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G + 2 : Imperia - Olive Oil Port?


The Genovese Town of Porto Maurizio at 7 am - some Italians are already in the Water


Last evening, after sweating on the Julia Augusta and coping with the strong swell on the sea, we arrived in Porto Maurizio. The calm inside the port was soothing, the heat of the day gone. A cool breeze descended from the mountains. Porto Maurizio is a big yacht harbour. Last night, the commercial port hosted a flashy Amusement Park with the classic caterpillar ride, ferries wheel, chair-swing, firing ranges, bumper cars and candy shops. Port Maurizio is a beautiful medieval town – a bit sleepy though with few beaches. Summer visitors are numbered.

The temporary Amusement Park was installed on the Ports Commercial Site


Porto Maurizio has a long history. We are going to talk about it a bit further down. In 1923 though, it was forced by Mussolini to merge with neighboring Oneglia, its sister town just across the Impero river. A new municipality was created, named Imperia. Could not find out what actually triggered the merger – both towns had sizable ports. Did they suffer from unmanageable economic challenges? The years after the First World War were tough for Italy. The country’s participation had cost it dearly in terms of money and lives. More than half a million men were dead. The state was deeply indebted. The Italian Lira was at 25% of its pre-war value; the Italian Kingdom in political turmoil. By 1922, the fascist movement under Benito Mussolini had taken over. Mussolini was a teacher in Imperia in 1906-07.

Both Anglia (right) and Porto Maurizio (left) have outsized harbours


Given the size of the two harbors, I first thought that Mussolini planned to merge the two and create a new naval base. Imperia was close to France and had a good industrial base. Mussolini invested heavily in his beloved Regia Marina. It needed new facilities. By the outbreak of the Second World War, Italy had the biggest Navy in the Mediterranean with 6 battle ships, 19 cruisers, 59 destroyers and 116 submarines. But Mussolini kept his Regia in La Spezia and Taranto where he expanded existing wharf and maintenance capacity. We visited both places in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The Port of Oneglia feels even today quite empty - only Yachts and small Fishing Boats


So this trail was a dead-end. Maybe history could provide a clue. Oneglia came in the Middle Ages under the influence of Genoa. The famous Genovese Admiral Andrea Doria was born here. His family sold the town to Savoy after his death – it became Savoy’s preferred access to the Mediterranean. The Duchy of Nice was already part of Savoy but was only accessible via high mountain passes. Its harbour not really suitable for commerce. Oneglia thus became Savoy’s main Mediterranean harbour. For what product though I wondered? Imperia today is known for its olive oil, pasta, light manufacturing and yacht maintenance. Could it be that olive oil holds the key to my question?

Genovese Porto Maurizio was well fortified in 1742 - the bastions are still visible today


Porto Maurizio, an old Roman port, was for centuries owned by the church before being sold to Genoa I in 1288. It stayed Genovese to 1797 when the Genovese Republic was dissolved by France. On the internet alone, I could not find out much more. Like Oneglia, Porto Maurizio was big in the olive oil business. As I know since our visit to Gallipoli in Apulia in 2021, olive oil was primarily used for lightning and making soap, not cooking. The port of Gallipoli was once full of cargo boats which shipped the olive oil in bulk across the Mediterranean. Marseille, the capital of western soap making, was a big importer of olive oil after Louis XIV declared that only soap made exclusively from olive oil could be called “Savon de Marseille”.

Sailboats in the Port of Gallipoli in 1790 - they shipped Olive Oil in Bulk across the Med


I guess that both Porto Maurizio and Oneglia were ports for the bulk export of olive oil. Given the limited cargo freighters could carry in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, the port must have been full of ships. This would also explain the shallow depth of the two harbours. There was no need for a deep port. The export of low-quality olive oil though came to an end in the second half of the 19th century. In 1842 the first Petrol lamp was invented. 1856 followed the first petrol distillery. During the French revolution, Louis XIV's restrictive edict on soap production was lifted. Henceforth coconut and palm oil was admissible. As a consequence, demand for bulk olive oil dropped sharply in the 2nd half of the 19th century.


The Borgo of Porto Maurizio is a true Jewel


The merger of the two towns thus has to be seen in the light of these developments. The two ports had to cope with a dying industry and needed investments to reinvent them-selves. In both Porto Maurizio and Oneglia there are industrial structures linked to the old railway line reminding us of wharf facilities. Possibly, Imperia tried to create a business as maintenance center for small commercial freighters. It would also explain why there is a maintenance center for modern yachts. It must have been created when manufacturing for ships moved to Asia in the 1970s.


Yacht Center in the old Port of Oneglia


If anybody has information on the history of both Porto Maurizio and Oneglia, please let me know. Would love to rewrite this blog and add more information.


The well preserved Old Town (Borgo) of Porto Maurizio


We did not stay too long in Porto Maurizio this morning. We strolled through the old town which looks very Genovese. There are everywhere reminders of the long history the town had when part of Genoa. It is a real jewel. So well preserved.


Cervo at the Moment we boarded the Tender to visit


At 11 am we lifted anchor to sail to Cervo, the town of the coral fishers. Have seen it many times. Its beauty always stuns. Never approached it from the sea though. Have to say, the coral fisher must have been happy when they could see their beautiful church from far way.

The absolutely stunning Interior of Cervo's Church


Tonight we continue to San Remo but this will be covered in tomorrow’s blog.






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