Like an autograph album made of stone and pottery pieces, this wall exists as both a charming public artwork and an impressive historical record. Walking down Corso Dante Alighieri, passersby come face-to-face with the markers of well-known figures from the worlds of art, culture, fashion, and sport.
From the late 19th century well into the 20th, Alassio, Italy, had developed from a seaside resort popular with the English upper classes to a cosmopolitan spot for the literati and high society tourists. Caffè Roma, a historic venue owned by the Berrino family, came to be a meeting point and a social hub for the jetsetters and artists staying in the town. Ernest Hemingway was one such patron in the early 1950s.
Hemingway was, in fact, among the first to have his signature on the wall. The American writer played a key role in the conception and creation of Liguria’s own version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Legend has it that cafè owner Mario Berrino detested the bare wall that sat opposite his establishment. He conceived a plan to turn the dull affront into something a bit more spectacular. In 1953, he pitched his idea to regular customer Ernest Hemingway. The writer enthusiastically embraced Berrino’s vision of putting signatures on colorful tiles and decorating the empty wall. Wary that the authorities might not approve and that the project would get drowned beneath bureaucracy, they set out at dawn to lay the first three tiles, which featured the signatures of Hemingway, the music group Quartetto Cetra, and jazz guitarist Cosimo Di Ceglie.
As no one protested the new additions, Berrino’s emboldened group added more tiles over subsequent days. It’s alleged that the locals—including the mayor—realized something brilliant was being created and pretended to ignore it so as not to interfere with its artistic development. Indeed, the wall has continued to develop and since the early 1950s it has grown into the technicolor mosaic of autographs, emblems, badges, and portraits that visitors can see today.
Italian names inevitably dominate the wall—from the superbike racer Valentino Rossi to the writer Dario Fo, and from the filmmaker Vittorio De Sica to the World Cup-winning national football team of 1982. But it’s not just Italians who are immortalized in the tiles. Visitors will find that they’re also following in the footsteps of international stars like Anita Ekberg, Eric Sykes, and Jean Cocteau. The wall also gives its name to the local beauty contest.