Lavagna is a delightful city on the Ligurian coast, the crescent-shaped slice of land that abuts the French border. The stretch of Mediterranean seafront is known as the Italian Riviera, making it a popular spot, yet Lavagna is relatively unknown despite its charm. It lies between Genova and La Spezia.
It sits along the Entella River where it flows into the sea, bordered on the backside by abundant olive groves on the hillsides. The pastel-painted town with the blue waters lapping at its feet is an appealing place, with narrow lanes, nice piazzas, and sunny atmosphere. Lavagna also claims five kilometers of sandy beaches and a colorful marina. In short, it's a great town!
It has Roman origins but came into prosperity during the Longobard period. It was fought over by the powerful Doria and Fieschi families, but noble and influential Genovese clans. It suffered Turkish pirate raids and was taken over by Napoleon in 1797. The name was given to the slate that is used as roof tiles and paving stones, quarried from the nearby San Giacomo Mountains. "Lavagna" in Italian means chalkboard, because the slate from this area was used for years in the schools.
The heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Marconi, lined with pastel palaces, and flanked on one side by the elegant Porticato Brignardello, a colonnade that provided covered access to the cathedral. The impressive Basilica of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen) sits on high and crowns the piazza atop its staircase. The beautiful basilica was built in the 6th century though renovated through the years. Beyond is the cemetery, where the marble memorials look like church spires, a striking sight.
Other important sights include the Torre del Borgo, a 1500s watch tower that was then converted into a residence with an attached chapel, and that today hosts an art gallery. The church of La Nostra Signora del Ponte (Our Lady of the Bridge) dates to the 13th century, so-called because it was constructed at the end of a wooden bridge that spanned the river.
Lavagna is a pretty lively place, too. The summer calendar is filled with festivals and sagras dedicated to various food items. It throws a Jazz and Wine Festival, and also puts on a big wedding party, Medieval style, called the Torta dei Fischi, an opulent event that re-enacts the marriage festivities of Count Fieschi with the Sienese noblewoman, Bianca de' Bianchi. The elaborate celebration includes period costumes, an impressive parade on horseback, and Medieval events like flag-throwing and jousting. It culminates in the cutting of the torta (cake) for all to enjoy!
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