (entrusted to the custody) of soldiers. The soldiers fled, the Rapallesi remained’. The buried ‘cats’ can easily be identified with the followers of the Fieschi family who bore this animal in their coat of arms.