Built in 13 BC at the behest of Emperor Augustus to connect Rome to southern Gaul, the Via Iulia Augusta stretched from Vada Sabatia, today's Vado Ligure, to Arles in Provence. The stretch between Albenga, the ancient Albingaunum, and Alassio, still clearly identifiable in its path, constitutes an easy-to-follow itinerary among the most evocative of Liguria, which combines historical-archaeological interest with naturalistic and landscape interest. The urban stretch of the road, in a north-south direction, was the "maximum hinge" of the Roman city. Leaving the center through the Arroscia gate, the road proceeded along the plain (the river Centa then flowed north of the city) and then climbed the "Monte" hill, quickly reaching the area of San Calocero, an important archaeological site burial place in Roman times, then the site of an extramoenian paleochristian basilica and finally of a monastic settlement linked to the Benedictine convent of the Gallinaria island.
The itinerary starts from Piazza del Popolo, leaving which you cross the Centa river on the recently built single-span suspended bridge. In the riverbed are the remains of the medieval church of S.Clemente. The route then winds through the southern necropolis of the ancient Albingaunum, of which numerous testimonies remain on either side of the road. After the complex of San Calocero, near the church of San Martino, formerly the mainland seat of the Benedictine monks of Gallinaria, is the “Pilone”, a “pile” type tomb dating back to the 1st / 2nd century. AD, restored in 1900. A little further upstream is the 2nd century Roman amphitheater. AD, only partially excavated. Along the way, therefore, you will encounter various sepulchral buildings, identified with letters of the alphabet: these are both open and closed funerary enclosures, in whose structures it is easy to identify the typical building characteristics of Roman buildings, such as the "petit" appearil ", said also opus certum , consisting of rows of stone blocks, arranged with great regularity and precision and held together by a very resistant mortar.
The stretch where a series of aligned buildings flank the upstream side of the road is particularly striking. Among these there is a columbarium tomb (forerunner of our niches), the only known in Liguria, dating back to the mid-first century. AD Traces of the original decoration still remain outside and inside the building. Continue among olive groves and large agave plants, with rosemary and caper bushes that descend from the walls. Crossing a tiny bridge you enter the territory of the Municipality of Alassio. Below you can see the "Colombera", a beautiful sixteenth-century residence, formerly of the Marquises Ferrero di Alassio, in the center of a large estate, now being recovered after a long abandonment.
After the last, monumental, funerary enclosure (Building A), there is a short stretch of pavement, characterized by the presence of the “margines” on the sides and transversal cuts for the drainage of the water. Although ancient, it is difficult to ascribe it with certainty to the Roman era. Via Iulia Augusta was the only land communication route that crossed the Ligurian west until the early nineteenth century, when Napoleon first and the Savoy later began and completed the coastal road, the current Via Aurelia. It is therefore evident how numerous the maintenance and refurbishment interventions must have been over the span of over 2000 years.
The last part of the route presents a mainly landscape interest, offering beautiful views over the coast and the Gallinaria island. In a small valley, perhaps the site of an ancient medieval settlement, is the church of S. Anna ai Monti, restored in the early seventies. It preserves fragments of frescoes from the early sixteenth century. The last stretch of the route is uphill, overlooking the small port of Alassio, built in the 1950s, guarded by the rock with the “Cappelletta”, a tiny church built in 1928 and dedicated to the Fallen of the Sea. The entrance of the Iulia Augusta into the bay of Alassio is marked by a stone arch opened in an ancient city wall, near the church of Santa Croce, the most remote mention of which dates back to a bull of Pope Alexander III of 1169. The The building, then owned by the Benedictines of Gallinaria, retains part of the apse and the left side from the time, with twin arches separated by pilasters, typical of the Benedictine architecture of the period. Due to the long abandonment it remained completely devoid of the roof and only in the seventies was it restored and reopened for worship.
A short staircase leads to the "terraces of Santa Croce", from which you can enjoy a magnificent panorama, which on clearer days extends to the Riviera di Levante, the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago and Corsica.
It has a mainly Mediterranean landscape interest.
From the Alassio side, the route starts from the Piazzale di S. Croce , from the homonymous church that overlooks it, from which you can enjoy an extraordinary panorama, which, on clear days, sweeps up to the mountains of Tuscany and Corsica. The small church of Santa Croce is mentioned for the first time in a bull of Pope Alexander III of 1169, as a priory belonging to the Benedictine monastery of the Gallinaria island. The apse and the left side remain of the original construction, characterized by the presence of paired arches separated by pilasters, typical elements of the architecture of the Benedictines of that period. Later the pointed side portal was added, while the front porch dates back to the sixteenth century. For centuries the building fell into disrepair, so much so that it remained completely without a roof, as it can be seen depicted in some works by the Irish painter Richard West , active in Alassio at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the seventies the church was then restored and reopened for worship.
After passing a stone arch, which Cecil Roberts in his novel set in Alassio called “The Portal to Paradise”, the images that will accompany you for the entire journey immediately appear: the sea and the Gallinara Island.
The first section overlooks the port of Alassio, obtained in the 1950s from a natural inlet, with the characteristic chapel erected in 1929 in memory of those who died at sea. A few hundred meters and, among the vegetation of cypresses and eucalyptus trees, you reach the church of Sant'Anna ai Monti . Tradition has it that it is a very ancient church, even built before the year 1000. In reality there are still no certain elements on the period of its foundation, which could be linked to the presence of a small inhabited settlement in this area, a ravine very close to the sea, but at the same time also well hidden and sheltered. The church has an irregular shape and has certainly undergone a setback of the facade. From the seventeenth century it was used for agricultural use and other premises were built along the upstream side. S. Anna was also restored in the 1970s. Today parts of frescoes from the late fifteenth / early sixteenth century are still visible, plastered after the Council of Trent, and today very damaged.
Along the way we are accompanied by the vision of the unmistakable silhouette of the Gallinaria island , so called by the Romans for the presence of wild hens. According to the legend (but scholars seem to confirm it) on the island San Martino , bishop of Tours, sheltered, who found refuge in a cave facing the open sea, which still bears his name today. The island, like the others in the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian seas, probably hosted hermits and subsequently saw the rise of a monastic community that passed to the Benedictine rule. Between the 10th and 12th centuries the monastery reached the apex of its prosperity and, thanks to important donations, acquired substantial properties not only in Western Liguria, but also in France and Spain. Then the decline and in 1473, with the death of the abbot Carlo Del Carretto, the abbey was given in commendation. After almost four centuries, title and rights passed to the Diocese of Albenga and in 1866 the bishop Raffaele Biale ceded the Gallinaria to private individuals. From Iulia Augusta you can see the sixteenth-century tower, built by the Genoese. The manor house, which has been enlarged and remodeled several times, has incorporated the remains of the ancient monastery. The church is from the early twentieth century, in a neo-Romanesque style. Still private, the island has been included since 1989 in the system of protected areas of the Liguria Region.
After about 3 km, after passing a campsite, in some short stretches you can still appreciate the original Roman paving. At this point, a stretch of ancient pavement is still visible, characterized by the presence of “margines” on the sides and transversal cuts for the drainage of the water.
Via Iulia Augusta takes its name from Octavian Augustus , the first Roman emperor, who had it built (but it is likely that a route already existed before) between 13 and 12 BC The road connected Vada Sabatia (today's Vado Ligure) with the town of Arles in Provence. And in fact another short stretch of paving, similar to this one, is visible at La Mortola, on the border with France. Other emperors, such as Hadrian and Caracalla, took care of the maintenance and reconstruction of the road. However, it must be remembered that the Roman road was the only land communication route that crossed the Ligurian west until the early nineteenth century, when Napoleon first and the Savoy later began and completed the coastal road, the current Via Aurelia. It is therefore evident how numerous road maintenance interventions must have been in the span of over 2000 years!
A little further on, still in the municipal area of Alassio, we find the beginning of the necropolis of the Roman Albingaunum , dating back to the I-II century. AD, whose remains will accompany until the end of the journey. The building , indicated by the archaeologists with the letter A , constitutes the extreme offshoot of the southern necropolis of the Roman city of Albingaunum. It is a funerary enclosure, dating back to the end of the 1st or the beginning of the 2nd century. after Christ, of quite significant dimensions, with a stepped base towards the road still clearly recognizable despite the damage suffered during the Second World War. The external face is the typical one, in squared stone blocks arranged along horizontal rows. In the center there was a marble or stone altar, probably removed to reuse the materials.
After crossing a small bridge, you enter the territory of the Municipality of Albenga; below you can see the "Colombera", a beautiful sixteenth-century residence, now in a state of neglect.
After another 800 meters, here is a second funerary enclosure ( building B ), also covered with squared blocks, the so-called “petit appearil”, a building technique that is widespread also in nearby Gaul. Like the previous one, it dates back to the end of the 1st century. A.D
From the first archaeological investigations, conducted in the 1930s by N. Lamboglia, up to the present day, 9 buildings have been brought to light, but everything suggests that there must have been many more.
To get a more precise idea of how the Iulia Augusta must have looked in the full imperial era, it is enough to travel a very short distance. Here there are three funerary buildings lined up along the road axis.
The first is a “columbarium” type tomb , the only one of its kind found in Liguria so far. It dates back to the middle of the 1st century. AD The facing is irregular, the so-called “opus incertum”, because it was covered with plaster in marble powder with decorations of which a few shreds still remain. Unlike the enclosures, it was also closed at the top with a sloping roof. Inside, which was accessed through an opening on the rear side, the niches where the urns with the ashes of the dead were still visible today.
The long wall (about three feet thick) of another enclosure leans against the columbarium, behind which over 40 burials have been found, both for inhumation and cremation, attributable to a period ranging from the 1st to the 3rd century. AD Many of these tombs have returned conspicuous funerary objects, rich in glass objects (and not only), partly visible today in the exhibition set up at Palazzo Oddo in Albenga.
Building B is almost contiguous, again a sepulchral enclosure with a rectangular plan, preceded by two steps. A pinnacle is still preserved in the center of the rear wall: others must have been on the edges and along the other sides. This monument can also be traced back to the end of the 1st or the beginning of the 2nd century AD. C.
Leaving behind the funerary monuments, you reach Punta San Martino , near the “Pilone”, a tomb dating back to the 2nd century. AD, and the Roman amphitheater (privately owned, reachable with a detour). After a short descent, crossing the modern bridge over the Centa river, you reach Albenga with its historic center and medieval towers.
From here it is then possible to return to Alassio by TPL bus. Alternatively: a short descent leads to the provincial road, after which you will find the TPL bus stop to return to Alassio.