Yes, in Liguria you can visit very well preserved, Roman villa (!) When I discovered it, I was really shocked! Nobody promotes it and nobody tries to make it famous! I am really disappointed and frustrated with it. However, I hope that also thanks to this blog, the situation will change! 🙂
The villa is the biggest attraction of a small village named Le Grazie. The village is located on the way to Portovenere (I wrote about it here). So if you are going to visit Portovenere, you should absolutely stop in Le Grazie and see this amazing place! 🙂
How to get to Le Grazie?
- by car – at first, you have to get the city of La Spezia (motorway A12, motorway exit La Spezia). Then, from the city centre, you have to follow the road signs to Portovenere (road SP 530). After about 10 minutes, when you see the sign Le Grazie, turn left, to the village centre. The best place to park is a parking place next to the local harbour (blue parking places, 1,50€/h).
- by bus – in viale Garibaldi, in La Spezia, you will find a bus stop where stop the buses directed to Le Grazie and Portovenere, lines P and 11 (La Spezia-Le Grazie -Portovenere), a ticket costs 2€.
Le Grazie is a small, fisherman village, located in a natural gulf of Le Grazie. From here you can admire Ligurian and Tuscany coastline. The small gulf sheltered the village from the coastal storms but at the same time, allowed the local people to work as fishermen. What is more, Le Grazie is situated at the foot of the Muzzerone mountain that protects the village from the cold wind from the sea. Thanks to this condition, Le Grazie was always a perfect place to grow olives and grapes. Ancient Romans knew it and that’s why they built a villa here.
How to get to Villa?
The bus leaves you next to a small roundabout, at the beginning of Le Grazie. But you can’t get lost. The first indications to the villa are located in the front of the roundabout. The way to villa is very well indicated. After you arrive at the local harbour, you will have to turn right in via Varignano Vecchio . Then, after you pass the local cemetery, you turn right again. After some meters, on your left, you will see the villa’s gate. It will be closed, you have to call on the intercom and the gate will be opened.
- 16/06 – 15/09: 2.30 pm – 7.30 pm
- 16/09 – 15/06: 09.00 am – 3.00 pm
Opened from Tuesday to Sunday.
Entrance: 3€; reduced 1,50€
In the past, that part of Liguria was populated by ancient Romans. They were used to built villas along the coastline of the Tyrrhenian sea. From Naples to Liguria that villas were a commercial-suppling net of the Roman Empire. The owners of that villas were rich, Roman merchants who sold there the products that they had produced.
In 1967 started excavations that lasted till 1986. During the archaeological works, a huge, building complex was discovered. From that moment the villa was called Varignano Roman Villa, because Varignano is the exact place where the villa is located.
In Liguria, the Varignano villa is the only one that endured to present times so well preserved. All others Ligurian villas were damaged much more and their conditions are not so good. The materials from which the villas had been made of were used to built new buildings like churches or houses. Even Varignano villa was partially destroyed and its stones were used to build the local church. Fortunately, it wasn’t completely destroyed. The mosaic floors, the building where the olive oil was prepared and the huge cistern have endured to nowadays.
Another important characteristic is that in the past, the villa was located on the seashore. Thanks to that the ships could arrive very close to the villa, stock olive oil and took on board everything they needed. After the villa became abandoned, the inhabitants of Le Grazie filled out with the terrain the small gulf in the front of the villa. Nowadays, the ancient gulf is not visible anymore and the villa is situated about 100 meters from the seashore.
When you arrive at the villa, you will be welcomed by Marco, the local guide. He is extremely nice and helpful. Even if he is a little bit frustrated because of the total lack of interest of the local authorities for the villa…
Apart from Marco, during your visit you will be accompanied by 2 female cats: Guida (that in Italian means Guide) 😉 and Bianca (White). I admit it looks a little bit strange to see the cats that stroll on the ancient, Roman mosaics 😉
But let’s back to the villa 🙂
The building is dated on the 1st century BCE. Villa was divided into two main parts. Its private area – the pars urbana (1320 m²) – and the productive area – the pars fructuaria (1760 m²) – they were separated by a courtyard used for pressing olives for oil ( 4800 m²)
The tour starts from the giant, very well preserved cistern. It was used to stock sweet water that came down from the local mountains. The Romans invented a complicated net of canals to be able to store the water. Nowadays, we don’t even think about stocking sweet water cause we have it in our houses … but in the past, it was really a fundamental matter.
Then you go down, to the lower part of the complex, named pars fructuaria. It was the place where the olive oil was produced. This area contained two presses and a ‘cella oleario‘. Another interesting thing is the pavement. It is no-slip pavement! The characteristic that was very important in the place where the oil was produced.
Then you go down, next to the courtyard and you access the private part of the complex, pars urbana.
It starts with private thermal baths! Here you can admire the bathrooms that offered the hot and cold water pools and a sauna. Then you go through the corridors that all have a magnificent mosaics paved and you arrive at the part where the private rooms were located.
The entrance part is distinguished by a beautiful mosaic and the bases of sculptures that were robbed in the past (especially in the 50’s and 60’s many foreign and Italian “tourists” took away their “souvenirs” from here ….).
It is important to add that the archaeological works have been never finished here. After 19 years of the excavations was discovered only a part of the villa’s rooms and mosaics paved(!). The works were interrupted in the 80’s and many of mosaics were covered with cloth and sand again. In this way, many of them are not visible again. However, the part you can admire nowadays is terribly fascinating (and who knows what is still under the soil). The worst thing is that the pavement under that cloth gets damage again … It should be recovered again as soon as possible!
The most beautiful mosaic of the whole complex is located inside of one of the houses that were built on the foundations of the villa. It is so detailed and full of particulars that you remain impressed by majesty and capacity of Roman artisans. It is really amazing!
What else can I add … if you are going to visit Portovenere please visit also Le Grazie! This place is really incredible and inexplicably it is not one of the most famous places in Liguria!