A Book of the Riviera/Chapter 18
Admirable site—Old Alassio Church of San Ambrogio—Palace of the Ferreri—Arco Romano—Gallinaria—Saint Martin—Andora— Oneglia—Andrew Doria, the Admiral—Albenga—Retreat of the Sea—Proculus— Cathedral—Baptistery—Piazza dei Leoni—The Towers—S. Maria in Fontibus—Garlenda Beauty of Drive.
ALASSIO falls short of other winter resorts in no degree, in sweetness of situation, shelter from blustering cold winds, and in abundance of objects of interest in the neighbourhood. In climate, in everything but one, it equals San Remo, Bordighera, and Mentone. The one thing it lacks is good shops.
Alassio consists of one narrow street a mile and a half in length, out of which radiate towards the sea passages under arches. It does not contain, in itself, much of interest. The church and the palace of the Ferreri exhaust the place. The church of San Ambrogio has a tower of the thirteenth century, and the old church, altered, remains, with a later church built on to it in the south in late renaissance times, that is distinctly pleasing, with its white and black marble and blue-grey stucco, between the marble pilasters.
The palace of the Ferreri family, with its rich and cumbrous gateways sculptured with the family arms,
contains fine tapestries, family portraits, and rich furniture.
The arms of the town are curious: argent, a tower out of which rises a king crowned and wearing garments red and green.
A favourite excursion from Alassio is to the Arco Romano, a Roman arch, through which a lovely peep of the sea is obtained. To the east appears the curious isle of Gallinaria, shaped like a snail, with the ruins of a Benedictine monastery on it. In 358, in the midst of the war against the Allemanni, when the Emperor Julian was at Worms, Martin, who was in the army, and a tribune, asked to be released from military duty. Julian was indignant. A battle was imminent, and he scornfully refused the petition, and charged Martin with cowardice. The young tribune replied, "Put me in the forefront of the army, without weapons or armour, and prove if I be what you say."
However, the Allemanni asked for peace, it was granted, thereupon Martin obtained his dismissal. He then went to Poitiers and placed himself under the teaching of S. Hilary. Then he departed to visit his parents in Pannonia. As he crossed the Alps he was attacked by robbers and plundered of all he had. On reaching his native city of Sabaria, Martin succeeded in converting his mother to Christ, but his father persisted in his paganism. Then he returned to Italy, and after tarrying awhile at Milan, where he was vexed by the Arians, he took refuge on this islet of Gallinaria. There he lived on roots, and nearly poisoned himself by accidentally eating the hellebore, attracted by its dark green leaves and pale flowers. Providentially the spasms caused by the poison came on so rapidly as
to check him from eating enough to kill him; but he suffered great pain, and lay at death's door. A cave is shown in the island which S. Martin is traditionally held to have inhabited. After some sojourn on Gallinaria,
Martin left it and went back to Poitiers.
To visit the curious old mountain village of Andora, one must leave the train at Laigueglia, before it rushes into the tunnel pierced through the spur of rock on which Andora stands. The church dedicated to SS. Philip and James is in Lombardic Gothic of the fourteenth century, and is one of the most interesting monuments of the style in Liguria. Above the high altar is a crucifix of carved wood, the figure of natural size, believed to be still earlier than the church, which dates from 1341.
Adjoining the church is a tower with swallow-tail battlements, that belonged to the old castle, but has now been united to the church. There are also at Andora the ruins of a feudal castle, the Parasio, the residence of the Podesta till 1797. There are also remains of a Roman aqueduct and a Roman bridge over the river, still in good condition.
Oneglia was the birthplace of Andrew Doria, the great admiral. It is an ugly town; the prison is in the shape of a cross, with a huge lantern at the junction of the arms lighted through cockney Gothic windows.
The Dorias, Fieschi, Grimaldi, and Spinolas were the four principal families of Genoa. Simone Doria, who lived in 1270, was a Troubadour, and he once had a dispute with Lanfranc Cigala as to which was preferable, to deserve the favour of a lady or to possess it. Doria maintained the latter proposition. "I did once suppose," said Lanfranc, "that merit carried a lady's favour, I now know that impudence gains it. Doria has taught me that."
Andrew Doria was born at Oneglia in 1468. He was son of Andrew Coeva, of the, Dorias, that were Princes of Oneglia, but as this Andrew represented a junior branch, he came into but a small slice of the inheritance, and, dying early, his widow, mother of the great Andrew, thought it well to get as the protector of her boy Dominico Doria, belonging to the elder branch, and this she obtained by ceding to him the rights in Oneglia that had belonged to her husband. Dominico was then captain of the guards to Pope Innocent VIII., and he put the young Andrew in his company. Andrew forged ahead, and became a naval captain of great importance. He had no scruples, and he passed from side to side, as best conduced to his interests. At one time he fought for Francis I., and then he went over to the service of Charles V. When these rivals met at Aigues Mortes, Francis I. mounted the galley of the great admiral, and noticed a bronze cannon with on it the Arms of France. He looked hard at Doria, who said, "This gun is of excellent metal." "I cast better cannons now," remarked the King, meaning that he offered better pay than formerly.
"The Emperor's metal is good enough for me," retorted Doria. Francis turned to the Emperor and said, "You made a good catch when you netted Doria. Mind you keep him."
Against the judgment of Doria Charles V. undertook his disastrous expedition against Algiers in 1541. In 1539 Doria, with the Imperial fleet, that of Venice, and that of the Pope, lighted on the very inferior Turkish fleet under Kheyr-ed-din Barbarossa, off Previsa. The Christian strength was really overwhelming. Eighty Venetians, thirty-six Papal and thirty Spanish galleys, together with fifty sailing galleons, made up the formidable total of nearly two hundred ships of war, and they carried scarcely less than 60,000 men and 2,500 guns. Doria was in chief command, Capello and Grimano led the Venetian and Roman contingents. On September 25th the allied fleets appeared off the Gulf. Barbarossa had 122 ships of war.
On the morning of the 27th the corsairs were amazed to see Doria sail away. Germano and Capello went on board the flagship and urged Doria to engage the enemy; they even implored him to depart himself, and allow them to fight the battle with their own ships, but in vain.
"The result was practically a victory, and a signal victory, for the Turks. Two hundred splendid vessels of three great Christian States had fled before an inferior force of Ottomans; and it is no wonder that Sultan Suleyman, when he learnt the news at Yamboli, illuminated the town, and added 100,000 piasters a year to the revenues of Barbarossa."
"It was," says Brantome, "a common opinion at the time that there existed a secret engagement between Barbarossa and Doria to avoid fighting each other on decisive occasions, so as to prolong the war, which gave both of them employment, and furnished them with means of acquiring wealth."
What seems to confirm this was the setting at liberty by Doria of the renegade corsair Dragut, who had been made prisoner, and who was a favourite of Barbarossa, and a scourge to the Christians.
In 1547 a conspiracy of the Fieschi almost cost Andrew Doria his life. His nephew was murdered by them, but at the same time Giovanni Luigi Fieschi was
Scarcely was this conspiracy crushed, before Giulio Cibo, brother-in-law of Giovanni Luigi Fieschi, formed another out of the remnant of the faction. This was discovered; Cibo had his head struck off, and all the rest of the Fieschi and those who held by them were banished. The brother of Giovanni Luigi fell into Doria's hands, and was by his orders sewn up in a sack and thrown into the sea.
Andrew had been much worried by a pilot asking him for this and for that. Doria said, "If you speak again to me more than three words, I will have you hung." "Pay or discharge," said the pilot. Doria laughed, gave him his pay, and retained his services.
Andrew Doria met with a great reverse at the hands of that same Dragut whom he had released to please Barbarossa. In 1552 Dragut came on him when he was least awares, and put him to flight. Dragut pursued him, sank two of his vessels, captured seven of his fleet with seven hundred German soldiers, and their captain, Nicolas Madrucci.
Andrew died in his splendid palace near Genoa in 1560, at the age of 93, without leaving issue by his wife who was niece of Pope Innocent VIII.
Albenga, easily reached from Alassio, either by road or rail, is a most interesting but unhealthy town. It lies low where three rivers, uniting, empty into the sea, and the plain is made up of deposits brought down by them. Anciently the sea reached to its walls, and only withdrew in the tenth century. Albenga was the capital of the Ligurian Ingauni, and a great naval station. Thence sailed a fleet of thirty-two ships which fought the Romans in B.C. 20. It helped Hannibal with ships and men, and when Magone, brother of Hannibal, was wounded, he retired to Albenga to be cured.
Afterwards it became, but reluctantly, allied to Rome. In the times of Probus, A.D. 276-282, a native of Albenga, named Proculus, a man of extraordinary strength, set up to be emperor, but was speedily killed. Constantine, a grandee of the Court of Honorius, A.D. 395-423, fortified the town, and he it was who built the Ponte Longo, a Roman bridge now sunk to the spring of the arches, and deserted by the river, which has completely altered its course.
Albenga has a most interesting cathedral of the twelfth century that has been mutilated and altered internally into a rococo temple. The west front was partly removed in renaissance times and rebuilt, clumsily; but externally, the east end with its apses tells of the true antiquity of the church. Hard by is what is still more venerable: a baptistery, half buried in the soil, of the fifth (?) century. It is descended into by fourteen steps, so greatly has the soil risen since it was built. The building is octagonal, and had its windows filled with pierced slabs of stone; of these fillings in only two remain, one very rich, with carved interlaced work as well as with perforations. Within is a large font for immersion, as at Ventimiglia, and the vault is sustained by eight granite columns, probably taken from a Pagan temple. The altar is ancient, enriched with mosaic work representing the Agnus Dei surrounded by twelve doves.
At the east end of the cathedral is the Piazza dei Leoni, where are three rude stone lions, remains of a monument raised in 1288, but taken from an earlier Roman structure.
That which strikes the visitor especially, coming from France, are the towers of the nobles. "Its thirteen mediæval towers," says Hare, "remind the Italian traveller of S. Gimignano, rising out of the plain like a
number of tall ninepins set close together." I do not think there are thirteen; certainly not that number of lofty towers; but the earthquake of 1887 damaged, or threw down, several.
The finest are the Torre Balestrino, the cathedral tower, and the Torre del Comune. Five of the old gates remain. The church of S. Maria in Fontibus, in Genoese Gothic, striped black and white marble, takes its name from a spring that rises under the altar, and was supposed to possess miraculous powers for the healing of lepers.
A beautiful drive from Albenga up the valley leads to Garlenda, where are paintings by Domenichino, a S. Maurus, a Martyrdom of S. Erasmus, by Poussin; and a Nativity of Our Lady by Guercino. At the time of the French Revolution, when the troops were pouring over the frontier into Italy, the parishioners of Garlenda, fearful of being robbed of these artistic treasures, removed and hid them.
The road to Garlenda passes through orchards of peaches and fields of narcissus.
"The valley is radiantly beautiful in spring. Overhead are tall peach trees with their luxuriance of pink blossom. Beneath these the vines cling in Bacchanalian festoons, leaping from tree to tree, and below all large melons, young corn, and bright green flax, waving here and there into sheets of blue flower, form the carpet of Nature. Sometimes gaily-painted towers and ancient palazzi with carved armorial gateways and arched porticoes, break in upon the solitude of the valley."—Hare.
- Lane Poole, The Barbary Corsairs, p. 104.