At the westernmost tip of Liguria, barely ten kilometres from the coast of the Ligurian Sea, in the middle of the green Nervia Valley, lies the idyllic little town of Dolceaqua with its population of just over 2,000. If you approach the settlement on the Strada Statale 64, you immediately notice the imposing castle that dominates the old town and closes it off like a watchtower at the top. A counterpoint, on the other hand, seems to be the almost delicate structure that connects the old town to the north with our street and that spans the Nervia river in a wide arc.
This is the Vecchio di Dolceacqua bridge, the sight of which already delighted Claude Monet and about which he was to write almost rapturously: “Dolceacqua in the valley of the Nervia is superb; there is a bridge that is a jewel of lightness …” The fruit of this enthusiasm, captured on a canvas measuring just under 70×90 cm, can be admired today in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
The area around Dolceacqua has been continuously inhabited for about three thousand years and there are also numerous remains of Roman fortifications. Finally, in 1151, the town is mentioned for the first time in a document, when the Counts of Ventimiglia began building a castle to secure access to the valley. At its feet, in concentric circles, an almost impenetrable tangle of the smallest alleys and lanes was created, which today makes up the old part of the town and for centuries seemed almost impregnable due to its construction.
But in the mid-13th century, the space on this side of the river became too narrow and people began to settle on the right bank as well. This is how the Borgo district came into being, which today makes up a large part of the town. In order to allow the inhabitants to cross the river as unhindered as possible, the aforementioned bridge was built, which still carries the majority of visitors across the river today.
It spans the Nervia in a single, bold sweep with a width of 32 metres and has thus connected the two districts of Terra and Borgo for centuries. Due to the secluded location of the little town and the relatively quiet course of history in this part of the country, we are lucky to find the structure still in almost its original state (there have been minor changes and restoration attempts from time to time, but the basic structure has been preserved and allows us to dive deep into the time of the Middle Ages).
To follow in Monet’s footsteps, it is worth walking along the right bank on a sunny day. Because if you turn left from the bridge, you can catch both the bridge and the old town and castle in one glance after just a few steps. And perhaps you will understand why Claude Monet was so enraptured.