Portofino is an Italian fishing village and vacation resort famous for its picturesque harbor and colorful painted buildings lining the shore. It is a comune located in the province of Genoa on the Italian Riviera and is one of Italy’s most captivating, and affordable tourist destinations.
Portofino is thought to have been founded by the Romans and named Portus Delphini, or Port of the Dolphin, because of the large number of dolphins that inhabited the Tigullian Gulf.
The first known written reference to the village of Portofino is found in a diploma from 986 by Adelaide of Italy, which assigned it to the Abbey of San Fruttoso di Capodimonte. In 1171, together with the neighboring Santa Margherita Ligure, it was included in Rapallo’s commune jurisdiction. After 1229, Portofino was part of the Republic of Genoa. The town’s natural harbor supported a fleet of fishing boats, but is was too cramped to provide more than a temporary safe haven for the Republic of Genoa’s growing merchant fleet. In 1409 Portofino was sold to the Republic of Florence by Charles VI of France. However, when Charles VI was ousted from Genoa, the Florentine authority gave it back. In the 15th century Portofino was a fief of families such as the Fieschi, Spinola, Adorno and Doria. In 1815 Portofino became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and from 1861, of the unified Kingdom of Italy.
Portofino tourism began in the late 19th century. First British aristocratic tourists began to visit Portofino, followed by European visitors who arrived by horse and cart from Santa Margherita Ligure. Eventually expatriates built expensive vacation houses, and by 1950 tourism had replaced fishing as the town’s chief industry. It did not take long before the waterfront became a continuous ring of restaurants and cafes.
What to do in Portofino
For a relatively small place, there’s a great deal to see and do in Portofino. Although it may be a challenge for novice snorkelers, scuba divers have little trouble viewing the Statue of Christ of the Abyss. Erected underwater on the 29th of August, 1954 between Camogli and Portofino, the statue sits at a depth of 17 meters or 56 feet. It was placed where it is as a memory of Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to use SCUBA gear, who died in 1947.
Castello Brown is a 16th century house museum located high above the harbour of Portofino. The castle’s site was chosen for harbor defense, and appears to have been used in that role since the 15th century. According to the Record Office of Genoa, cannon batteries were constructed on the site in the early 16th century, and military engineer Giovanni Maria Olgiati drew up plans for a full fortress around 1554. The castello was completed by 1557, and in 1575 was instrumental in turning back an attack on the town by Gio Andrea Doria. The castello was enlarged between 1622 and 1624. It remained in this form for 174 years. In 1798, during an attack by the English, the little tower was destroyed.
The castello was abandoned after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 but in 1867 it was purchased for 7,000 lire by Montague Yeats-Brown, then English consul in Genoa. Yeats-Brown engaged architect Alfredo D’Andrade the fort was transformed into a comfortable villa. Fortunately, the conversion was done without substantially altering the general design. Yeats-Brown’s descendants held the property until 1949 when it was sold o an English couple, Colonel and Mrs. John Baber. The Barbers restored several ruined sections and eventually sold Castello Brown to the City of Portofino in 1961.
Church of St. George
Constructed in 1154, St. George Church was destroyed by bombings during World War Two. The church was rebuilt in 1950 to as closely as possible resemble the original primitive 12th century building. Famous among religious sites because the relics of the Saint are preserved there, most tourists visit the Church of St. George because of the splendid view of Portofino from the square in front of the church.
There are other historical sites in a town that is itself many centuries old. But besides architecture, the countryside surrounding Portofino is spectacular and the ocean amazing. Best of all, Portofino is not a destination that will break the bank. One of Itay’s more affordable destinations, Portofino is a must visit destination for anyone planning a visit to Italy.
If you’ve already visited Portofino, Italy, please share your experience with other travelers by adding a review in the comment section below. Thank you!