The landscape of the Cinque Terre is certainly rugged. On the other hand, what we love about the Cinque Terre are the “5 little lands” themselves—as well as all the man-made things we’ve tacked on to the ruggedness. Otherwise there’s just a desolate mountain prone to rock slides.
For example, take a look at the terraces:
These are fragile. They require lots of maintenance.
When folks abandon the vineyards because there is more money in tourism, the terraces tend to collapse, usually on top of other terraces. Then all it takes is a big rain to bring the whole house of cards down.
Not to mention the wild boar, who delight in this sort of destruction while adding their own.
I was reminded of these facts when I was talking to a map seller. I’ve been linking to a map of the Cinque Terre that is no longer produced. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Recent rains have changed the landscape so significantly it’s time to make new maps. When things settle.
Now that’s significant.
I’m not going to press the issue of the role of tourism in this destruction, because then you will call me an “elitist” and someone who wants the Cinque Terre all to himself because it is the most beautiful place on earth and should be open to anyone who wants to see it.
Yes, it’s happened.
So I will tell you another story of a nearby Italian Riviera town also revered by tourists. Portovenere. Once a bedraggled and crumbling town on the edge of the sea, in 1909 Henry James once called it “a queer, little crumbling village on an headland”, its little streets now resound with the heavy footsteps of tourists wielding selfie sticks.
So, to balance my account of the Cinque Terre, I will tell you of some great success that the money from tourism can bring. (Success in the sense that things get fixed up, restored, and the sea no longer threatens to reclaim a little village that ravages our imaginations; whether you think of this as success or would prefer to stand in solitude in front of romantic, crumbling ruins is, of course, up to you.)
Henry James again:
“There is a ruined church near the village, which occupies the site (according to tradition) of an ancient temple of Venus; and if Venus ever revisits her desecrated shrines she must sometimes pause a moment in that sunny stillness and listen to the murmur of the tideless sea at the base of the narrow promontory…” ~ Portovenere … a queer, little crumbling village . . .
Ruined? Not today. Here:
Lots of people get married in the little chiesa these days. It is person-sized. It doesn’t try to overwhelm you. It is a little temple, with a cute pipe organ wedged between the wall arches.
So visit both places, please, while they stand. Hike the Cinque Terre but walk lightly. Every stone is important.