Italy’s funiculars: wonderful all the way to the top
One of the most famous Italian songs in the world is dedicated to a funicular: it’s “Funiculì funiculà” of course, composed by Giuseppe Turco and Luigi Denza in 1880 to celebrate the inauguration of the Vesuvio Cable Railway, the first cable railway to successfully ascend the slopes of an active volcano.
The song became so popular it was translated in a number of different languages and performed at every court in Europe. Over one million copies of the score were sold the first year, and Richard Strauss included it in his tone poem “From Italy”. The song somehow reassured people that the ambitious public transport solution could challenge nature and win… until, in 1947, nature stopped it forever with explosive, eruptive power.
Funicular railways are fairly widespread in Italy, also due to the country’s particular orography: the density of hills and mountains has spurred many municipalities to adopt such a fascinating type of transport.
It is a romantic and poetic way of reaching many destinations. Livorno-born poet Giorgio Caproni, for example, composed beautiful verses in which the Zecca-Righi funicular in Genoa (the “rope boat”, as he called it) becomes an allegory of human life: “And away among the freshest rocks and air, / in the tremulous Genoa, the old / timber of the rope boat in the air, / black, overcomes bridges – the tangle / climbs oblique desertions, and arrives / to terraces where it gets to know the open / transparency of day” (translated from “Stanze della funicolare”, 1952).
We have visited eleven funiculars in Italy for you. Here they are: enjoy the ride!
Let’s start from Trieste’s Opicina Tramway (which we showcased a while back), connecting Friuli’s capital with Villa Opicina (a hamlet on the Karst Plateau, 329 meters above sea level).
Inaugurated in 1902, the “tram de Opicina” (as it’s known in the local dialect) climbs up five kilometers, including 800 meters on a 26% incline, across splendid landscapes and with wonderful views of the gulf. .
We now move from Friuli to Trentino-Alto Adige, in the province of Bolzano: since 1903, the Mendel Funicular has connected Caldaro sulla strada del Vino with the Mendel Pass (Passo della Mendola in Italian, Mendelpass in German), a mountain pass that at 1,363 meters high guarantees beautiful views over the Dolomites and Überetsch.
The rope train covers a distance of some 2.5 kilometers and, in about ten minutes, climbs between the rocks, rising almost 900 meters.
Caldaro Sulla Strada del Vino (hamlet of Sant’Antonio, Bolzano) – Mendel Pass
Tel.: +39 840 000471
We’ve already written about the Funicular for Bergamo Alta, Lombardy as well.
The old structure, which opened as far back as 1887, takes you from the city center to the higher part of town, with all of its wonders: Palazzo della Ragione, the Contarini Fountain, the Duomo, the Colleoni Chapel, the Baptistery, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore….
Before we leave Bergamo, there is another Funicolar to try: the one from Bergamo Alta to the hill of San Vigilio.
One ride is less than three minutes on this 1912 train: that is all you need to climb up 90 meters and reach an altitude of 450 – the highest part of Bergamo, where the medieval castle of San Vigilio rises.
Still in Lombardy, Como offers another opportunity for a little uphill thrill on the Funicular to Bruonate. The small municipality is just over one kilometer from the beautiful lakeside city, but was completely isolated – if you don’t consider the narrow muletrack you could walk up – until 1894, when the funicular was inaugurated.
A spectacular view of Lake Como awaits at destination.
Now let’s move on to Piedmont to admire the modern Mondovì Funicular, connecting two areas of the town in the province of Cuneo: the Breo commercial district, below, and the ancient district of Piazza, above. Between the two there are a difference of 140 meters in altitude and a ride lasting less than three minutes.
The Mondovi Funicular went into operation in 1886, but interrupted service due to bureaucratic problems for over thirty years, from 1975 to 2006 – when the new plant was inaugurated, with cabins designed by designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Now we head to Liguria, where Genoa’s Funicular of Sant’Anna connects Piazza del Portello and Via Bertani. To quote poet Giorgio Caproni again, we look forward to the “uphill breeze and light” of this beautiful “vertical city”.
Inaugurated in 1891, in 1989 the Funicular of Sant’Anna was destroyed in a mysterious fire. It reopened two years later and has not stopped since, climbing up a 55 meters’ difference in altitude several times a day.
Funicular of Sant’Anna
Piazza del Portello-via Bertani
Tel.: +39 848 000030
Fax: +39 010 5582400
We now move to Tuscany, where in Montecatini Terme, Pistoia, we can choose which of the two carriages of the local funicular we want to test: they are known affectionately as “Gigio” and “Gigia”.
The funicular of this wonderful thermal town was inaugurated in 1898, at the presence of none other than Giuseppe Verdi. To this day, the plant connects Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto, separated by a small drop of a little over 200 meters.
Without leaving the beautiful region of Tuscany, we reach Livorno, where the Montenero Funicular first opened in 1908. It is named after the hill on top of which the famous Sanctuary of the Madonna of Montenero was built in the 15th century.
The funicular connects two parts of the city –Montenero Basso and Montenero Alto – covering in approximately four minutes the distance of 650 meters, rising about 100 meters in altitude.
Montenero Basso-Montenero Alto
Tel.: +39 800 317709
Tel.: +39 0586 579338
And now we go to Campania, in Naples, to visit the beautiful Chiaia Funicular, the first public rope transport service in the city (it opened in 1889 with a steam propulsion system, and only later, in 1900, it was connected to the electrical grid).
In five minutes, the two trains of the funicular – which was renovated in 2004 – connect the namesake residential neighborhood overlooking the Bay of Naples with Vomero, the famous hilly neighborhood dotted with villas and Art Nouveau buildings.
Our journey among the most beautiful rope railways in Italy ends in Campania, and in Capri to be exact. Here, we ride the funicular railway that links Marina Grande with the Neapolitan heart of the island, the Piazzetta.
Before 1905, when the plant was inaugurated, people could go from one end of the line to the other only by mule, which took a long time. Today, all you need are fifteen minutes to enjoy a splendid journey between Capri’s lemon groves
Marina Grande-Piazzetta di Capri
Tel.: +39 081 837 0363