Liguria Itineraries: Imperia and Albenga
Nestled within the territory of Albenga, a spiritual center of great renown since the fifth century, are superb religious buildings overlooking the sea from the coastline or slightly inland. The route, which includes sanctuaries, seventeenth-century cathedrals and refined parish churches, culminates in the Sanctuary of Montegrazie, which houses the most important cycle of frescoes found within the entire territory of Imperia.
From Albenga to Laigueglia
Albenga has since Roman times been the administrational and religious centre of a vast territory its role is demonstrated by the importance of the episcopal nucleus which consists in a Baptistery, of the 5th century, and the Cathedral, built in the same period and of the two extra moenia cemetery-basilicas of San Vittore and San Calocero; developed to the north and south respectively along the via Julia Augusta and also dating from the 5th century.
The diocese offers numerous examples of religious devotion: parish churches, sanctuaries, oratories and simple country shrines. Starting from the town, one of the most significant itineraries through the profound religious beliefs of this region follows the coast visiting the western part of the diocese.
Alassio, dominated by the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Guardia, perhaps bears in the title of the parish church of Sant'Ambrogio the memory of an early Mediaeval settlement; the church of Santa Croce is an example of Romanesque architecture arisen on the ancient road; the church of San Francesco conserves the wooden altars typical of the oratory. Laigueglia, a village set in a crescent along the beach close in Capo Mele, is dominated by the 18th century parish church of San Matteo, with a spectacular multi-level curved facade crowned with statues and closed by two bell-towers with small domes in polychrome majolica.
Beyond Laigueglia you pass Capo Mele to reach Andora, a centre of parish jurisdiction along the Roman road and later a major feudal seat where the Romanesque-Gothic church of Santi Giacomo e Filippo, all in decorative stone from the nearby Capo Mele quarry, with a large splayed portal and inside great columns and ogival arches stands in a dominant beside the castle.
From Cervo to Diano Castello
You know come to Cervo, a lovely village clustered on a hill overlooking the sea, crowned by the spectacular parish church of San Glovanni Battista a grandiose work by G. B. Marvaldi (commenced in 1686), opening onto a courtyard which is a vast articulated terrace overlooking the sea, which has a concave facade is decorated with fine stucco-work and a belltower dating from the second half of the 18th century. The village conserves excellent reminders of Mediaeval times including the church of the Cavalieri di Malta, today the oratory of Santa Caterina and at the top of the village the structures of the feudal castle. Diano Castello has maintained the appearance of the Mediaeval walled village, and is dominated by the parish church of San Nicolò, an impressive Baroque construction by G.B. Marvaldi (1699).
Once past the Capo Berta headland, you come to the provincial capital of Imperia, made up of the ancient centres of Oneglia and Porto Maurizio. The old centre of Oneglia conserves the collegiate of San Giovanni Battista, a rare example of late-Baroque architecture with a cupola.Rising above Porto Maurizio is the majestic Duomo, designed by Gaetano Cantoni in 1781 with a neo-classical facade and imposing centralplan interior, marked by Corinthian columns. The church of San Pietro, opening spectacularly onto the coast towards Taggia and San Remo, is richly decorated with, among others, frescoes by Tommaso and Maurizio Carrega, the convent of the Poor Clares is of Mediaeval origin but 18th century appearance the church conserves fine painted works as does the oratory of San Leonardo. Immediately inland from Porto Maurizio - the sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie or di Montegrazie rises high within sight of the sea amongst thick olive groves. Built in 1450, the interior conserves perhaps the most important cycles of frescoes on the Imperia territory. The scenes of the Giudizio Finale were completed in 1483 by Tommaso and Matteo Biasacci, from Busca; the frescoes in the right apse were painted by Gabriele della Cella in 1498 and those in the right aisle were commissioned by Pietro Guido da Ranzo in 1524.
From Oneglia climb the Impero valley and pass over the colle di San Bartolomeo to enter Valle Arroscia, the most important of the valleys that converge upon Albenga; here Pieve di Teco lies at the centre of a large amphitheatre of minor valleys, full of settlements and fine churches. This tour ends with the sanctuary of Nostra Signora del Sepolcro di Rezzo which stands in a beautiful natural setting.
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