Regional capital: Genoa (Genova)
Provinces: Genova, Imperia, La Spezia,Savona
Climate and Geography
Liguria borders France to the west, Piedmont to the north, and Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east. It lies on the Ligurian Sea. Liguria is a narrow strip of land, enclosed between the sea and the Alps and the Apennines mountains, it is a winding arched extension from Ventimiglia to La Spezia and is one of the smallest regions in Italy. Its surface area is 5,416.03 square Kilometres, corresponding to 1.18% of the whole national surface area, with the following subdivision: 3524.08 kilometres mountain (65% of the total) and 891.95 square kilometres hill (35% of the total).
Its shape is that of a thin strip of land, from 7 to 35 km (4.35 to 21.75 mi) wide (respectively above Voltri and in the high mountain area around Imperia), on average about 240 km (149.13 mi) long, lying in a semicircle around the Ligurian Sea and with convexity facing north; comprised between the sea and the watershed line of the Maritime Alps and the northern Apennines, which at some points it crosses (for example in the Savona and Genoa mountains). Some mountains rise above 2,000 m (6,561.68 ft); the watershed line runs at an average altitude of about 1,000 metres (3,280.84 ft)
The continental shelf, which is very narrow, is so steep it goes down almost immediately to considerable marine depths. The coastline is 315 km long. Except for the Portovenere and Portofino promontories, it is generally not very jagged, and is often high. At the mouths of the biggest watercourses there are small beaches, but there are no deep bays and natural harbours except for those of Genoa and La Spezia.
The hydrographic system is made up of the short watercourses of a torrential kind. In the coastal part the most important are the Roja (in its lower course), the Nervia, and the Magra. On the inland side we find some tributaries of the Po: the two branches of the Bormida, the Scrivia and the Trebbia; there is not much water in these rivers, though the quantity increases greatly in rainy periods.
The ring of hills, lying immediately beyond the coast, together with the beneficial influence of the sea, account for the mild climate the whole year round (with average winter temperatures of 7-10° and summer temperatures of 23°-24°) which makes for a pleasant stay even in the heart of winter.
Rainfall can be very abundant at times; mountains very close to the coast create an orographic effect, so Genoa can see up to 2000 mm of rain in a year; other areas instead show the normal values of the Mediterranean area (500–800 mm). Despite the high population density, woods cover half of the total area. Liguria's Natural Reserves cover 12% of the entire Region, i.e. around 60,000 hectares of land, and they are made up of one National Reserve, six large parks, two smaller parks and three nature reserves.
Liguria knew the presence of Man in very ancient times. Traces of Neanderthal Man were discovered in the region of Loano, whereas in Ventimiglia, in the grotto of "Balzi Rossi", numerous remains were found which recall those of Cro-Magnon Man. According to the written sources we have about the settlements of the Ligurians (Ligures), the presence of this people of Mediterranean origin dates back to the first millennium B.C. on a vast territory including most of north-western Italy. This people, divided into several tribes, numbered less than two hundred thousand.
During the first Punic War the ancient Ligurians were divided, some of them siding with Carthage and a minority with Rome, whose allies included the future Genoese. After the Roman conquest of the region, the so-called X regio, named Liguria, was created in the reign of Emperor Augustus, when Liguria was expanded from the coast to the banks of Po River. The great Roman roads (Aurelia and Julia Augusta on the coast, Postumia and Aemilia Scauri towards the inland) helped strengthen the territorial unity and increase exchanges and trade. Important towns developed on the coast, of which evidences are left in the ruins of Albenga, Ventimiglia and Luni. Between the 4th and the 10th centuries Liguria was dominated by the Byzantine, the Lombards of King Rothari (about 641) and the Franks (about 774) and it was invaded by the Saracens and the Normans. In the 10th century, once the danger of pirates decreased, the Ligurian territory was divided into three marches: Obertenga (east), Arduinica (west) and Aleramica (centre). In the 11th and 12th centuries the marches were split into fees, and then with the strengthening of the bishops’ power, the feudal structure began to partially weaken. The main Ligurian towns, especially on the coast, became city-states, over which Genoa soon extended its rule. Inland, however, fees belinging to noble families survived for a very long time.
Between the 11th century (when the Genoese ships played a major role in the first crusade, carrying knights and troops to the Middle-East for a fee) and the 15th century the Republic of Genoa experienced an extraordinary political and commercial success (mainly spice trades with the Orient) and it was the most powerful maritime republic in the Mediterranean from the 12th to the 14th century, as is proven by its victorious resistance against Emperor Frederick Redbeard and by the Genoese presence in the nerve centres of power during the last phase of the Byzantine empire. After the introduction of the title of doge for life (1339) and the election of Simone Boccanegra, Genoa resumed its struggles against the Marquis of Finale and the Earls of Laigueglia and it conquered again the territories of Finale, Oneglia and Porto Maurizio. In spite of its military and commercial successes, Genoa fell prey to the internal factions which put pressure on its political structure.
Due to the vulnerable situation, the rule of the republic went to the hands of the Visconti family of Milan. After their expulsion by the popular forces under Boccanegra’s lead, the republic remained in Genoese hands until 1396, when the internal instability led the doge Antoniotto Adorno to surrender the title of Seignior of Genoa to the king of France. The French were driven away in 1409 and Liguria went back under Milan’s control in 1421, thus remaining until 1435. The alternation of French and Milanese dominions over Liguria went on until the first half of the 16th century. The French influence ceased in 1528, when Andrea Doria became the prestigious ally of the powerful king of Spain and imposed an aristocratic government which gave the republic a relative stability for about 250 years.
The impoverishment of the commercial routes with the Near East forced the Ligurian notables to engage, since then, in financial speculation. The international crises of the 17th century, which ended for Genoa with the bombing (1684) by King Louis XIV’s fleet, restored the French influence over the republic. Right because of this influence, the Ligurian territory was traversed by the Piedmontese and Austrian armies when these two states came into conflict with Versailles. The limit was reached with the Austrian occupation of Genoa in 1746. The Habsburgic troops were driven away by a popular insurrection in the same year. Napoleon’s first Italy campaign marked the end of the secular republic which, by the Emperor’s will, was transformed into Ligurian Republic , according to the model of the French Republic. After the union of Oneglia and Loano (1801), Liguria was annexed to the French Empire (1805) and divided by Napoleon into three departments: Montenotte, with capital Savona, Genoa and the department of the Apennines, with capital Chiavari.
After a short period of independence in 1814, the Congress of Vienna (1815) decided that Liguria should be annexed to the kingdom of Sardinia. The Genoese uprising against the House of Savoy in 1821, which was put down with great bloodshed, aroused the population’s national sentiments. Some of the most prestigious figures of the Risorgimento were born in Liguria (Mazzini, Garibaldi, Mameli, Bixio). In the first years of the century the region’s economic growth was remarkable: a lot of industries flourished from Imperia to La Spezia. During the tragic period of World War Two Liguria experienced hunger and two years of occupation by the German troops, against whom a liberation struggle was led among the most effective in Italy, when allied troops finally reached it they were welcomed by partisans which, in a successful insurrection, had freed the city and accepted the surrender of the local German command. For this feat the city has been awarded the gold medal for military valour.
The rugged terrain of this slender seaside region makes grape growing a challenge, meaning that vineyards are scattered and limited. Still some of the wines, even if hard to get to, are well worth the search. The legend among them is Cinqueterre, a white wine made around the "five lands" - fishing villages nestled in the cliffs along the coast north of La Spezia. Vines there have been planted since antiquity on scarcely accessible terraces close enough to the Ligurian Sea to catch the spray from breaking waves. Most Cinqueterre is dry, though the sweet and rare Sciacchetra` is often preferred by those in the know.
Near La Spezia, and the border of Tuscany, is the recent DOC zone of Colli di Luni where red and white wines, notably Vermentino, show promise. Few other wines of the Riviery Levante, the coast to the southeast of Genoa, are known beyond their localities.
Most of Liguria's limited commercial wine production is concentrated along the Ponente coast to the southwest. Until recently, Rossese di Dolceacqua, whose soft fruit and full flavour make it one of the most attractive of northern Italian reds, was the only classified wine. But now the Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC zone covers the other classis wines of the area, the white Pigato and Vermentino and the red Ormeasco (a local Dolcetto) and Rossese from Albenga. Pigato is a white of undeniable class whose prospects seem limited only by lack of vineyard space. Within the large DOC zone are areas with special subdenominations for certain wines: Albenga and Finale for pigato, Rossese and Vermentino and Riviera dei Fiori for all types.
Most other wines of Liguria are curiosities, local whites and reds that are usually at their best young and close to home. Such rarities as Buzzeto and Granaccia, Coronata and Lumassina are uniquely and proudly Ligurian.
- Cinque Terre or Cinque Terre Schiacchetrá - Sub-denominations: Costa de Campu, Costa de Posa, Costa de Sera, Schiacchetrà
- Colli di Luni - Varieties: Bianco, Rosso, Vernmentino
- Colline di Levanto - Varieties: Bianco, Rosso
- Golfo del Tigullio - Varieties: Bianchetta, Bianco, Ciliegiolo, Genovese, Moscato, Rosato, Rosso, Passito, Spumante, Vermentino
- Pornassio or Ormeasco di Pornassio
- Riviera Ligure di Ponente - Sub-denominations: Albenga o Albenghese, Finale o Finalese, Riviera dei Fiori
- Rossese di Dolceacqua or Dolceacqua
- Val Polcevera
- Colline del Genovesato
- Colline Savonesi
- Golfo dei Poeti La Spezia o Golfo dei Poeti
Grapes and wines
Despite there being one hundred varieties grown in this region, it is generally known for its wines made from the local white Pigato, whose name is thought to derive from the spots (pighe) that appear on the mature grapes. This variety gives wines a fragrant nose reminiscent of the Ligurian landscape with its pine wood and sea salt aromas, as well as an underlying minerality. Another star white is Vermentino. The red celebrities come in the form of Rossese, a variety which creates subtle, fruity and spicy wines, and Ormeasco, a similar variety to the Piedmontese Dolcetto.
It is only recently that more DOCs have been granted, the only one in the past having been Rossese di Dolceacqua (a soft, full-flavored red). Today there are eight; Colline di Levanto whose white is similar to that of its fellow DOC Cinque Terre, distinguished by its lingering bouquet, as well as for its Rosso starring Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo. Golfo del Tigullio lies between Genoa and Spezia and was awarded its status in 1997. This little-known area boasts an excellent Passito and various wines only using Ligurian varieties including Bianchetta Genovese. There's also Colli di Luni (meaning hills of the moon) and Val Polcevera whose hidden secret is the ancient Coronata variety (unique to Liguria), transformed into Rhine-style whites. The ancient red variety Ormeasco is like a knight in shining armour in Ormeasco di Pornassio, as it seems to be this zone's saving grace being an early ripener. Owing to premature autumnal frosts in the area and the particularly steep mountainside vineyards at 800 meters (2,625 feet) above sea level, it is not home to the most hospitable of vine growing environments.
Last but not least is Riviera Ligure di Ponente, largest of the Ligurian crew, which stands out from the crowd with its Bianco made from Pigato and Vermentino, and its Rosso crafted from Ormeasco and Rossese. Within this DOC there are sub-zones for particular wines such as Albenga and Finale producing wines from Pigato, Rossese and Vermentino, plus Riviera dei Fiori for all types. There are also some rare gems created from Buzzeto and Granaccia, and a Ligurian local, Lumassina.
• GRAPE VARIETIES