The photo below was taken in 2009 as we walked around the headland and took in our first view of the beautiful town of Manarola, an amazingly colourful village huddled out of the wind on its rocky promontory. Unlike Corniglia, Manarola has a small inlet that enables fishing boats and the local ferry to dock here. The sunnier photo of the dock area in the second picture below shows this rugged access to the Ligurian sea as well as how great the town looks on a sunny day!
Due to lack of historical records, it is unclear how long farmers and fisherfolk have been living in this rocky valley on the Cinque Terre coastline. The best evidence of the age of this village is the inscribed date of 1338 on the cornerstone of the local church. However others argue that the village has been here since Roman times. It is also the second smallest of these coastal villages with a recent estimate of population around the 350s. We returned in 2014 for a few days to the Cinque Terra and decided to stay in Manarola, in a lovely hotel situated at the end of the dock area, the building just out of sight in the above photo. It was a great spot to stay, if there was an inconvenience, it was the long walk up the hill to the top of town, particularly necessary at night time when you were looking for the great food provided by the restaurants higher up on Via Discovolo.
Any visitor staying in one of the Cinque Terre towns would want to visit the other towns along this coast and the train is probably the most convenient. To access the train station while staying in Manarolla, we had a walk up the hill to the Piazza Dario Capellini and then take a right turn into a pedestrian tunnel that took us down to the train station. The image on the left above is looking down on the Manarola station. In 2009 as we were crossing this railway bridge, we noticed that an embarrassed, lovelorn character, having decided not to take the coastal walk to Riomaggiore on the “Via dell’ Amore”, took the opportunity to leave a memento here of his deep feelings. He had a bought a lock for the occasion but he hadn’t inscribed it with his love message so the best he could do was to find a ‘post it note’ in his pocket and record his true feelings and tie it the metal lattice work on the side of the bridge. His forlorn “I love you” note probably didn’t survive the day before the wind blew it out to sea.
The old section of Manarola is on top of the hill above the small harbour of the town. The central square of the town is called Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV, named after the 12/13th century Pope born Sinibaldo Fieschi. ‘Fieschi’ was the name of a wealthy noble family from Genoa and the surname is used in Corniglia for one of its main streets. His name being attached to the main square of Manarola points to the belief that he was in fact born in Manarola. If he was born here in 1195, this takes the age of the village back 45 years earlier than the date of the construction of the parish church. Pope Innocent IV had a long, complex life attempting to maintain the traditional powers of the papacy against the warring nobility of northern Europe so I suspect the locals would be quite justified in being proud of this village ancestor.
As can be seen on the small map of the village further back in this article, the main piazza of the town is given over to church buildings with a long history. The main church is officially titled the Nativity of the Virgin Mary but is generally known by the patron saint of Manarola, San Lorenzo. It was built in the 14th century and is well worth a stroll around inside. It has a separate bell tower that is not attached to the church and stands alone not far from the edge of the piazza. I get the impression that it was originally a watch-tower for the citizens to get the long view of impending pirate raids.
The other ‘church’ building in the piazza has the slightly confronting title of the “Oratory of the Disciplinati’. According to one account, “The Disciplinanti were a congregation dedicated to the defense of the weakest since the fourteenth century.” It is a very simple building which was built some time in the 15th century. After we inspected the town’s historic church buildings, we moved over behind the bell-tower and took in the grand view over the town and the coast beyond. In the image below of Manarola taken from well above the town, the Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV can be see with its church buildings high on the hill. The other issue about Manarola from this image is that although on first sight it looks like a small beautiful village huddling on the headland, most of the town follows the gorge around the bend in the mountain and so much of the town escapes most of the weather coming in from the Ligurian Sea.