A LOOK INTO SILENCE
Located on the Levantine coast of the Italian region of Liguria, Sestri, as its inhabitants call it, is known as "the city of the two seas", because its colorful houses and villas look out over two bays, the secluded Bay of Silence (Bahia del Silencio) and the elongated Bay of Fables (Bahía de las Fábulas).
To precisely understand this position, we are going to look for a higher point with wonderful views.
To get there, from the area where we usually get off the bus, go down the main pedestrian street, Via XXV Aprile, and turn left onto Via Palestro, and then follow the signs for Salita dei Capuccini. A slight ascent will take us to a panoramic point, to the viewpoint of the Terrazza dei Frati. On this small terrace in front of the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Capuchin monks and located next to its convent, we will enjoy what is undoubtedly the postcard of Sestri and one of the most beautiful views of the town.
The promontory on the isthmus, origin of Sestri and base of the medieval city of the Genoese, is perfectly distinguishable. On both sides of the isthmus are two bays, both beautiful and at the same time very different. To the right, the most open bay, Las Fábulas, is where most of the city´s beach establishments are located. And in front of us, the best known, undoubtedly for its beauty, but also for its small dimensions that make it very welcoming, is the Bay of Silence, a crescent of sand bathed by the calm waters of the Ligurian Sea in which reflect their colored houses. Bustling and lively in the summer, calm and reflective in the cooler months, but without a doubt, the most beautiful image of Sestri.
YOU HAVE ALREADY FOUND WHERE PESTO WAS INVENTED
When we pass through Liguria, the Italian region in which Sestri is located, it is almost obligatory to try a sauce that was created here and became famous all over the world: the “Pesto” sauce.
Let´s start first knowing the sauce and its history. Although the recipe as we know it today has its origins in the 19th century, it is surely inspired by another very old one based on garlic, called "agliata" (aglio is garlic in Italian), a base of oil, garlic and vinegar, which was used to preserve food on ships, and to which the aromatic herb basil, very abundant in this region, was added later. Precisely the habitual use of these sauces by the crews of the Genoese ships, is considered the cause of the success of the worldwide expansion of this Ligurian sauce. The name Pesto, comes from the word "pestare" that is, to crush something in a mortar. This culinary element is fundamental in the perfect result of the texture of the sauce. The ingredients of the most popular recipe today are: olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan cheese.
The proportions are somewhat to the taste of each one who makes it, of each Italian "mamma", but are very similar.
Well, now that you know what it´s made of, let´s try it! You will find multiple options: on fish, with vegetables, in lasagna, etc., although we are inclined to try it in the most Ligure way possible, with "trofie": a type of short, elongated, thin and curly pasta, or on a surprising " farinata": thin chickpea flour cakes very typical of Liguria, or on top of the traditional "focaccia": flat bread with a thin crust flavored with rosemary, another Ligurian invention. All the restaurants in the city offer a dish with Pesto sauce, and usually made by themselves.
SWEETS AND NOUGATS IN HISTORICAL ESTABLISHMENTS
We find many attractive businesses on the main pedestrian avenue that crosses the entire historic center and is equidistant between the two bays, the XXV di Aprile Street. As in other beaches, fashion is related to that beach and seaside aesthetic. But perhaps the most interesting are the businesses themselves. Sestri has recently joined the "Botteghe Storiche" project, which seeks to value and recognize those businesses that have been in the same business for more than 50 years and that, in addition, have maintained some interesting architectural element in their premises since their creation. Of the twelve establishments in this town that have this badge, we are going to highlight three that are found along our route.
The first place is the “Caffè Centrale”, at number 43 Corso Colombo, in front of the tourist office. This place, in addition to offering quality pastries, excellent ice creams, and very good coffee, preserves almost all of its original decoration since its creation, back in the distant year of 1920. Entering the café is a little trip back in time.
The other two premises both belong to the prestigious Rossignotti patisserie, both on Via XXV di Aprile, one at number 70 and the other at number 1. As soon as we enter them, we are taken to that children´s paradise that was chocolate and candy shops. We also recommend that you try their excellent and traditional chocolate-coated nougat, for example the lemon one, or one of their traditional metal boxes with a beautiful image of Sestri Levante and full of appetizing candies from their best-known creations.
And if you liked the Pesto sauce, there are numerous food stores where you can buy it to remember later on, with some appetizing recipe at home, your time in Sestri.
A LONE FISHERMAN
Without a doubt, the Bay of Silence offers us spectacular photographs from anywhere we can contemplate it, but we are going to recommend that you go to the end of the beach, to the area closest to the isthmus, to have not only a beautiful view of the bay with all the green slopes of the mountains in the background, but also, and in the foreground, a sculpture on the waters of the sea. In front of you and gently kneeling on the rocks, a young naked fisherman, reminding us of the classical sculptures of the Greeks and Romans, is collecting his nets with the fruit of his work.
This sculpture is known as the "pescatorello", and is the work of the artist Leonardo Lusting who wanted to reflect Sestri´s relationship with the sea and hard work.
Surely because of its posture, and because of its position on the rock at the edge of the water, it will remind you of the very famous sculpture of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. Exactly! The sculpture of the fisherman is a nod to that popular Danish image. Why? Well, precisely because the author of that well-known tale, Hans Christian Andersen, spent some time in Sestri enjoying its climate and seeking inspiration for his stories, and perhaps the story of the Little Mermaid was inspired by the beautiful legend of the formation of the isthmus of Sestri that we will tell you later. Hans Christian Andersen´s stay will be decisive in the cultural environment of Sestri. For example, in the creation of a prestigious award that bears his name and that rewards new stories and children´s fables which is celebrated every year in this town has more than 50 editions. And the largest of the two bays will receive, in his memory, the suggestive name of Bay of Fables.
So, from this part of the beach, you will have one of the most beautiful photos of the Bay of Silence and its "pescatorello" collecting their nets and perhaps thinking about their little mermaid and Andersen´s stories.
MUSIC REACHES ALL HEARTS
Very close to the place where we usually stop our bus, are the municipal gardens of Mariele Ventre, a beautiful green space, which invites you to rest and will delight the little ones. They are not very big, but there are two interesting sculptures to discover. The first is the fountain of the elements of the sea, a nice bronze sculpture in which, superimposed, as if it were a totem, we find some of the most characteristic marine animals of the Mediterranean: sea urchins, nautilus and conch shells remind us of the essentially marine character of Sestri Levante.
But the monument that we really want to highlight is a nice sculpture dedicated to the woman after whom the gardens are named: Mariele Ventre. This music director (1939 – 1995) dedicated her entire life to music, and through it, to the care and attention of children. She is very famous in Italy for being part of the soul of the most popular children´s song contest in Italy, the Zecchino D´Oro, which has been in existence for more than 50 years. In addition, she was the creator and director throughout her life of the Antoniano Children´s Choir in Bologna, the most famous children´s choir in Italy, and an example of all those that were later founded throughout the country. It is so popular in Italy that very recently Netflix dedicated a movie to it: “I ragazzi del Zecchino D´Oro”.
Due to this popularity, the city council of Sestri Levante wanted to dedicate this playground to her, and in its center erected a sculpture in her honor.
The bronze sculpture by the potter from Sestri, Alfredo Gioventu, represents Mariele directing a choir of fish that stick their heads out of the water before the director´s musical magic. The music and the sea of Sestri are shown in a single element. Spend some time with this unique monument and you will surely be tempted to join the choir.
GET WET IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
It may not be a challenge that requires a lot of courage, although it will depend on the temperatures. It may not be a very difficult test, although that will be determined by the difficulty we have in untying our shoelaces, but we propose the challenge of let you feel on your feet the soft caress of the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
The ideal place to do this is the Bay of Silence. Due to its beauty and the tranquility of its waters, we cannot think of a better place. Take off your shoes on the sand to wet our feet. In summer it will not only be a challenge, but more likely, a temptation that is very difficult to resist, surely envying the vacationers who spend their vacations on the beach. In the colder seasons, perhaps, we are not the only ones soaking our feet in the bay, as some “sestrini” go swimming every day of the year. But getting into its waters will be a symbolic act to come into contact with the sea that is considered the cradle of Western civilization. The development and cultural and commercial exchange of the populations that surrounded its coasts: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Carthage, Byzantium, Venice, etc., will be decisive in the creation of the bases of our culture. It is also the scene of the adventures and legends of the gods and navigators of classical mythology, and a battlefield between the powerful armies that emerged from its shores. Letting your feet get wet by this sea "between lands", Mediterranean, is to definitely form part of its culture.
As Serrat says: "...that a hundred towns have poured into you / so that you can paint their long winter nights blue /..."
It may not be a very difficult challenge, but it is loaded with symbolism. We cannot imagine the history of the world without the civilizations that were born bathed in these waters. Let yourself also be bathed in them.
A LOVE STORY BETWEEN SEA CREATURES
Perhaps the most beautiful thing in the whole city is the legend that tells us the love story between the mermaid Segesta and the newt, the male version of the sirens, Tigulio. That love story was perhaps Andersen´s inspiration for his famous story of the little mermaid after his stay in Sestri in 1833.
The legend tells that on the placid waters of the Mediterranean, close to the shore, a beautiful island arose that Neptune, king of the seas, had dedicated to his daughter Segesta, a beautiful mermaid. The Nereid nymphs were in charge of guarding and protecting the island from attacks by pirates and fishermen, and while they remained on the surface symbolizing all the beauty of the sea, the tritons were only allowed to watch from the bottom of the water so as not to disturb them. But one day, the merman Tigulio, attracted by the beautiful song of the siren, did not comply with Neptune´s order and emerged from the depths of the sea to swim towards the island. Then hearing Segesta sing and observing the reflection of the image of the siren on the waters, he immediately fell in love with the beautiful Segesta. Without being able to resist, he reached out to touch the tail of the mermaid who, perceiving his presence, also immediately fell in love with the merman. But Neptune wasted no time unleashing all his fury on the lovers for not carrying out his orders, and punished the two young men by petrifying them. From Tigulio´s arm and Segesta´s tail, by the contact of love between the two beings of the sea, an isthmus emerged linked to the mainland, origin of the ancient population of Segesta Tigullorum, the current Sestri Levante. Since then, repentant of his own fury over his favorite daughter, Neptune allowed the mermen to swim alongside the mermaids.
Now it´s your turn to be inspired by this legend to create your own fable like Andersen did.
THERE IS STILL SOMETHING MEDIEVAL
For those who want to know even the most hidden corners of the old part of the city, for those who cannot stand and their feet need to keep adding steps, we recommend a walk through the heart of the isthmus of Sestri Levante.
If what we have traveled so far shows us a beautiful and colorful spa city in the Mediterranean, entering the isthmus is going back in time. It goes through the small strongly walled medieval village that, seeking the natural protection of the promontory, existed around the year 1200.
Starting from the southern end of the Bay of Silence, we begin to climb Via Peninsola Levante, first passing the Arena Conchiglia open-air theatre, the city´s concert and festival venue. At the height of the theater on our right, a small arch appears that takes us into the narrow medieval streets of the isthmus, but before entering, we continue a little further along Peninsola street. In the first place we will find the suggestive ruins of the oratory of Santa Catalina de Alejandría, whose building was destroyed during the bombing of World War II in 1944. From there we can also contemplate some beautiful views.
Immediately after, we find the Church of San Nicolo Dell´Isola. This small stone Catholic temple is a beautiful example of architectural simplicity and at the same time, the strength that these churches of the so-called Romanesque style had. Its construction dates back to 1151, although it will undergo some transformations throughout its history, but always maintaining a marked mediaeval style. We immediately perceive that the surroundings are strongly fortified. We will now visit inside of the remains of the powerful citadel that the Genoese built at the same time as the church. Retracing our steps, let´s cross now, the arch of the citadel, to walk the Via della Cittadella, the oldest part. Strolling through the medieval urban planning of its narrow streets and arches, among the private residences of the inhabitants of Sestri, we will end up, descending the hillside, at the foot of the Basilica of Santa Maria de Nazaret, next to where we began our walk to discover the medieval remains from the city.
THE CORSO COLOMBO, HEART OF THE CITY
One of the best places to get to know the pulse of the city and its visitors is undoubtedly Corso Colombo, the urban heart of Sestri, where the daily activity of the city mixes with the passing of tourists heading towards the XXV Aprile pedestrian street. It is dedicated to the Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus, Cristoforo Colombo in Italian.
Along the Corso we find, in addition to beautiful historic buildings, such traditional businesses as the "Ai pesci vivi" fishmonger, which is part of the "Botteghe Storiche", mentioned above, and one of the favorite fishmongers of the "sestrini". If it is open, it is worth it to go to see the freshly caught seafood. But we also find the newsstand, a bank, a pharmacy, or an artisanal pasta bakery, which is why it becomes a place of obligatory passage for many locals and numerous visitors.
Among all the buildings, the elegant Palazzo Fascie stands out for its height and color, built at the beginning of the 19th century and inspired by historical buildings in the city of Genoa. The tower, completely oblivious to the context that surrounds it, is designed as an element of impact, a symbol of the historical character of the city. Inside, in addition to the Tourist Office, are the Archaeological Museum of the city, the historical archive, and the municipal library, and throughout the year, numerous cultural events are organized inside. And while we enjoy a coffee or a "gelato" in the street discovering the pulse of the city, we can entertain ourselves looking for trompe l´oeil on the colorful facades, that is, those architectural elements on the corners of buildings or on the facade, which seem real but they are only painted becoming an “eye trap”. It is a feature of many of the buildings in this region, and a visual challenge to discover as we walk.
Without a doubt, Corso Colombo is a good choice to learn more about life in Sestri Levante.
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