History & Tales: origin of the denominations Cervo, Steria and Faraldi

The existence of the toponym “Cervo” was recorded for the first time in 1123, in a document discovered 150 years ago in the diocesan catalogue of Albenga. In the document there was a mention to the Valley of Cervo.

The toponym was then quite frequently recorded in later maps with the form of “Cervus” (years 1172, 1190, 1200, 1241, 1251, etc.) and with the more popular variation “Servus” (years 1169, 1192, 1196, 1199, 1204, 1251, etc.) closer to the common way of speaking.

The word “Cervo” was originally used to indicate the brook and the valley through which it flows.

In the middle ages the villages that rose in Cervo’s area linked this name to their own: consequently “San Bartolomeo del Cervo” appeared, whose name stood for “San Bartolomeo della Valle del Cervo”. And just as well: “Santa Maria del Cervo”, “Pairola del Cervo”, “Chiappa del Cervo”, “Castello del Cervo”.

Castrum Servi” is a denomination appeared in 1196. It was introduced, according to the customs of the age, to indicate the village which rose on a rocky spur by the sea. The village would be protected by the very nature of the territory and the city walls would make it virtually unassailable.

Cervo earned the role of administrative center thanks to these peculiarities. Here settled the lieutenant of the feudatory with his garrison. From the second half of the XIV century also the Podesà, sent from Genoa, sat here his residence.

The practice of identifying the Castle’s surrounding simply with the name of “Cervo” became popular only from the end of the 18th century. The name was made official in the following century due to changes in the administrative structure of the Valley, which lasted until present time.

Regarding the origin of the toponym there are divergent opinions.

In ancient times the area was covered with a thick forest. According to some researches the denomination comes from the Latin word “silva”, later vulgarized in “sirva”. From this last word would derive the common name “servo” later transposed to the italian “Cervo”.

To other researchers there cannot be any doubt: the ancient forests of the area had to be populated by deers (whose translation in italian is in fact “cervo”) and this characteristic must have been so distinctive that the whole area took its name from it.

Moreover, a popular tradition narrated by Urbano Multedo at the beginning of the 19th century tells that the name was imposed from the Marquises who ruled the land. They took inspiration from the toponym derived from the goddess Diana, present in the next valley. Since a deer appears beside the goddess in many effigies, they decided to name the village after this animal.

Another version of the story, again inspired from the classic mythology and narrated in this case by Nino D’Althan, tells instead that one day Diana, undressing her beautifully-shaped body, decided to bathe in the ligurian sea. Atteone, attracted by her divine beauty, remained to admire her hiding in the bushes, however the goddess saw him. She was irritated to the extent that she turned him into a deer, in the very place which, since then, carries this name.

Concerning this subject, it is also important to remember that historically the name of the place has always been associated with the animal mentioned above, and not with the woods. For instance, in the embossed stamp placed on a document from 1542 and kept in the State’s Catalogue of Genoa, it is possible to see the ancient coat of arms of the Community of Cervo: here one can see two deers that hold a crossed emblem, which represents the citizenship of Genoa’s Republic.

The toponym “Stelvia” claims an ancient origin just as well. In this case the name has clear roman derivation.

Reading some documents preserved in the local catalogues, it is possible to confirm that the name derives from the Latin word “Ostilla”, which means “brook’s mouth, sea strait, harbor, entrance”.

The name has been used in its original form until the second half of the 16th century. In the notary deeds of that time are in fact mentioned several inhabitants who carried this last name, they were so many that a village of the Valley was named after them.

The modern variation of the word is thought to be the result of phonetic variations, which took place through its vulgarization: the fall of the initial vowel and the transformation of “i” into “e” and of “l” into “r” represent common transfers in the evolution of the ligurian dialects.

It is finally worth mentioning that the mouth brook of Cervo used to be, in ancient times, dock and port of call of the Valley. Therefore the toponym “Ostilla”, later turned into “Steria”, was given the local importance which the Valley carries even today.

It is not by chance that in the past “Steria” was the common name referring to the final part of the brook, while the brook and the whole Valley was called “Cervo”.

However, due to the effects of the social-economical evolution of the last two decades, which led to a radical change of the territorial relations and gave a prominent role to the sites and structures closer to the coast, the toponym Steria finally had the upper hand, entering in the common use to indicate both brook and Valley.

As far as the toponym “Faraldi” is concerned, there are different theories: the most confirmed one indicates it as a compound longobardic denomination, which can be translated as “village in the woods”. This name would reveal the existence of an inhabited centre at that time, in the higher part of the Valley. The denomination would also give to this village some importance which would justify its preservation through the following centuries.

A second theory states that the area of the Faraldis used to have a precise function in the sacred woods, concerning the cult of the dead. For this reason the name would derive from the days in February, which were dedicated by the Romans to this cult.

This theory would be moreover reinforced by the finding of a fragment of a funeral stone. The fragment is dated to the first phase of the roman occupation (I-II century b. C.). The name is also mentioned in several ancient documents as Feraldi or Feraudi.

Sources:

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