Loving Cinque Terre

Saturday, March 19, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

Along a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre (CHEEN-kwa TEHR-reh) string out along the Mediterranean coast like a strand of luminous pearls.  The Cinque Terre, or Five Lands, comprises five small villages:  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, clinging to the cliffs along the shore. 
Terraced vineyards scale the mountains behind the villages, and the towns are largely unspoiled by modernization.  Most have little or no car traffic, although all are served by train, trails, and boat.  All the villages date back to the 1200s or earlier, and before the last twenty or so years, their economies were based on fishing, olive oil production, and winemaking.  In more recent times, the villages have been discovered by tourists, both Italian and foreign.  Now young locals who would have grown up to work in the vineyards or olive groves field requests at internet cafes.
Known for their beauty, the Cinque Terre were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an Italian national park at the end of the last century.  Explaining why the area was selected as a cultural highlight, UNESCO cited the way humans have transformed the steep cliffs into agricultural fields with the use of terracing.  Also noted were how the people have adapted to the inhospitable geography by constructing compact settlements directly on the rocky cliffs, incorporating winding streets to navigate up and down the hills.  
The five villages are connected by a series of trails, some lower along the coastline and others climbing the steep hills above the towns.  The trail from Riomaggiore, the farthest village south, and its closest neighbor Manorola is a flat easy path carved into the side of the cliff in the 1920s.  Known as Via dell'Amore, or the Pathway of Love, this level trail was especially appreciated in its early days by villagers from the two towns experiencing their first opportunities to court and fall in love with someone outside their isolated village.  Over the years both villagers and visitors have contributed to the lover's lane graffitti that covers this stretch of the trail.
Via dell'Amore graffiti
A more recent trend has been the addition of "love locks" along the rail, fences, and even the steel netting bolted to the cliffside to prevent rockslides.  In this custom, whose popularity has been spreading through various countries around the world, sweethearts affix a padlock, often adorned with their names or initials and perhaps some special date or place, to a public fixture such as a bridge or fence. 

Bridges are popular spots for these locks because the lovers then throw the key into the water to symbolize the permanence of both the lock and their love.  Hundreds of these locks decorate the structures along the Cinque Terre's lover's lane.
Love Locks
Though our visit to these magical villages was brief, we were charmed by their tenacity and the beauty of the pastel humble homes clinging to the rocky cliffs.
Use Google's image search engine to check out photos of the Cinque Terre,and discover for yourself why this Italian eye candy is such a popular spot.

Cinque Terre Stats
Villages:  5
Population:  5,119

By our count:
Love locks:  23,481
Olive trees:  8,264
Grape vines:  34,117
Rooms for rent (signs posted all over):  4,609
Gelato cones consumed:  15,873