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Published: June 11th 2018
The railway station is in the new town of Ventimiglia, which was characteristically regular, orderly and grid-like. A short walk brings you to a foot bridge across the fast flowing River Roia which surges into the sea at this location. Across the bridge you are into the precincts of the old town that sits about 200 m above the new town area but has none of its regimented order. After Nice and Monte Carlo the Old Town of Ventimiglia makes a bold contrast. It is evidently retaining its traditional identity and is obviously winning the battle against gentrification. To some extent, it presents as an Anti-Eze. There is nothing particularly scrubbed or manicured for tourist consumption in his town. In comparison, this is a place that people actually live; where locals nurse coffees outside small cafés, while checking the lottery results in the local papers; kids get treated to an ice cream after Sunday mass for being well behaved, groups of lads head off to Sunday football practice and wash day laundry is draped around the rear of apartments like non-festive bunting. This place has an uncompromising warmth and charm.
The old town is a Gormenghastian sprawl of labyrinthine alleyways
and narrow streets. There are archways everywhere and numerous tiled buttresses span the alleys. The apartment blocks are several stories high and often drab and dust coloured due to unpainted plasterwork. The plaster is degrading becoming flaky and psoriastic due to long exposure to the elements. However, viewed from the front and below, these same apartments present a much lovelier aspect painted number pastel shades.
We stopped rather randomly at the tourist sights. Our first look in was Oratorio dei Neri which has an impressive rococo facade, adorned with stucco decorations, it looks very much out of place in rather humble and shabby old town area. The interior looks like someone has lobbed a baroque grenade into a barrel shaped vault. The resulting interior is highly embellished with canvases and valuable frescoes framed by stucco motifs. A couple of doors away is the Aprosiana Municipal Library. This huge public library, founded by the writer and Augustan monk Angelico Aprosio in 1648, is one of the oldest in Italy. And it houses the country’s second largest collection of manuscripts and books from the 17th century. In front of us stood the stocky and austere Romanesque Cathedral of Ventimiglia, dating from the 11th - 13th centuries. It stands across from a large impressive convent building the red and orange paint with a heavily patina patchily developed. Both interior and exterior of the cathedral are plain and unadorned. The stone work remains largely un-plastered. Crude medieval embellishments are seen on top of pillars at the entrance and within. Inside the building was a 12th century baptistery where we admired the “Madonna with Child” by Barnaba da Modena (1328-1386). It has been unfairly described as “nondescript” by those hipster, snowflakes at Lonely Plant, They couldn’t get their top-knotted heads around the fact that a visit to this cathedral gives a real impression of what an early medieval church may have looked like.
In search of lunch we went back down the hill towards the beach. From above it looked as if considerable work was ongoing to enlarge the harbor; you wondered whether this could have a major effect on the fortunes of the old town, if money flows in from the yacht crowd. We had a long, leisurely lunch in a modern airy restaurant overlooking the public beach. Afterwards, we tracked back into town across the bridge for a farewell gelato before returning to the station for the return trip to Nice.
Ventimiglia has none of the glitz or glamour of its neighbours. However it makes up for this in warmth and authenticity in a setting of rather shabby quietude. It ceryainly represented the most welcome, last stripe in our weekend long tricholore visit.
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