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Visiting the Roia River at Ventimiglia, Italy: scenic river that defies boundaries and spellings

Updated on February 20, 2016
Flag of Italy
Flag of Italy | Source
Roia River
Roia River | Source
The Roia River at the Italian city of Ventimiglia in Liguria
The Roia River at the Italian city of Ventimiglia in Liguria | Source
Map location of Liguria, Italy
Map location of Liguria, Italy | Source

From the hidden, complex past into the deep

The fast-flowing, but shallow, Roia River enters the Mediterranean's Ligurian Sea (Italian: Mar Ligure ) at Ventimiglia, in the province of Imperia, in Italy's Liguria region. The hinterland of the city of Ventimiglia is Alpine, hence the relative lack of depth of the Roia's waters.

Because Ventimiglia is near the border with France, it may be thought that the Roia River provides a natural boundary between the two countries; when I saw the river, this instinctive hunch suggested itself.

However, this is not the case; Italy also extends westwards along the Mediterranean coast beyond the Roia through Mortola, Grimaldi-Inferiore, and Balzi Rossi, before reaching the frontier at Ponte San Ludovico (French: Pont Saint-Ludovic , or: Pont Saint-Louis ), near Menton (Italian: Mentone ). Indeed, westward from flat, estuarine scenes at the mouth of the Roia, the coastal topography becomes dramatic and rocky before the French border is reached.

The river has a number of spellings within Italian territory. Roia and Roja are regarded as viable spellings in standard Italian. But local dialect spellings Ròia and even Reuia are also seen.

The river actually rises in France, however, in what is now the Department of Alpes-Maritimes. There, before crossing the border into Italy, the river even gives its name to a town: Breil-sur-Roya (known for its trout fishing): indicating the French spelling of the river.

However, the Franco-Italian border in its approaches to the Mediterranean has long been somewhat fluid. Essentially, the ancient, historical background to it was the transition from Roman Italy to Roman Gaul, traditionally set at La Turbie, overlooking present day Monaco. The former County of Nice became definitively French only in 1861. Indeed, prior to 1861, the coast between the Rock of Monaco and the current Franco-Italian border on the Mediterranean, belonged to the Principality of Monaco, which, as a protectorate of Sardinia, then a regional power, had an area 20 times the size of its current territory. As recently as 1947, some towns close to Breuil-sur-Roya belonged to Italy, which, however, was compelled to cede them to France after a plebiscite.

Some Italian rivers have historically been psychological dividers; e.g., the Rubicon (Italian: Rubicone ). The Roia, however may be said perhaps to be a uniter, rather than a divider, because neither topographically nor psychologically does it separate; a symbol, maybe, of the common Alpine hinterland shared by Italy and France. For Nobel Prizewinning Italian writer Salvatore Quasimodo (2), the Roia river is, rather, a melancholy symbol of the windy autumn of life, as it opens out onto the sea over which albatrosses begin a journey to an unknown destination (3).


(1) The City of Nice was the birthplace of Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1807. This writer formerly held an ID from Uruguay, of which country's naval forces this Italian patriot held an admiralcy. Uruguay, as a maritime and geographical transition zone, shares some territorial and psychological parallels with the Franco-Italian border area.)

(2) Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968) received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959.

(3) S. Quasimodo, Foce del fiume Roia , (Mouth of the Roia River), in: Oboe sommerso , (Submerged oboe), 1932.

Also worth seeing

In Ventimiglia itself, significant ecclesiastical architecture includes the Medieval Cathedral, the Sant' Agostino and the San Michele churches. The city's principal municipal building, the Palazzo comunale , is built in Rationalist style. There are remains of a Roman amphitheatre; the Hanbury Gardens attract many visitors.

Balzi Rossi (approx. distance: 8 kilometres) is historically of archeological significance.


How to get there:

Alitalia flies to Genoa (Aeroporto di Genova ); there are rail links from Genoa to Ventimiglia. The nearest sizable international airport to Ventimiglia is Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur ). Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice. The French railroad company SNCF serves stations between Nice and Ventimiglia (French: Vintimille ). For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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