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Chiavari is situated on the Gulf of Tigullio, an area between the promontory of Portofino and Moneglia. It is best known as one of the busy resorts on the Liguria coast, with the seafront and pebble beach attracting lots of summer visitors.
Away from the beach Chiavari has a fascinating mix of architecture (note the three different architectural styles in the photo of Chiavari above) and is well known for its medieval streets known as the 'carrugi'.
If you have come for the beach you will be able to find that without our help so here we introduce the highlights within the historic centre of the town...
The most famous religious monument in Chiavari, and a good place to start your visit, is the Shrine of Our Lady dell’Orto, the cathedral built between 1613 and 1633 by Leoni Cesario Marro. When newly built it was entrusted to the Carmelite monks, who fled in 1797 following the proclamation of the Genoa Republic.
The architectural changes sustained over time are evident, and today it looks like a massive neoclassical building, since the first detail that leaps to the eyes is the pronaos (portico) by Luigi Poletti [1792-1869] and clearly inspired by the Pantheon in Rome - it consists of eight Corinthian columns of white marble.
The interior of the Shrine of Our Lady is rich in works of art of great value, including a fresco of the "Translation of Our Lady" by Carlo Baratta (1754-1815); a stucco by Ludovico Pogliaghi (1857-1950); an altar by Giovanni Ferradino (17th century), the chorus (17th century) and a wooden group by Anton Maria Maragliano (1664-1739).
Next visit the Palace of Justice, located in the heart of the city. In Tuscan-Gothic style the palace was built in 1886 on the site of a medieval town and of which a crenellated tower remains. The designer Giuseppe Partini (1842-1895) conceived this building in the style of those of central Italy.
Near the Palace of Justice you also find the so-called White Palace, in the neoclassical style, and the 19th century town hall. The Piazza Matteotti, better known as Carriage Square, is an important crossroads dominated on one side by the gardens of Villa Rocca.
The Park of Villa Rocca is divided into several areas, including a monumental greenhouses of orchids, a bamboo forest, a rose garden, an area featuring cacti, a palm grove and an area of conifers and oaks enriched with fountains and ponds. Within the park you can see the 'Tea villa' and the 'Temple of Music'.
Just below the gardens is the Palazzo Rocca, a combined house-museum. The building dates from 1629 and is by Bartolomeo Bianco (1590-1657), although subsequently extended. The palace contains several galleries and museums: the Municipal Gallery; the Archaeological Museum of the Prehistory and early history of Tigullio; and the Historical Museum of the Risorgimento.
Medieval Chiavaro and the Carrugi
The medieval old town in Chiavari is rich in the “carrugi” (the name given to the typical narrow streets dating from the Middle Ages) and a succession of historical buildings.
Among them one of the best known and most curious is the 12th century Palace of Blacks Portici. It has undergone several subsequent rearrangements, and has a gothic façade and four black pointed arches which form a large balcony.
Continuing to walk through the "carrugi", it is easy to understand why Chiavari was for many centuries an important commercial port of worldwide renown as you recall that hundreds of commercial enterprises were employed in a wide variety of activities under the ancient arcades.
Although these traditional ancient trades continue in some hidden areas of Chiavari, you will now also see many restaurants and famous modern boutiques, concentrated mainly in the city's main street, called the “Caruggio Dritto”.
As you head to the sea-facing part of Chiavari you will reach the Colonia Fara, a striking building of artistic value by the engineer Camillo Nardi Greco (20th century) that is an important example of rationalist futurist-architecture.
The shape is unusual and the tower, about 43 meters high, does not appear symmetrical to the base, but it is placed on the east side, and the building is an obvious reference to the shape of an airplane.
Saint James Church in Rupinaro, formerly known as St. Jacob de Arena, was probably built between the 8th and 9th century, outside the fortified citadel. It has a beautiful but modern (1938) façade and is set in an architectural context dating from the 17th century.
The church interior has a single nave, an altar by Francesco Schiaffino (1689-1765) and a baroque choir decorated with twelve paintings of religious inspiration by Giovanni Battista Carlone (1603-1684).
Another example of religious architecture worth visiting in Chiavari is the Church of St. John the Baptist, built in 1181 and completely rebuilt in the years between 1624 and 1631 by Andrea Vannone and Bartolomeo Rossi. The façade was again renewed in 1935, thanks to Gaetano Moretti (1860-1939).
The interior has three aisles, filled with works such as "Black Cross" by Francesco Schiaffino and some paintings by Domenico Piola (1627-1703), Orazio De Ferrari (1606-1657) and Domenico Fiasella (1589-1669).
The cuisine of Chiavari reflects the typical dishes of Liguria with specialities such as “pesto”, trofie and “trenette”, porridge (with chickpea flour). Also well-known are the cake called “Pasqualina” and the Genoese “thin capon”. Also typical of the region are the “pansoti” (ravioli with ricotta and herbs)
See also history of Chiavari
The very picturesque village and peninsula of Portofino are just a few kilometres to the north-west of Chiavari and the coastal villages of the Cinque Terre are about 25 kilometres to the south-west so you are in easy reach of some of the most lovely villages and coastal scenery to be found in Italy!
You can find more local travel ideas in the Liguria guide.