Throwback Travel: Camogli, Italy

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Summer, 1939. The sun shines on beachgoers in Camogli, an anchovy-shaped fishing port located on the Italian Riviera just down the shore from Genoa.

Despite the sky, there’s a dark cloud looming over the village’s white-sand beaches. On September 1 of that year, Germany’s invasion of Poland led Britain and France to retaliate against Hitler’s Nazi state, setting off World War II and altering the course of human history.

Nine months later, Italy declared war on the Allies and invaded France. “The hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor,” United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said of Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini’s decision. Several summers would pass before a day at the beach would again be a peaceful one.

Here’s a brief look at the seaside stunner through a throwback lens:

The fishing village of Camogli flourished in the late Middle Ages with a population near to 20,000 people. Today, it’s much smaller—fewer than 6,000 souls call Camogli home.

The buildings behind the beachgoers are the town church complex, and to its left, Castello della Dragone (Dragon’s Castle), built in the 13th century to defend Camogli against Saracen pirates.

Camogli is located on the Italian Riviera, a storied destination famous for its jet-set celebrity associations. Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyonce, and Jay-Z visited in 2014.

Pesto is another star attraction—originating in the region. Fun fact: Though Genovese pesto is green, Sicilians enjoy a red version that features tomatoes, less basil, and substitutes almonds for pine nuts.

Descended from an ancient Roman sauce, basil pesto became widely known in the U.S. in the 1980s following the publication of the best-selling Silver Palate cookbook series, which featured recipes from the eponymous gourmet shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The name Camogli translates roughly to “town of wives” owing to the women who were left behind when their fisherman husbands went out to sea.

Lido is the Italian word for beach, but the British appropriated the term enthusiastically in the 1930s, dubbing dozens of new public swimming pools “lidos.” Cheap airfare to the Mediterranean in the 1960s and ’70s doomed the British lidos. A preservationist movement wants to preserve those that remain.

In 1896, New York City renamed part of Ninth Avenue (the section between West 59th and 110th streets) Columbus Avenue to honor Genoa’s native-son explorer, Christopher Columbus. Camogli honors the famous navigator in its own way; the town’s C. Colombo Nautical Institute is one of Italy’s premier merchant marine schools.

The Fonda family of American actors can trace their ancestors to Columbus’s hometown. They’re from Genoa, too.

Andrew Nelson is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow his adventures in wanderlust on Twitter @andrewnelson.

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