Volastra, the Saracens and the mystery bells
Manarola and Volastra share a common history of pirates and treasures. A magical path, between vines, olive trees, and nativity scenes tell us all about this corner of Liguria
High and sunny, situated on a promontory on which the sun never seems to set, Volastra enjoys the view of the sea and of the plateaus planted with vines and olive trees. The town is strongly linked to Manarola, both in history and in legends.
Its ancient name was Oleastra and its inhabitants – skilled merchants of what could be drawn from the earth – were the first around the year 1000 to give shape to the port from which Manarola is originated, using it as a staging area for their businesses.
This is how the story goes and that the legend confirms, adding a touch of mystery.
Volastra vista dall’alto
The bells ringing on stormy nights
According to some, on stormy nights – when the coast is swept by the Libeccio wind – you can hear the sound of some bells from Volastra to Manarola.
There are no bells in the church belfries of the two towns, so the sound comes from a place farther away, and signals a treasure hidden in a place that no one has ever found.
When Manarola was still a small marina and Volastra still Oleastra, the Saracens were a serious threat. At one of the many raids that they carried out along the Cinque Terre coastline, the wealthy inhabitants of Oleastra (Volastra) decided to remove the bells of the church and to hide them underground, so that they would not attract pirates with their shimmer. In a deep hole, along with bells they also hid their belongings.
To complete the work was very tiring and – unfortunately for them – the inhabitants of the village, exhausted, did not notice the attack of pirates. The pirates, finding nothing valuable to carry away, set fire to the whole village, spreading death and taking prisoners.
Oleastra was destroyed and, in later years, repopulated by the inhabitants of the surrounding towns.
Seventy years later, an odd old man came to the village from the sea, speaking with an Arabic accent. After a period in which he lived as a foreigner in Oleastra, he revealed his identity: he was one of the survivors of that night. He told about his captivity, how he escaped, the story of the hidden treasure and of the buried bells.
Unfortunately for his fellow villagers, however, he died the same night in which he decided to speak, unable to lead them to the spot where the hoard was hidden.
Since then, despite the many searches, the treasure has still not been found and some swear that they still hear the bells ringing on windy nights.
From Manarola to Volastra: a climb
The distance between Manarola to Volastra offers today the opportunity to embark on one of the most spectacular and significant walks in the Cinque Terre. In just over an hour’s walk, starting from the waves of the coastal village and going up among the olive trees of the ancient farmer settlement, you can embrace the soul of the land, encountering all its delights.
The advice is to start from the sea in Manarola and reach, with a slight rise, the picturesque cemetery of the village, worth a quick visit, to discover some old really special gravestones, and to overlook the whole area from its porch.
From the cemetery, the road continues to rise, and leads, after a short flight of steps, to a scenic walkway. The plateau behind it houses, over the Christmas period, the illuminated nativity scene of Mario Andreolli. Many of the figures are left in place and it is curious to walk among shepherds, sheep, angels and iron fishermen. It’s like being on a stage with closed curtains.
The illuminated nativity scene of Manarola seen “from the inside”
The staircase leading to the top (where the cabin is arranged with the baby Jesus) is the most challenging point of the path, but the view over the rooftops of the village and the open sea (right after the hill crossing) is worth the effort. From here on, we begin a slow and steady climb to Volastra, through terraced vineyards.
In this path, which leads to the ridge that overlooks Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, the spirit of the heroic agriculture so typical of this corner of the world can be sensed and looking at the small rail racks you can figure out the work required for the construction of such a beautiful landscape.
You will, therefore, have to choose whether to continue to walk to Volastra along the road or the staircase. The advice is – of course – not to be scared by the steps, because if you have appreciated the vineyards, the plateaus with its olive trees that accompany you in about twenty minutes until the heart of the village will be amazing.
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