The Republic of Noli

December 9, 2013 / Places
Noli, Liguria

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.



Stef Smulders

by Stef Smulders

Stef is a Dutch expat now living the dolce vita in the Oltrepò Pavese wine region, an undiscovered Tuscany 50 km south of Milan. 

With husband Nico & dog Joia he runs a B&B Villa I Due Padroni (

Stef has just completed his first book about his experiences in Italy during the first few years (in Dutch).
An English translation will appear later in 2016. Interested? Send me a mail and have a look at my Facebook page.

8 Responses to “The Republic of Noli”

  1. Ken Borelli

    wish it was an obscure topic…but as an Italian American, who works with the Italian American community, regionalism is a double edge sword: wonderful to enjoy as ones heritage, but very difficult to unify around and work for any common good. Also, as Italian Americans are for the most part assimilated in the USA, really our regional focus is something that becomes an obstacle towards any sort of unity. It truly makes u appreciate the vision that is the USA, even with our regional issues very much “out there” too.

  2. My family migrated to the USA in 1904. We lived and grew up in a small place called Plymouth, just south of Boston. Even today after all these years of growth Plymouth has definitely outgrown its city council but allowing a mayor of God forbid bigger govt to take over is unheard of. I am an American Italian, first born. Two things we don’t bring up at dinner are politics and religion, that is of course you’re looking for a fight.
    Great article… I am one who likes smaller governing forces instead of one huge huge system…

  3. Marie Castino Ramey

    Thank you for this wonderful article. My father was born in Noli, so I’m first generation Italian/American. I have relatives in Noli and have stayed with them several times. It is a very charming little fishing village, with an impressive history for a small village.
    Many thanks,

  4. lewis murray

    re noli….i never knew that, although have passed through (or near) noli many times in all these “italian years”. one learns something every day….or should….regards, lewis

  5. Napo Orso Capo

    I’m sorry to inform you that Noli’s indipendence from the Republic of Genoa was mainly just formal.
    Moreover I wouldn’t dare write such a drastic and simplistic statement as “the unification of Italy which was in fact a conquest of Italy by the Piemontese Kingdom”. Not if my only source was David Gilmour!
    The “Indivisible Republic” has too many enemies these days, please don’t join them.


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