Monday, May 18, 2009

Cinque Terre - Manarola

Our next stop after Florence (not including our 4 hour layover in Pisa) was the Cinque Terre, a region on Italy’s Northwestern coast. Cinque means 5 and terre means land but is also an archaic term for villages. The Cinque Terre is named for the 5 small villages that are perched on impossibly steep cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea in the greater Mediterranean Sea. The 5 villages are, from South to North, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso al Mare. The region is famous for two things: wine, which people have been travelling here to get since at least the 14th century, and Pesto, which was invented in this area.
The 5 villages are accessible only by train, as cars are outlawed within the villages themselves. Our first room was at the top of the 2nd village, Manarola. Unfortunately, the train runs along near the water, and Manarola is built on a steep hill. Our room at Casa Capellini is the 3rd from last door on the top of the hill. Only the church and 1 other house are higher up, so we had to walk up a gigantic hill fully laden down with our packs to get to our room. To make matters worse, our room was on the 3rd floor of the house. By the time we got up there and got the keys from Franca, the woman who owns the house and speaks no English (she only knows “key” and “can you pay now?”) we were dying. The view from our balcony was worth the stairs, though.
The towns were built here centuries ago, and because of the steepness of the hills, there were no roads. The way to get around these towns is by walking up and down the stairs. Until 1978 when the first road was built in Manarola, the stairs were the only way to get around. The buildings are built just a few feet apart, just far enough for a narrow stairway to go between them. Even the oldest people here have to walk up and down the stairs just to get to the post office.
The Cinque Terre is famous among Germans for the hiking trails. The trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore is known locally as the Via dell’Amore, the highway of love. There is graffiti the whole way along the trail in several languages that mostly says “so and so loves so and so…” and similar statements. The trail runs right along the cliffs above the ocean and the view is spectacular the whole way.
The cemeteries here, due to Napoleon, the former King of Italy’s fear of disease, are built outside of the towns, usually on hilltops which means the dead people have the best view. The hills have been carved out into terraces, so the steep hills can be cultivated with grapes and fruit. Because of the extreme value placed on arable land here, the people decided that their dead didn’t really need their own plot of land so instead, they are buried in gigantic file cabinets made of marble. They are stacked up about 6 people high and walking through the cemeteries is almost like walking through some macabre records vault or something. Each drawer has the person’s name and information carved into the front of it along with a little cup for flowers and a picture of the person. In order to keep your spot, your family has to keep paying rent at the cemetery. If they decide that they no longer want to pay to keep you filed, the cemetery will take your bones out of the cabinet and throw them in the communal chamber, and someone else can rent your place. Many of the graves here have dates from 1941-1945 and say something to the effect of “causa bombardamento aereo” – death caused by the aerial bombardment -on them under the name and date. There are whole families with the same date of death, causa bombardamento. We saw one grave with two sisters in it, 80 and 76 who were both killed on the same night by some allied bomb during the war. The train line here was an important allied target during the war and because the train runs under the villages in tunnels, the villages were frequently hit.
Although we spent a lot of time napping next to the ocean, we did get time to do a little hiking. The middle town, Corniglia has a wicked flight of 328 stairs to get up to it and unfortunately, we didn’t know there was a shuttle until we were already at the top.


Toph said...

Busy Busy... We want to see all your pics when you get back

cinque terre said...
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