White Sailing Ships”, the town has remained virtually unchanged from the days when its captains sailed forth from the harbour to conquer faraway seas.
In the town’s historic centre, the parish church, the Dragon Castle and the colourfully decorated tall houses huddle around the old harbour, which still bustles with the activity of its fishing trade. Brightly painted “gozzi”, the typical Ligurian fishing boats, bob alongside rows of nets and the little rowboats used in the tuna fishery, the last one remaining in the Ligurian sea. The castle’s terrace affords captivating views of the harbour and Camogli’s little back alleys, known as “carruggi”.
The religious images of the Madonna still hanging along the carruggi were placed there over the course of centuries by the townsfolk as a votive offering for the protection of their fishermen away at sea.
A splendid example of “risseu”, the old technique of arranging grey and white stones collected on the beach into geometric patterns, commonly used in seaside villages, can be admired at the entrance to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Camogli’s parish church is only one of the town’s many places of worship, which also include the Oratory of Saints Prospero and Catherine, the Monastery of Saint Prospero, Saint Ann’s chapel and the shrine dedicated to of Our Lady of the Woods.
Starting at the harbour, a walk along the seafront promenade in Via Garibaldi affords ample opportunity to stop and sip a coffee, munch on some focaccia or leisurely savour local dishes in any one of the characteristic cafés or restaurants, while enjoying poetic views of the sea.
The natural beauty of the sea is a major attraction for numerous scuba divers who enthusiastically explore the wonders of the underwater world off the coast of the Portofino promontory, in recent years designated a protected marine reserve.
The town’s folklore comes alive in its typical celebrations.
The most popular is the Fish Festival, dedicated to the martyr Saint Fortunato, patron saint of fishermen, which is held the second weekend of May.
The festivities begin on Saturday evening, with the religious procession followed by the traditional bonfires on the beach.
On Sunday, the main attraction is the so-called “padellone”, a huge frying pan with a diameter of 4 meters, where enormous quantities of fish are fried and given away to visitors.
Another characteristic festival takes place on the first Sunday of August, when boats of all sorts are decorated to take part in the procession which goes by sea from Camogli to Punta Chiappa, where Mass is held at the shrine of the Madonna.
The priest, accompanied by the altar boys, leads the procession aboard Camogli’s most famous boat, the “Dragun”.
When night falls, Camogli is illuminated by scores of votive candles, placed in the sea by swimmers and boaters.
Softly rocked by the waves, the candles are slowly carried off by the current, in a silent salute to the sea.
- Società Capitani e Macchinisti navali Camogli
The monumental building sitting above the town’s centre is the Monastery of the Olivetan Benedictine monks of Saint Prospero, founded in 1880.
Saint Prospero, bishop of Tarragona, died in Camogli while passing through on his way to Rome, The stone where he rested his head before dying was sealed in the outer wall of the Monastery.
A valuable collection of scrolls is housed in the library of the monastery. From the square, lovely views of Camogli can be enjoyed.
The Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the “Boschetto”, or Little Woods, is found along the road which goes from Camogli to Ruta. The townsfolk of Camogli have always been especially devoted to this sacred spot, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a twelve-year-old shepherdess in 1518.
According to the story, in this apparition the Madonna told the girl that it was her desire that a chapel be built on the spot.
Today the church’s cloister houses a collection of votive paintings which bear witness to the devotion of Camogli’s sailors to Our Lady of the Little Woods.
Each year on Good Friday, the ark bearing the Madonna is carried in a procession which winds its way down from the shrine to the parish church.
Along the road from Camogli, going up the western side of the Portofino promontory, at 300 metres above sea level, among pine and chestnut trees lies the hamlet of Ruta, the trailhead for walks to Portofino Vetta and San Rocco.
This little hamlet, where Friederich Nietzche stayed in 1886, is comprised of homes and villas scattered along the slopes of the mountain.
Ruta’s parish church, dedicated to Saint Michael, houses a small marble sculpture entitled the “Madonna with Child”.
Two lovely baroque paintings from the Genoese school, “Crucifixion” and “Immaculate” hang in the presbytery.
The last little town accessible by motor vehicle in San Rocco. It is also reachable by foot, following the panoramic road which connects it to Ruta, or by any of the footpaths that lead to Camogli and the other little villages on the promontory.
San Rocco’s church stands in a little square which affords a spectacular view of Paradise Gulf. The church, built in 1863, is dedicated to Our Lady of Health”.
The church’s most impressive piece of artwork is the painting “Our Lady of Health” by Carlo Dolci, whose enormous marble frame was sculpted by Bernardo Schiaffino. Every year on the 16th of August, the feast of the patron Saint Rocco, prizes are awarded to the most loyal dogs of the year and to people who have shown outstanding love for animals.
There has been much speculation about the origin of the name “Camogli”.
One theory is that the name comes from the dialectical description “Cà a muggi”, or “heaps of houses” while another possible derivation is from “Cà de mogee” or “houses of wives” referring to the fact that the wives remained at home awaiting their husbands’ return from sea.
Another less romantic but more plausible theory is that the name comes from “Camulio” or “Camulo”, the name given to Mars by the Sabines and Etruscans or from “Camolio”, the sun god of the Gauls and Celts.
In 1877, by decree of King Vittorio Emanuele II, Camogli was declared a city, thereby earning the right to a heraldic crest, described as “blue, showing an old vessel with three lateen sails, gliding on a silvery green sea toward a golden tower.”
Camogli’s origins can be traced to prehistoric times as attested by three huts dating back to the 12th and 13th century B.C. found on the Castellaro hill, the same place where Roman ruins from the 2nd century B.C. were discovered. Written mention is made of “Vila Camuli” in a medieval text and from that time on its name appears more frequently in the annals of Genoese history.
Under the threat of raids by the Turk pirate Dragut, Camogli strengthened its ties to Genoa. The city was fortified and its port completed in 1624. After the battle of Abukir in 1798, when the Ligurian fleet dispatched by Napoleon was destroyed, Camogli’s shipowners invested their capital in building mercantile sailing vessels, ultimately leading to a fleet twice as large as the fleet in the port of Hamburg.
At this point, it became necessary provide protection for Camogli’s shipowners and in 1852, Niccolò Schiaffino founded the “Mutua Assicurazione Marittima Camogliese”, the first mutual marine insurance company of its kind, which guaranteed reimbursement for losses in the event of sinking.
The company’s motto was “All for one, one for all.” In 1856 a total of 580 vessels were registered with the company, which remained operative until 1888.
With the advent of the steamship at the end of the 19th century, Camogli’s sailing traditions were re-directed to the growing tourist industry.
Camogli’s Ship Museum houses artefacts, paintings, models, instruments, and religious relics donated by the town’s families.