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Little is known about the ancient history of the region around Portofino, even though the area and its waters were already known by the Greeks and Phoenicians, who used to call the locals dolphin for their particular ability to sail. Plinius the elder referred to the area as 'Portus delphini' and mentioned the villages of Tigullio. Ruins of Roman epoch walls at the castle tower base show that permanent military establishments existed at the time. Other traces provide information on the god Mitra cult carried on by Portofino's inhabitants. Investigative studies tell of an early Christian church that was founded in 160 A.D., after the preachings of Saint Barnaba and Saints Nazario and Celso.

The presence of Byzanthinian outposts, later taken over by the Longobards in the early centuries can justify the very ancient cult of Saint George. The Monks' settlement in San Fruttuoso was crucial for Portofino. An intense care of the area started from this institution and more attention was paid to economical and spiritual activities, influencing an area well beyond the Monte's geographic limits. In the late 7th century Portofino suffered from famine and profanation. In 986, the Adelaide empress, who was Lotar's second wife and later Otto's first wife, recognized the value of the monks' work and certified its greatness and gave them properties and territorial royalties. In 1000 A.D., Guglielmo Embriaco, along with crusaders who took part to the conquest of Jerusalem and Cesarea, returned to the region and brought with them Saint George relics. Around that time, the saint martyr's cult, with subsequent acts and certificates, became official. Many famous people visited Portofino throughout the centuries. In 1190, King Richard of England comes to Portofino, followed by king Corradine of Sicily in 1268, Francesco Petrarca in 1370, Pope Gregory XI in 1377, Pope Alexander III in 1462, King Ferdinand of Spain in 1506, Pope Adrian VI in 1522, King Francis I of France in 1524 and Queen Marie de'Medici of France in 1600. In 1414, a contention among the French, Florentines and Genoese and in 1431, a naval battle between Genoese and Venetians took place there. Tommaso Campofregoso, Giovanni Antonio Adorno, Pietro Fregoso, the Adorno and the Fieschi and Andrea Doria all ruled the area and the Turks invaded it in 1737.

After the French Revolution, the borough was alternately possessed by France and England. Later, a period of relative calm followed. A new road to Portofino was opened in 1888 and the town started receiving a lot of attention as splendidly coy haven.

Nowadays Portofino retains much of its old beauty and is visited by thousands of tourists every year. It is an entirely pedestrian city, and there are no motorized vehicles, apart from public transportation. The Provincial road offers excellent views over the town.

Places of interest

Oratorio of the N.S. Assunta confraternity

One of the most interesting buildings in Portofino is the Oratorio of the N.S. Assunta confraternity. It dates from the 14th century and was founded by the Disciplinants, or beat confraternity. Some modifications in appearance and elevation were later made. The oratory is set with its chorus to the east, as is common in ancient churches. The entrance is on the left side. The church is decorated with a renaissance age portal that is made of slate and surmounted by a lunette. The lunette dates from 1555 and shows a bas relief of a Madonna with Child, surrounded by the brothers in their traditional dresses. The hoods they wear, was used to make the brothers look equal in need and prodigality and their uncovered faces can be identified with donors or with workers of the confraternity. The interiors show a single-room plan, which is typical for sacred buildings of religious confraternities. The big professional crucifixes, one black, one white, immediately catch the eye. They weigh 105 and 115 kilos, respectively.

Slate is used for all architectural decorations. The corbels that run along the walls that sustain the roof's trusses, the liturgy corbel and the thirteenth century portals on the end wall of the presbytery are all made of slate. The apse is covered by an umbrella-like basin; a formal solution that is unusual but not rare in regions where architects such as the Comancini Masters worked. To the left of the altar is a wooden statue of the Assunta, which reminds us of the tradition of devotional sculptures that are well represented by Maragliano. This particular one dates back to the 19th century.

Saint George Sanctuary

Saint George Sanctuary is a post WWII reconstruction. Excavations of the original revealed a square plant chapel and it is believed that the Longobards soldiers gathered around this small church. A memorial stone inside the church commemorates the first reconstruction in 154 in Romanesque style. In 1691 the church was completely redone and the road to the village was widened. In 1760, the building was once again modified and enlarged. Saint George Sanctuary was finally destroyed by a bomb in 1944. Only six years later it had been rebuilt in its present form. Some altars were repositioned and new furnishings took the place of the ancient ones that were destroyed along with several works of art.

Parochial Church of Saint Martin of Tours

It is though that this church was founded in 986 to substitute an earlier chapel, which had become too small for the 3,000 inhabitants Portofino had at the time. Together with other properties it was donated to the abbey of St. Fruttuoso by Adelaide, who was the widow of the Emperor Otto I. In 1548 the church was solemnly consecrated, following the fortuitous discovery of relics hidden under the corbel of the great altar along with a box containing the bones of the saint martyrs Dorothea, Vincent, Cassian and other saints who remained unknown due to the severe damage of the document within the box. The church has been changed in time. It was originally built in Romanesque style, but also includes octagonal columns, gothic vaults over the aisle and a panelled ceiling over the presbytery. In 1873 Monsignor Boccoleri commissioned restorations in order to unify the aspect of the church.

Portofino Fortress

The Portofino Fortress is also known as the Brown Castle. The elevated position of this site controls the entrance to the cove and has always conditioned it for military purposes. Excavation brought out traces of a pre-existent Roman tower, which dates from between the second and third century A.D. The fortress itself is believed to have been constructed around the year 1000, but it was first mentioned between 1425 and 1430, in a document preserved at the state archive. At that time, the fortress consisted in a platform oriented towards the harbor and an elliptical tower that could keep up to four people and that contained a tank. During the process of territorial consolidation policy the republic ordered Milanese engineer Giovanni Maria Olgiati to redefine the defensive works. Between 1554 and 1567 the castle was enlarged towards the harbor and equipped with a sentry box. The increase of inside volumes guaranteed a greater presence of soldiers within the fortress. Other enlargement works were carried out in 1664 and between 1725 and 1728. Napoleon arranged for reinforcement of its armed structures and this was the last empowerment of the defensive structure. The fortress was demilitarized in 1867. In 1870 it was bought by Genoa's English consul Sir Montague Yeats Brown and restored by the Architect D'Andrade. The last owner was the Englishman John Baber. Since 1961 the fortress is owned by the township. Nowadays it is often used for exhibitions.

Accommodation and restaurants are available in Portofino. The town is 375 km northwest of Roma (Rome).


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