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G - 139 : Trains to the Rescue

Writing the piece about Noli yesterday reminded me of a post on Italian emigration I did three years ago. When Genoa lost its Aegean and Black Sea colonies, the Ligurian coast became impoverished. The glorious days of long-distance trading on the Mediterranean were gone. People had to make a living from fishing, coral diving and cultivating olives. Towns and villages shrank. Nobody had money anymore. No new buildings were erected. The towns stayed as medieval as they were. The coast descended into a centuries' long doldrum. Liguria must have suffered from a high level of emigration or so I thought.

Italian Emigration by Region from 1876 - 1915. 14 Million or Half the Population emigrated

Time to pull out the stats I used in 2020 and look it up.To my surprise, I was not only wrong but completely wrong. In the second half of the 19th century when Italy lost almost 1/2 of its population, Liguria lost far fewer people. It ranked consistently at the bottom of the regions ranked by emigration. The fact piqued my interest. What made Liguria so different. Trade never returned. The shipyards were gone. Only Genoa industrialized. What was new?

The answer is railways. Work did not come to the Ligurian coast but the World did. The young Mayor of San Remo, Giuseppe Corradi, in office since 1859, had heard of French plans to connect Antibes to the French railway network. He wanted a piece of the action and became a fervent advocate of connecting Nice and Genoa. By the 1860s, Nice and Antibes were the English’s favourite Mediterranean seaside resorts and the joke was passed around that it was difficult to find a local person in either town.

The 150 km long Railway Line Ventimiglia - Genoa

The War of the Italian Reunification in 1860 though put the project on hold. Under the Peace Treaty of Turin, the provinces of Nice and Savoy were transferred to France. The French now extended their railway project to Nice and by 1864 Nice had its own railway station. Some English tourists did not stop in Nice but ventured as far as San Remo, using the ancient Roman Via Julia Augusta on mules back or in tiny carriages. But it was a trickle compared the numbers who holidayed in Nice.

Travelling from Nice to San Remo was adventurous - mostly on the old Via JULIA AUGUSTA

The new Italian government, closely aligned with France under Emperor Napoleon III, became very interested in the Genoa – Nice railway and made Mayor Corradi’s project its own. Its considerations were of military nature. Prior to tunnels crossing the Alps, the line Nice – Genoa was the only railway line on which one could move French troops quickly into Italy if Austria attacked. Construction started in 1867. The 147 km long single-track line was a challenge for the engineers but provided lots of work for the underemployed Ligurians. The new railway followed closely the coast line . 43 tunnels had to be dug and 33 bridges and 24 stations be built. In January 1872 the new line was inaugurated.

Load Testing on one of the many Bridges over local Creeks

By 1872 military considerations had become less important. In 1866 Austria had lost the Veneto and the Papal State was fully absorbed by 1871. Tourism took over. The new line shortened the travel time from the French Border to Genoa to just over 6 hours. Finally, the Riviera dei Fiori and the Riviera di Liguria were reachable from both France and Genoa.

Prospectus of the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits in 1901

The Orient Express was just one of their Offerings

By 1884, trains of the French Compagnie des Wagons-Lits with sleeping and dining cars started to arrive on the Ligurian coast. Travelers from as far away as St Petersburg, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin could now travel directly to the French and Italian Riviera. And so they did. For political reasons, Russian nobles could not vacation in Dalmatia (Austria) or Turkey thus they came to Italy and France, their allies. So did the Germans who made every effort to pull Italy out of its alliance with France.

The Trip from St Petersburg to San Remo took 72 hours

On the French and Italian side, hotels and luxury resorts were built. The first wave of tourism created jobs on an unimaginable scale. The hotels needed maids, porters, waiters, chefs, house keepers, gardeners, concierges. The railway construction workers, conductors, office staff, freight handlers etc.

The new Railway Line was at the Heart of the Connection between Russia and the Rivieras

Liguria experienced a boom as not seen for centuries. Tax receipts increased. Public projects like quays, sewage and roads could be built. Unemployment became almost inexistent. People moved out of their remote mountain villages and closer to the coast. Nobody needed to emigrate. The World that came to Liguria created jobs for everybody.

The new Railway Line cut through the Heart of many Towns like here in Noli. It was built under Military Considerations not with Tourism in Mind.

The original line from 1872 was replaced by a double-track line in 1969. 80% of it runs through Tunnels. Trains can now travel at 180 km/h. Most stations are now underground. We are going to see the many remnants of the old line when sailing along the Italian Rivera.

The Tunnel Entrance of Noli's old Railway Line is now a Parking Lot for Emergency Services

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