Set in the centre of the Tigullio Gulf, Zoagli lies between the green hills and the rocks that dip down into the sea. The town leans on a wide beach where the Sea Promenade starts from, winding round and some little caves, taking you to discover the whole bay landscape, and to touch the sea, testing its perfumes and sounds. A scenic path at day that becomes romantic at night time with its spectacular and pictoresque lighting.
A real divers’ paradise, on the sea depth we can admire the statue of Our Lady of the Sea, work of art made by the sculptress Hastianatte.
Those fond of walking in plein air can find in Zoagli a vast selection of hill tracks offering beautiful landscapes.
Zoagli was already inhabitated in a pre -Roman period, and was a prehistoric “castellaro” village, whose trace we can find today in the toponym of the St.Pantaleo promontory; later on, Zoagli was also crossed by the Roman Way, that in some places of the country has maintained the ancient course.
The first inhabitated groups formed at mid- hill, united by a common path, afterwards the hamlet down the hill also developed, and in 1200 we have news about a church, the present St. Martino’s Church, one proving the existence of an inhabitated centre.
First as a Fieschi’s feud, then under the Republic of Genoa dominance Zoagli developed the art of weaving silk that, together with coral fishing and later with sea travel were the main activities of the inhabitants.
The soil, harsh and strongly leaning, compelled the people of Zoagli to build, through the centuries, that giant work of building walls and terraces linked by steep paths and mule tracks, characterizing the present typical Ligurian landscape.
Despite the toughness of working, agriculture still enjoys a very good sun exposition: the cultivation of olive and fruit trees, like fig trees and vineyard, were the most frequent; the mountain passes, like the Anchetta Pass, allowed product exchanges with the hinterland.
In the 19th century, with the building of the road and the railway, Zoagli becomes a famous resort, visited at first by Swiss and English tourists; alongside with the palaces of some noble Genoese families, new houses of liberty style were added, like The Merello Tower, by Coppedé and later the Sem Benelli castleprojected by the set designer Mancini.
Visitors of Zoagli were also Nietsche, Kandinsky, Tosi, Ezra Pound.
During the Second World War Zoagli was repeatedly bombed by air raids that destroyed the centre of the town killing about 60 inhabitants. After the rebuilding, the central square was named “XXVII December” in memory of the first air raid and Zoagli was assigned of the Civil Merit Medal.
The ancient art of weaving silk
Thanks to famous weavers from Lucca, on their way to Genoa to get the silk, Zoagli has had an ancient link with this noble art. From 1500 a fervent collaboration starts with the Genoese silk weavers, bringing raw silk and getting back the precious cloth.
Zoagli will specialize in the production of velvets, the most complex tecnique, reaching a high technical level both in the operate velvets, also multicoloured, and in the non operate ones.
Weaving was a domestic job and for centuries the rhythmic sound of the looms was heard through all the country; at the end of the 18th century the job of weaving had become less and less gainful, so the female involvement in weaving began.
In 1800 the looms working in the territory were at least 1200 and the job was performed almost exclusively by the women and carried out alongside with domestic and agricultural works.
At the end of 1800 the first factories were built, however they maintained the domestic characteristic of the production, kept in part intact till the postwar period.
Today, two laboratories are still operative: Cordani and Gaggioli, where you can still admire the production of velvets and damasks on original looms dating back to the 19th century.
Among the many roads and paths leading halfway up the hills, the one called of the “Five Bell Towers” is the most well - known and the one that shows you most the natural and architectural beauties of the territory. Starting from the town centre you can admire the whole territory in a halfway walk up the hill reaching the three hamlets of Zoagli and, precisely, five churches with their bell towers.
St. Martino’s Parish Church, in the centre, was built by architects Ricca on the base of an ancient building, dating back at least to 1200. It hosts two wooden groups of sculptures probably of Maragliano School, marble decorations of 15th century and the altar of Our Lady of the Rosario made by Schiaffino.
The most ancient find is in St. Pietro di Rovereto Parish Church, a marble Roman cinerary urn used as a stoop, dating back to I century a.C. The church square, recently restored, is of great artistic value; it was realized at the end of 1700 with the tecnique of the“risseu”, in multicoloured pebbles in five colours.
St.Giovanni Battista’s Church in Semorile, enlarged in 1700, preserves a part of the ashes of the Saint, brought and donated to Genoa by Captain Giovanni Merello, from Zoagli, commader of the Ligurian army in the Crusades.
St.Pantaleo’s Church is the most ancient, set on the ancient Roman Way, it dates back to XII century. It is in Roman stlyle with three aisles and the apse looking to the east. The bell tower dates back to 18th century.
St.Ambrogio’s Church enjoys a wonderful sight, with its square dominating the Tigullio Gulf; in neoclassical style, the church was enlarged on the base of a previous church, dating back to 6th century, devoted to s.Ambrogio at the time of the exile in Liguria of Ambrosiani bishops.
Besides the five major churches, along the path we find three little chapels: St. Pellegrino, built in 18th century, St. Maria Maddalena in the old hamlet of Sexi, where you can find ancient portals and the small church devoted to St. Bernardo, leaning on a wonderful landscape.
Following another track, from St. Pietro to Mount Anchetta, you find the Madonnetta’s Sanctuary, a country chapel with a portico meant to receive pilgrims. At first it was a retreat for monks (camaldolesi), but when abandoned at the the beginning of the 19th century, it was converted in the present sanctuary devoted to Holy Mary.
Zoagli was sacked by Saracen pirates in different ages, but, when in 1500 Ligurian coasts were raided by the famous pirate Dragut, Zoagli decided to build two towers to defend the town, towers that later became “sanitary towers”.
Still today they dominate the central beach, and have been recently restored; they are the Eastern Saracen Tower, belonging to the City Hall, where it is possible to celebrate civil marriages, and the Western Saracen Tower, in the Canevaro Castle, which is part of the group of the Genoese Patrician Villas.
The town’s coat of arms is the same of the noble Zoagli family, who gave birth to two Doges of Genoa and to Goffredo Mameli’s mother: two towers are reproduced on the coat of arms, on a yellow and blue background, being the colours of the two major confraternities’ symbol colours: the seamen and the weavers.
Zoagli offers a warm hospitality in every season, thanks to the mild clime, the wonderful landscape and its peacefulness.
In summer, musical appointments and dancing nights in the hamlets, connected with religious celebrations, will take place, cheering your stay.
Important events: on 5th August the celebration of Our Lady of the Sea, featuring an evocative cerimony on the sea; on 8th December the streets are animated with Christmas Markets, and the fourth Sunday of May with the organization of the five Bell Towers March.
Top things to do
First of all, the wonderful Promenade, a stone path close to the sea, that winds through rocks and calette like a stone balcony between the sky and the sea, where you can enjoy the sea during the day or stare at the stars at night, surrounded by the maritime scents and sounds.
The Eastern Saracen Tower Reachable through the Promenade, it is owned of the Town Council and hosts exhibitions and cultural events; it can host civil weddings as well.
The Western Saracen Tower and Canevaro Castle. It is a private property, but it can be rented for ceremonies and events. It was the main defence tower, sided by another building which hosted the defence garrisons.
The Churches and buildings
S. Martino’s Parish Church. Built by architect Ricca, it hosts two wooden groups of sculptures probably of Maragliano’s school. S. Pietro di Rovereto’s Parish Church The 18th century style bell-tower was built on an ancient defence tower, and it hosts a Roman cinerary urn. The square in front of the Church is made of multi-coloured pebbles, recently repaired, and it was realised in 1770. S. Pantaleo’s Church Set on the ancient Roman Way, it dates back to the 12th century. It is a Roman style church and it stands right on the crest between Zoagli and Rapallo. S. Ambrogio A small village of great natural beauty. The Square was designed by Architect Porcinai.
Sem Benelli’s Castle on Aurelia Way A huge modernstyle building designed by architect Mancini, who was also set-designer for the dramatist. Villa Merello Refined modern-style building and tower, dominating the town centre from the West, it was built by architect Coppedè.
Statue of Our Lady of the sea
A contemporary work of art made by sculptress Hastianatte, it is set on the sea-depth in front of the Eastern Promenade, 9 meters deep.