For centuries Italy was no more than a collection of independent states, always fighting each other. The expression “è una battaglie tra guelfi e ghibbellini“, it’s a fight between guelfs and ghibbelines, is still used today. Formerly the guelfs were the states that sided with the pope, whereas the ghibbelines supported the emperor. Neighbouring cities often supported opposing parties, because the main goal was not to help pope or emperor, but to battle the nearby competitor. Modern Italian politics springs to mind immediately.
One of the most famous of these independent states was of course Venice, which remained independent for a 1000 years. But there were a few other repubbliche marinare (sea republics) as well, much smaller, the smallest of which was Noli, 50 km west of Genoa. Henry VI declared its independence at the end of the 12th century and though being small, Noli managed to remain independent until the end of the 18th century, when Napoleon made an end to it.
Nowadays, after the Risorgimento and unification of Italy (which was in fact a conquest of Italy by the Piemontese Kingdom, read The Pursuit of Italy – David Gilmour), all towns have their own Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza Cavour to formally emphasize Italian unity. But most of the inhabitants of the former states in their heart still regret the loss of their independence and do not trust central government institutions to take care of their affairs.
For us travellers however, it is nice to discover that the history of these small independent states is still alive and can be discovered on the spot. Noli, for instance, is a nice, quiet seaside town with a medieval castle, where the small boats are still waiting on the beach for the right tide to go out fishing, as if nothing has changed during the ages.