Volastra, the Saracens and the mystery bells

High and sunny, situated on a promontory on which the sun never seems to set, Volastra enjoys the sea view and the plateaus planted with vines and olive trees. The town is strongly linked to Manarola in history and legends.

Its ancient name was Oleastra, and its inhabitants were skilled merchants of what could be drawn from the earth. Then, around 1000, they shaped the port from which they did their businesses and funded Manarola.

This is how the story goes, and the legend confirms, adding a touch of mystery.

The vineyards in the area of Manarola

The Volastra bells ringing on stormy nights

Some say that, on stormy nights, when the coast is swept by the Libeccio wind, you can hear the sound of some bells ringing in the air of Volastra to Manarola.

There are no bells in the church belfries of the two towns, so the sound must come from a place far away and signals a treasure hidden in an area that no one has ever found.

When Manarola was a small marina and Volastra was still Oleastra, the Saracens were a severe threat. So during one of the many raids they carried out along the Cinque Terre coastline, the wealthy inhabitants of Oleastra decided to remove the church’s bells and hide them underground. They thought the bells’ shimmer could attract the pirates to their village. So in a deep hole, along with bells, they hid their belongings.

Unfortunately, while digging, they didn’t notice the pirates had arrived. Finding nothing valuable to carry away, the pirates set fire to the village, spreading death and taking prisoners away.

Oleastra was destroyed and, in later years, repopulated by the inhabitants of the surrounding towns.

Seventy years later, a bizarre 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 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 hasn’t been found. Nevertheless, some swear they can hear the bells ringing on windy nights.

The Manarola nativity at night.

From Manarola to Volastra, the way up

The distance between Manarola to Volastra offers today the opportunity to embark on one of the most exciting walks in the Cinque Terre. Going up from the coastal village among olive trees for about an hour, you can embrace the land’s soul and enjoy all its delights. The advice is to start from Manarola and reach the picturesque cemetery of the village with a slight slant. The cemetery is worth a quick visit to discover some remarkable old gravestones and overlook the whole area from its porch. From the cemetery, the road continues to go up, and after a short flight of steps, it leads to a scenic walkway. The plateau behind hosts the light nativity scene by Mario Andreoli at Christmas time. Many figures are left in place all year long, and walking among shepherds, sheep, angels, and iron fishermen is fascinating. It’s like being on a stage with closed curtains.

The staircase leading to the top (where the cabin is arranged with baby Jesus) is the most challenging point of the path. Still, 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. 

The illuminated nativity scene of Manarola seen “from the inside

This path leads to the ridge overlooking CornigliaVernazza, and Monterosso, where the typical Cinque Terre vineyard culture can be seen. Looking at the small rail racks, you can figure out all the fatigue needed to make such a beautiful landscape.

Therefore, you will have to choose whether to continue walking to Volastra along the road or the staircase. We recommend not fearing the steps. The embrace of the vineyards and the olive trees plateau attend you for about twenty minutes until the heart of the village is reached.

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