Those who fly over the Gulf of Poets can already see why La Spezia is known for inspiration and romanticism. And they start fantasizing about that deep inlet on the Ligurian coast, in the smell of Tuscany, on the mountainous turn of the boot-shaped peninsula. As Dante defined it, its jagged shoreline is the most rotta, “broken” coast between Lerici and Turbia (La Turbie, in France). It is dotted with the islands of its archipelago, a charming gesture of greeting towards the sea.
Here we go; we did it again. Thinking about the Bay of the Poets, we call into question the most important poets, and we feel inspired. And so it must have been for many poets who, since ancient times, have chosen the Gulf of La Spezia to seek contact with their spirit. And despite the vicinity of the much more famous Cinque Terre, that’s what La Spezia is known for, inspiration. As the romantic poets noticed, nature is still dominant and powerful today, seamlessly blended with the villages of its coast. Today, even if you are not a poet, it is sailing, walking, and swimming along its coasts that you can feel the beauty.
Why the Gulf of the Poets?
Paolo Mantegazza was a well-known scientist and writer at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was an Italian physiologist, pathologist, hygienist, and novelist. Besides that, he was among Italy’s first popularizers of Darwinian theories. For a period, he was a member of the Kingdom’s Parliament (responsible for the Parliament’s definition: “Here we have the highest perfection of a reverse mechanism, where almost all the forces are transformed into friction“). His novel The year 3000, the dream places him among Italy’s forerunners of science fiction writing. Mantegazza chose San Terenzo, a village in the Gulf of Spezia, as his residence and died there in 1910. His funeral oration was read by Sam Benelli, a playwright who was in San Terenzo to write his Cena delle Beffe. In parting words, he said:
Blessed are you, Poet of Science, who may rest in peace in the Gulf of Poets. Blessed are you, inhabitants of this Gulf, who have found a man who will worthily welcome the shadows of the great visitors.Sem Benelli
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The Gulf of the Poets towns
Many villages overlook the Gulf of Poets, which are essential for this area’s story and its population’s character. From east to west, the main towns are found in the following order:
Around these is a constellation of small towns overlooking the sea from the hills surrounding the Gulf and the seaside resorts hidden in the coasts’ ravines.
During the Palio del Golfo, a competition La Spezia is also known for, the historic villages vie for the victory of a heartfelt rowing competition. The Palio originates from the competition of local mussel farmers to reach the fish market of La Spezia first and establish the prices of the catch.
The La Spezia Poets
Ma perché Sem Benelli chiamo così la baia di Spezia? Doveva aver notato, e faceva notare con questa fortunata definizione, che furono davvero tanti i poeti che passarono da questo golfo. Molti pensano per primo a Dante, ma non è così. In epoca romana, quando questo tratto di costa ligure era già popolata da importanti ville patrizie (abbiamo testimonianza di quelle sui due lati opposti del Golfo, al Varignano e Montemarcello) vi abitò il poeta Aulo Persio Flacco, che in una delle sue Satire recita
For me, there are only the warmth of the Ligurian beach and the winter of my sea, where the rocks form a broadside and the shore arches into a deep bosom. Come and visit the Port of Luni, citizens, it is worth it. To this exhorts the heart of Ennius.Aulo Persio Flacco
Probabilmente però il poeta Ennio, che nel 204 passava di qui in nave, si riferiva a Luni, non propriamente sul Golfo oggi dei Poeti.
Il sommo poeta Dante fu ospite della famiglia Malaspina di Lunigiana in più riprese, e la sua presenza ospite al Castello di Fosdinovo è una delle poche certe sul percorso dell’esule. È certificata dalla Pace di Fosdinovo del 1306, e la sua ispirazione dalle famose parole che descrivono la costa ligure. Per Francesco Petrarca, Portovenere faceva dimenticare Atene a Minerva.
Ma furono i poeti romantici inglese a iniziare un vero via-vai di scrittori e poeti nel Golfo, facendone una tappa imperdibile del loro famoso “Gran Tour” nell’800. Notoriamente George Sand, i poeti Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley e sua moglie Mary Shelley vi abitaroo a lungo, e vi hanno lasciato Charles Dickens, Henry James,Virginia Woolf e David Herbert Lawrence. Gli italiani Giosuè Carducci, Gabriele D’Annunzio e poi Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, che del Golfo era talmente innamorato da scrivere L’aeropomea del Golfo (che fun fischiato come un fiasco, però, al debutto nel teatro civico di Spezia). Mario Soldati, Pier Paolo Pasolini e come non ricordare le parole di Eugenio MOntale, ligure di nascita, che così descrive Portovenere:
Là fuoriesce il tritoneEugenio Montale, Portovenere
dai flutti che lambiscono
le soglie d’un cristiano
tempio,ed ogni ora prossima
è antica. Ogni dubbiezza
si conduce per mano
come una fanciulla amica.
Là non è chi si guardi
o stia di sé in ascolto.
Quivi sei alle origini
e decidere è stolto:
ripartirai più tardi
per assumere un volto.
Tanti anche i poeti dell’arte visiva, il pittore macchiaiolo Telemaco Signorini immortalò La Spezia e le Cinque Terre in alcuni celebri dipinti, e il paesaggista inglese William Turner e lo svizzero Arnold Böcklin solo per citarne alcuni.
The Poets’ places, an itinerary
If we wanted to draw an itinerary to follow in the footsteps of the poets, it would be a little romantic. However, suppose you are lucky enough to walk hand in hand with a romantic or want to impress someone with quotes and social photos. In that case, you could undoubtedly start from Portovenere.
Portovenere and the Byron Grotto
The uniqueness of Portovenere did not escape the romantic poets, in love with the drama of nature between the sea and the high rocky coast. George Sand said “The sea is a painting that changes color and mood every minute, day and night. There are depths filled with a clang whose frightening variety is hard to imagine.” A romantic dream. One of the most characteristic places of the Golfo dei Poeti is a spectacular natural cavity beyond the tip of Porto Venere. You can reach it from a suggestive stone passage on the stairway to reach San Pietro. It’s called, lo and behold, Byron cave. The poet Lord was a great swimmer. According to legend, he used to plonge here and reach Lerici in strokes. Perhaps he had tea with his friends Percey Bysshe and Mary Shelley, who lived in San Terenzo, on the opposite side of the Gulf!
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Lerici, San Terenzo and Fiascherino
With a splendid view of the Gulf, Lerici offers numerous poetic ideas and appeals, as the promenade connecting the literary places along the seafront reminds us. San Terenzo hosted Percy and Mary Shelley, idols of generations of romantics, with their son Percy Florence, friends Jane and Edward Williams lived from April to September 1822 in Villa Magni, the white house decorated with arches overlooking the sea. And to get to San Terenzo by the sea with a schooner, Shelley drowned. The English writer David H. Lawrence, author of Lady Chatterley, lived in the beautiful bay of Fiascherino from 1913 to 1914 with his red-haired partner Frieda, sister of the Red Baron, legendary German aviator. Henry James, an American writer who spent most of his life in England, wrote part of his “Italian Hours” here.
In the village of Tellaro poetry is at home, all the images remind us of this, and also Eugenio Montale, who in his “Verso Tellaro” wrote
…cupole di fogliame da cui sprizza
una polifonia di limoni e di arance
e il velo evanescente di una spuma,
di una cipria di mare che nessun piede
d’uomo ha toccato o sembra, ma purtroppo
il treno accelera…
LA Spezia is the ideal starting point for a visit of the Poets Bay by boat. Book your boat tour to see what La Spezia is known for!
The Golfo dei Poeti is not just a dreamy gaze at the horizon, fantasizing about the great past, blue eyes in love. On the contrary, the nature of the La Spezia sea and its coast are fascinating because they draw in beauty to actively experience it. We recommend experiencing the Gulf of Poets from the sea, embracing it with your gaze. A boat ride or a kayak ride, perhaps at sunset, allows you to grasp its most enchanted, romantic, and inspired nuances, just as it must have been for past poets.