La Pigna was once the pulse of a no longer existing San Remo. It was the actual old town and now it is both the “humblest” and the most spontaneous area of the town. It is full of covered alleys, little squares, and terraced houses together with dull colours and long silences which in turn create emotions and sensations unknown to mass tourism.
La Pigna can only be discovered on foot starting from piazza Santo Stefano and heading to the sanctuary of the Madonna della Costa which is the main religious building in town.
First of all it will help you to understand the name of this area – Pigna – which comes from its curling up around the hill just like the scales in a pine cone. It was founded as a stronghold around the year 1000 and it was enlarged and strengthened up to the sixteenth century so as to protect it from pirates’ attacks.
La Pigna starts from the fourteenth-century Porta di Santo Stefano (Gate of St. Steven), a gothic stone arch which functions as a border between the old and new town. Beyond the gate, at the far end of the short street by the same name, turn left onto Rivolte San Sebastiano, a covered alley with high and uneven steps leading you to piazza dei Dolori, whose name comes from the brotherhood of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, which is entrusted with the Oratory of Saint Sebastian. Constructed after the plague in 1502, the oratory has been recently restored: the entrance is protected by a colonnade with an inscription dating back to 1642 and the interior is decorated with beautiful eighteenth-century frescoes.
After a glance at the palace belonging to the Gentile-Spinola family, walk down via del Pretorio, where you will find interesting remnants of an ancient ornamental panel over the door of No. 5, before turning onto via Palma which is the main road on the western side of this area. Here, at No. 21, there is the house of the Manara family, which was “the best one in San Remo in 1538” and as such, it was chosen to host pope Paul III as a guest on his way to Nice. Turning onto via Montà you can reach the Palace of the Counts Sapia Rossi (at No. 18) which gave hospitality to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1794.
Back on via Palma, you can reach piazza San Giuseppe where the church of San Giuseppe stands out. Though its construction started at the end of the seventeenth century, the church of San Giuseppe was finished in the nineteenth century. There is a statue of Saint Joseph above the outside door and the inside is decorated in an eclectic manner. In the middle of the dome, the coat of arms of the town of San Remo clearly testifies the importance of this church for the whole town. Here, the Masons and the Farmers guilds would meet in the chapels on the left and on the right sides of the altar respectively. The high altar was designed in marble by Soli, the very same engineer who designed the Nobel, Angerer and Fiorentina villas (which are among the most beautiful villas in town). A sixteenth-century crucifix stands above the altar. In the middle of the presbytery you will see another stone altar decorated with bas-reliefs resembling an ancient sarcophagus. In reality, it was once a drinking trough for horses and mules, which the Town Council had placed by the railway station in 1928, where there was a parking area for carriages. By the 1950s all carriages disappeared and so the Town Council decided to remove the trough. The parish priest of San Giuseppe decided to use it in a unique way as an altar. The baptismal pool next to the chapel on the right was also used once for a different purpose: it was a garden well. It is also worth noting that the yellow hexagonal marble tile by the confessional has a fossilized shell inside.
Next to the church, the Porte di San Giuseppe (gates of St. Joseph), one of the most beautiful examples of medieval architecture in the city, has been recently restored. Through the arch, you can access Rive di San Giuseppe (shores of St. Joseph), which leads to the summit of the hill where you will find the Madonna della Costa (i.e., Our Lady of the Coast), as the sanctuary is called here in San Remo. This seventeenth-century building was once a safe reference point for sailors approaching San Remo. The inside of the sanctuary is richly decorated with marbles and stuccoes. Here you can also find wooden statues by Maragliano and paintings by Domenico Fiasella, Guilio Cesare Procaccini, and Bartolomeo Guidobono. Over the high altar you can see an oval oil painting of the Madonna della Costa painted by Nicolò da Voltri.
To return toward the sea, walk along the cobblestones in front of Madonna della Costa and down to Giardini Regina Elena: named by the queen of Montenegro who was a frequent guest of the Town of Flowers and responsible for the reconstruction after the earthquake of 1887 that destroyed Bussana Vechia. From this overlook, you can see a spectacular view of the city, the port and the gulf of San Remo.
A short staircase leads to piazza San Costanzo, where you will find the Oratorio di San Costanzo, one of the oldest religious sites of the city that was reconstructed after the earthquake. From here, descending the small staircase on the right, you will reach piazza Santa Brigida, where you will see the Oratorio di Santa Brigida. From here, we retrace our steps to reach the piazza dei Dolori e poi piazza Cassini.