The English in Bordighera
There was a period at the end of the 19th century during which the
English guests of Bordighera, divided among hotels and villas hidden
among the olive trees, was as many as 3,000, while the local population
counted about 2,000 inhabitants. This extraordinary touristic
"colonization" of Bordighera created by some of the richest British
families, who had chosen this part of Liguria for their winter sojourns
(such as other subjects of Queen Victoria who preferred other places on
the Riviera, from Cannes to Alassio) after the publication in Edinburgh
in 1885 of the famous novel by John Ruffini "Doctor Antonio".
After having discovered its natural and most secret and exuberant
beauties, appreciated for its excellent climate and the quietness
offered by the numerous walks under olive-trees and palms (it has been
calculated that the Old Town was surrounded by at least 50,000 olive
plants and 20,000 palms, later sacrificed for the construction of roads
and buildings and for the sale of the most beautiful palms to other
cities), Bordighera rapidly became a first-class residential centre, in
competition especially with Nice and Menton.
The English created a real British centre here , with their banks,
agencies, shops, cultural and sports clubs, the Anglican Church, the
theatre ("Victoria Hall") and also a weekly paper in English,
impressing an obvious gentlemanliness and refinement to the area. Many
guests came from other European countries too.
The main buildings of the time still survive today and allow modern
Bordighera to preserve and increase a prestigious cultural tradition,
thanks to the Bicknell Museum and the International Municipal Library.
Still functional, the Tennis Club, which has the primate of national
foundation and 20 courts (reduced in the post-war period) and the
The most important person of that world is undoubtedly Clarence
Bicknell, at first a Protestant minister, then patron and sensible and
alert scholar, refined water-colourist, promoter of Esperanto,
appreciated botanist, but above all indefatigable explorer and
discoverer of the prehistorical rupestrian engravings of Mount Bego,
near the Maritime Alps. Founder in 1888 of the first museum of the
Western Liguria, which still carries his name, he collected in his
Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean building, archeological traces of great
value, beside rich naturalistic collections, then given to various
Ligurian museums, according to the place of origin of the things. He
published two important volumes on the local flora and some essays
about the rupestrian engravings of Mount Bego, the last one in 1913.
After Bicknell's death in 1918, the institution passed to his
grandchildren Edward and Margaret Berry, who used it as a centre for
productive historical - artistic studies, and which resulted in the
realization of the valuable guide, "To the western doorway of Italy".
While Europe was going towards a new terrible war and the social -
political transformations of the time had changed the fortune of the
British Empire, a golden era closed also in Bordighera, at first with a
temporary and then a definitive abandonment by almost all the English
But there were the works, the city style, now completely but probably
unconsciously assimilated. After a few moments of uncertainty, the
Bicknell Museum became the base of the History Home Deputation and then
of the International Institute of Ligurian Studies, which still today
continues the activities and the interventions, as centre of
universitary archeological specialization equipped with a very
comprehensive library and as main district body for the protection and
exploitation of Ligurian archeological, artistic, historical and
Also the International Municipal Library, meeting place for very
different readers, has recently retaken the function as coordinative
and promotional centre of the town cultural activities, reordering the
impressive book property (many volumes are in English and they have
been catalogued on a CD-ROM consultable on-line) and encouraging
conferences, concerts, shows, debates, periodically receiving big
groups of fans. At the end of 1999, the subscribers enroled to the
Library were about 4,000. The ancient spirit maintains a program which
keeps the primary utility of culture and its aim of moral and social
Having remembered the main English institutions of Bordighera doesn't
render justice to other important creations and, above all, to the
numerous characters who loved the city and did their own bit. For
example, Fredric Fitzroy Hamilton, author of the book "Bordighera and
the Western Riviera", translated in French too, fundamental historical
- natural study with reproduction of documents of the foundation of the
"Burdigheta" of 1470 - 71, otherwise unknown, and Mr Lowe, who gave to
the city the present gardens in Via Vittorio Veneto, so that the
age-old olive-trees of the garden could become public property.
Modern Bordighera came from those and other different facts and now
forgotten episodes. Its British first - class cultural and touristic
tradition is the main reason for its fortune.
The texts have been got from "Bordighera and the English" by Enzo Bernardini.
Translation by Manuela Borella.