I decided to leave Florence on Tuesday. I jumped in my suv and headed for Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. I had been there this past June for the celebration of Corpus Domini…the blessing of the sea. My plan this trip was to capture a different type of image of Riomaggiore than I had ever done before.
I arrived at two in the afternoon and the town was bustling. Riomaggiore is the most southern of the five cities of Cinque Terre and dates from before the 8th century. Very picturesque, it has a shoreline on the Mediterranean’s Gulf of Genoa with a narrow beach and wharf framed by towering houses that seem to stagger up the hillside in a jumble.
I figured I would check into my lodging and then roam the city the next day. I stayed in a small hotel with a beautiful garden at the top of the hill. 340 steep steps above the train station. I ate a late lunch in the hotel garden under the shade of the vineyard where I smelled the scent of flowers. The house specialty? Fried anchovies. This area is known for wine and I drank my fair share that afternoon. It is known as Sciacchetra and it comes two ways…sweet and sweeter. It is a beautiful yellow color with amber reflections and the scent of apricot and acacia honey. Delicious. And, intoxicating.
I sat in the garden and wondered what it must have been like in the days of the pirates. Pirates trolled the entire coastline and that is probably why the castle at the hill was built. Built in the 15th Century, the castle rises on a rocky crag and overlooks the sea.The Castle is reached by climbing the steep road from the railway station and heading pretty much straight up.
As I sat in the garden, I realized that time has not touched the Cinque Terre. The villages are connected by paths, trains and boats. Cars are scarce. The path known as Sentiero Azzurro or the light blue trail, connects the villages. When you first see Riomaggiore, you see the colorful old houses, stacked haphazardly on top of each other climbing the hills.
I decided that the castle was definitely on my agenda for tomorrow. As evening fell, I watched the night fishermen head out from the small harbor for the anchovies. They were starting their day and I was finishing mine.
In the morning , I woke up to the chiming of bell towers. The bells are the background music of Riomaggiore. ..they ring throughout the day. I had my coffee in the garden, dew on the fragrant plants. Even though it was early, the city was bustling. I have noticed that the small villages of Italy have a placid exterior but underneath, they are constantly moving, changing, so active and vibrant.
I headed over to the old castello of Riomaggiore. The castle has a square base. The longest part of the castle base overlooks the sea. Two towers flank it. The entrance to the castle is located between two towers. There is an external staircase that leads into the tower itself. Dark and shadowy, it has the feel of something ancient and haunting.
The castle is fascinating…but I did not think I could get the image I was looking for…
I explored the town and around five , I headed down to the small harbor.
The light was stunning. The warm light of day was melting into the golden light of sunset.
I was at the foot of the harbor. But, I wanted to shoot Riomaggiore from the sea…looking straight at the city. Out in the harbor, there were giant boulders of marble. They were huge pieces from the Carrera quarry. The quarry that was made famous as the source for the marble of Michelangelo’s David. White and slippery, they formed a jetty. And, they would ultimately be my footpath to capture the image I needed.
I spotted some stairs on the side of the crag that lead down to the water. I figured that if I went down the stairs, I could jump from rock to rock with my camera balanced on my back. That sounded realistic at the time. The stairs were the easy part. The marble was slippery and wet. I inched my way out into the harbor. I knew this was dangerous. But, what can I tell you? I wanted to shoot from the middle of the harbor. The night fishermen were eyeing me suspiciously but I just kept on going. Moving slowly out on the jetty. I got to the middle of the harbor. I set up my tripod and camera on the slick marble, moving slowly so as not to slip. One mis -step and me and my camera would be in the drink. I got into position. My tripod was balancing against me and the slippery marble. The light was amazing. Golden and warm, it was making the terraced houses of the town literally glow. It was a fantastic panorama of the town, a few people, a dog…perfect.
All that was behind me was the open sea.
Just as I was reflecting on the beauty of all that was before me, I got slammed with a rogue wave that hit me from behind. Drenched, I was hunched over my camera, trying to save it from a soaking like the one I had just gotten. I am standing in a harbor, on a wet rock, clinging to my gear. Small boats are sailing by me.
I got my footing back. I repositioned my camera. I looked out across the water and there it was….Riomaggiore glowing like a jewel across the harbor.
Click. That was it. My Riomaggiore.
I crept back across the slippery marble towards the steps. Frogs were chattering on the rocky shore and the night fisherman passed, headed out for anchovies.
I walked back to my hotel to change clothes. I was soaked.
And then I trekked over to the Bar & Vini , a local hangout perched on the side of the mountain, for a last few glasses of wine .
Tomorrow, I would head for Venice.