The Path of the Condemned: the purgatory of Palmaria

Excursion to discover the largest island in Liguria


If you think that Palmaria Island, in the La Spezia archipelago, is just a perfect destination for bathers thanks to the clarity of its waters, you are very wrong. In fact, this island still surrounded by wilderness is a paradise for trekking lovers. Among the various trails that crisscross the island, Trail No. 510 completes the full loop, with a distance of about 3 hours and an elevation gain of 290 meters.

The path of the condemned

Starting from the bay in front of Portovenere, one meets Fort “Umberto I,” and then climbs up to the battery located above the Cala dello Schenello; from there trail No. 511, called the “Path of the Condemned,” branches off. The road that hides in its name and in the stones a special and evocative history.

The name of this stairway, comes from a distant time when hundreds of lifers who were taken to solitary confinement on the island, incessantly carried materials for the construction of Fort Cavour along this path. Palmaria is a paradise, yet for some it has been a wearisome sentence, by walking this path you can experience the punishment of the convicts, who on this promontory walked the road of expiation in Purgatory.

Along this path, it takes about 40 minutes to reach the Cavour Fortress, located on the top of the island, from where you can admire spectacular views of the village of Portovenere and the church of San Pietro.

Fort Cavour

Since the time of Napoleonic rule, Palmaria Island played an important strategic role in defending the Gulf of La Spezia.

In fact, the fortress was planned during the Napoleonic period of the Ligurian Republic, but built during the Kingdom of Sardinia. The building was intended to strike the decks of enemy ships. To this day it is covered by a thick layer of concrete (“bomb-proof covering”). The fort could accommodate up to 350 men.

Continuing on path 510 you reach Cala della Fornace from where you can admire the Scola Tower, a small military fort erected in 1606 by the Genoese on isolated cliffs in front of Punta Scola.

From here the climb softens, leading to a plain from where you can enjoy a splendid view of the Gulf, the Apuan Alps and Tino.

Taking a steep descent into the woods on the Pozzale cove, you reach the wildest part of the island, with sheer cliffs overlooking the sea and ancient quarries extracting Portoro marble that was lowered into the sea with daring engineering works.

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