Portofino is a quaint little fishing village and holiday resort on the Italian Riviera, located within the Metropolitan City of Genoa, which it joined in 1229 AD. The town is clustered around a small picturesque harbor, which is known both for its colorfully painted buildings lining the shore as well as its historical associations with royalty, the papacy, artists, and other celebrities. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) was even familiar with the town, referring to it as Portus Delphini (“Port of the Dolphin”) in the 1st century AD.
In 1409, Portofino was sold for a short time to the Republic of Florence by Charles VI of France. However, after he was ousted from Genoa, the Florentines gave it back. In 1815, it became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia; and then in 1861, part of the unified Kingdom of Italy.
During the late 19th century, British and Northern European aristocratic tourists began to visit Portofino, which they reached by horse and cart from the nearby town of Santa Margherita Ligure. Portofino is also frequently assumed to be the inspiration for the Italianate village Portmeirion, built in the north of Wales between 1925 and 1975 by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. However, he has repeatedly denied this, stating that he was only attempting to pay tribute to the general atmosphere of the Mediterranean.
Elizabeth von Arnim, author of the 1922 best-selling novel The Enchanted April, was amongst one of the more famous English people to make the area fashionable. Her novel was later turned into an Oscar-nominated feature film in 1991, starring Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, and Alfred Molina.
By 1950, the town’s waterfront had become a continuous ring of restaurants and cafés as tourism had finally replaced fishing as the town’s chief industry. Some other notable sights in the town include:
- The Statue of Christ of the Abyss, placed underwater in 1954 in the inlet at a depth of 56 feet. It was placed to protect fishermen and scuba divers and in memory of the first Italian to use SCUBA gear. It portrays Christ in the act of blessing while looking towards the sky with open arms in a sign of peace.
- Castello Brown (16th century) – an ancient military fortress located high above the harbor; it was also the inspiration for von Arnim’s famous novel and is now a house museum
- The Church of St. Martin (12th century)
- The Church of St. George (San Giorgio, below), housing some saints’ relics
- The Gothic oratory of Santa Maria Assunta
Notable residents over the town’s lengthy history have included:
- King Richard I of England (1157-1199), in 1190
- Pope Gregory XI (1330-1378), in 1377
- Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) – French writer, famous for his short stories with surprise endings, especially “The Necklace” and “The Piece of String“
- Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) – Italian engineer, inventor of radio
- Rex Harrison (1908-1990) – English actor, known for My Fair Lady (1957) and Doctor Dolittle (1967)
- Visited: Oct 2018