Albenga is located 75 kilometers west of Genoa in the province of Savona, in the Liguria region of northwestern Italy. The city has a rich history dating back to the Roman Empire, reflected in the many visitor attractions available to tourists. A short walk of 700 meters from the train station through the modern town along Viale Martiri della Libertà will bring you to the historic center in a few minutes.
The main attraction here is the Old Town, known for its well-preserved medieval architecture, and many shops and restaurants where visitors can enjoy a meal or a coffee while taking in the scenery. Albenga is the only Ligurian city that has retained the town's original Roman structure.
The exceptional quality of the Old Town that makes Albenga worth visiting is the uniform medieval appearance of all the buildings. Albenga had not been one of the most-popular glamour towns of the Italian Riviera, so the old district was spared from modernization and remained a time capsule of the Middle Ages. Because of that preservation, Albenga has now found popularity among travelers seeking authentic old towns slightly off the main touristic routes.
Albenga's old structures have been well-maintained because people still live in them, and the shops and cafes are up to date and doing good business with the locals and visitors. The Old Town is less than 400 meters wide, with a street grid reflecting the early Roman origins. Visitors can explore narrow cobblestone streets and admire historic buildings such as the Cathedral of San Michele, which dates back to the 5th century.
Albenga calls itself a "city of a hundred towers." The towers that dominate the roofs of Albenga are not exactly a hundred, but certainly a good number, especially considering the bell towers of the churches. Primarily built in the 13th century next to a noble house, the towers indicated the power of the family. They have a base in massive blocks of stone, the "conic," while the upper part is in exposed brick. Sometimes they are covered with the slightly shabby plaster with which the nineteenth century dyed the city gray.
The towers' fate varies: some have been preserved almost intact and come down to us in their splendor, while others have undergone various modifications. Cut and transformed into terraces, incorporated into houses until they disappear, severed for various events, and with the wounds still open, tilted due to subsidence of the ground, collapsed due to earthquakes. After admiring the splendid towers of Piazza San Michele, postcard images, which have become the symbol of Albenga, look up to see others, adapted to new needs, peeping out from the roofs of the medieval city.
Built on the basic structures of the early Christian basilica put up by orders of Constantius III between the 4th and 5th centuries, it has a façade with traces of the transformation from Romanesque to Gothic. From this same period are the two lateral portals of the main facade and a third one on the left side of the church that hosts a restored Lombard bas-relief; the central portal dates from 1669
The current design is the result of further elevations. The restoration works between 1964 and 1967 brought back the cathedral design to its original medieval aspect. The nearby steeple was attached to the church in the 13th century, built over the ruins of the old bell tower between 1391 and 1395. This construction is one of the last local examples of the use of bare bricks, progressively replaced by plastering.
The Baptistery is the most famous early Christian monument in all of Liguria, the building, built in the 5th-6th century AD with an internal octagonal and external decagonal plan, stands on the ancient level of the city, adjacent to the Cathedral of San Michele Arcangelo.
The interior is characterized by the original baptismal font , where the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism by "immersion" took place. There are also baptismal fonts from the late Middle Ages and the end of the 16th century. The vault of the central niche presents the magnificent polychrome mosaic , where the mysteries of the Christian faith are expressed through a rich symbology with intense blue and yellow colors.
Piazza dei Leoni ("Lions' Square") is the most characteristic square of the city. It is paved according to the cobblestone system typical of Albenga. It owes its name to the three stone lions placed in the 16th century for ornamental reasons by a member of the Costa family who owned the houses overlooking the site. It is dominated on one side by the apse of the Cathedral; on the other, the Casa Costa – Del Carretto di Balestrino stands out, restored in 1963 and now the seat of the rectory. From this rises the Costa tower with its splendid Ghibelline battlements.
The Balestrino palace closes the square , one of the few in Albenga built from scratch and not the result of complex amalgamations. It dates back to the Renaissance period and is decorated inside with busts and tombstones. One of these, of notable historical value, celebrates the reconstruction of the Roman city by General Costanzo in the 5th century AD. C.. Since 1954, the palace has been the Episcopal seat after the bequest to the Curia of the last heir of the Marquises del Carretto di Balestrino.
Old City Hall Palace dates back to the early 14th century and has undergone several renovations over the years before gaining its present appearance. It housed the Council Hall (the big bell still calls the citizens when the council committee meets in the new town hall) and the jail. The lower floor dates from the 14th century, while the upper one was reconstructed in 1387–1391. The façade towards the Baptistery has Ghibelline-style merlons with two large staircases. Since 1933, it has housed the Ingauni Museum. The latter, established in 1933 by Nino Lamboglia, collects objects and medieval Roman (sculptures, inscriptions, sarcophagi and 15th-century frescoes), archaeological and epigraphic collections.
Old Bishop's Palace, located near the Baptistery, dates from the 11th century, with a 13th-century portal. It is the seat of the local bishop and houses the Holy Art Museum. The wing leading to the Baptistery shows several construction phases from the 13th and 14th centuries. The decoration with black and white stripes was added in 1463 under bishop Napoleone Fieschi.
Another popular attraction in Albenga is the Roman Naval Museum, which showcases artifacts from the Roman Empire. The museum is housed in the Palazzo Oddo, a historic building that was once home to the noble Oddo family. The collection includes ship models, navigation instruments, and other objects related to seafaring in the ancient world.
Albenga is also known for its beaches, which attract tourists from all over the world. The city has a long stretch of coastline that offers both sandy and pebbly beaches. One of the most popular beaches is the Lungomare di Albenga, which is a long sandy beach that offers stunning views of the Ligurian Sea.
In addition to its beaches and historic attractions, Albenga is also known for its food and wine. The city is located in the heart of the Ligurian wine region, and visitors can sample a wide range of local wines and culinary specialties. Some of the most popular dishes include pasta with pesto sauce, Ligurian-style seafood, and focaccia bread.
Albenga was founded around the 4th century BC on the slopes of the coastal hill. Albenga used to be the capital of the Ingauni, a Ligurian tribe. The Ingauners were sailors traders who owned a large territory between Finale and Sanremo. During the Second Punic War, the town of Albenga was allied with the Carthaginians but was defeated by the Romans.
Under Latin rule in 89 BC, Albingaunum was granted Roman citizenship in 45 BC under Julius Caesar, starting to enjoy a period of prosperity with the beginning of the Empire. A further boost for the city came from the building of the Via Julia Augusta (13 BC), linked with southern France and Spain. During the 5th century, the city suffered from raids by the Visigoths, who partly destroyed and looted Albenga.
Albenga established itself as a medieval municipality in 1098; in that same year, Albenga joined the First Crusade with its own banner, troops, and money, receiving the rights of free trade from the King of Jerusalem.
In 1798 Albenga was declared capital of the Centa Jurisdiction as part of the short-living constitution of the Ligurian Republic. In 1815 the city, together with the whole Liguria, was assigned to the Savoia ( the Italian Royal family) and became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia.
Up to the 17th century, Albenga based its economy on maritime trade, as the city was built on the mouth of the river Centa and walls and bridges surrounded it. When Albenga was annexed to the Republic of Genoa, the Republic chose to bury the port to punish the rebel city and stop any possible rebellion.
In 1863, after the unification of Italy, the province was reduced to a district and was abolished entirely in 1927. At this time, Albenga was reduced to an agricultural village, overtaken by other coastal towns in both economic and demographic development. Albenga wasn't a popular holiday destination like other towns in the Italian Riviera. As a result, the historic center has been preserved as it was for many centuries.
Now Albenga is a popular tourist resort town of the Italian Riviera. The coast of Albenga has a length of some 4 km (2.48 miles) of fine sand mixed with pebbles, with bathing establishments. The coast is divided into small public beaches, and other managed and fully beach equipped ran by private entrepreneurs. The sea promenade is long 3 km (1.86 miles)
Albenga has developed all those activities and projects around its local food and wine products that allow for a better quality of life and sustainable development. Food and wine tourism combines the quality of landscapes, typical products, and the offer spread throughout the territory by farms, cellars, and oil mills. The city has always supported and developed the quality of its productions, and thanks to integrated tourism protection and promotion activities, it has achieved important awards over time.
Wine is not just a product but a symbol following the "Città del Vino" certification obtained in 2018. The famous Pigato Doc Riviera Ligure di Ponente is produced here , a white wine to which the famous Sagrada di Salea event is dedicated. Other important wines produced on-site, always belonging to the Doc Riviera Ligure di Ponente, are Rossese and Vermentino.
In the plain, vegetables, fruit, flowers, and aromatic herbs are grown in large quantities. The so-called "4 di Albenga," the trumpet squash, the violet asparagus of Albenga, a slow food presidium, the spiny artichoke, and the ox heart tomato are delivered to the best kitchens in Italy.
From the numerous olive groves scattered throughout the vast territory, precious extra virgin oils are obtained , belonging to the Doc "Riviera Ligure"; in addition to the Taggiasca olive, whose fame has crossed regional borders, other qualities are also grown, such as Pinola and Arnasca. Pesto cannot be missed, produced locally, thanks to the large amount of basil that is grown here.
Overall, Albenga is a charming city that offers something for everyone. Its rich history, beautiful beaches, and delicious food and wine make it a must-visit destination for tourists traveling to the Liguria region of Italy.