Vivid green pesto, great wine and fabulous walks … Genoa is a city of indulgence. Driving in the city, noticing it’s fabulous big secession buildings it reminded me of the importance of Italy: banks, trades, imports of goods and businesses…

Genoa was a medieval rival to VeniceIt’s not been primped for tourists like Venice, though. Genoa was a shipbuilding centre and is a working city. Once the richest city in the world, famous for its seafaring prowess, La Superba’s (a nickname of Genoa given by famous poet Francesco Petrarcam meaning: the proud one) glories can still be seen in its medieval gates, fine palazzi and renowned cuisine. Our hotel was just all that. Glorius, famous, in total Belle Epoque it hosted parties and banquets of high society: Hotel Bristol Palace. Emperor Hirohito was a guest. Alfred Hitchcock, was a guest a several times as well. According to legend he got inspired by the imposing elliptical marble staircase of the building for his film “Vertigo”. 

With its bulk it dominates Via XX Settembre, one of the most noble streets of late 19th-century Genoa, the city’s parlour, a stone’s throw from Piazza De Ferrari.

As we arrived late in the evening, we decided to stay in the palace and dine. Among precious objects and the furnishing accessories from the 19th and early 20th centuries, marble floors and walls of the banquet halls… it made our experience unforgettable, romantic, luxury.

Trofie with pesto genovese is a must do dish in Genoa. Paired with local Ligurian wine, as Genoa is the capital of Liguria region.

Genoa is the oldest football club in Italy and has a football museum. My day started with this thought – unfortunately, we didn’t pass by to enter the museum. We started to stroll down towards the old city, discovering the history.

Genoa was the capital of one of the most powerful maritime republics for over seven centuries, from the 11th century to 1797.Particularly from the 12th century to the 15th century, the city played a leading role in the commercial trade in Europe, becoming one of the largest naval powers of the continent and considered among the wealthiest cities in the world. It is where exactly the famous Christopher Columbus was born in 15th century – an Italian explorer and navigator from the Republic of Genoa who completed four travels across the Atlantic Ocean sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, opening the way for the widespread European exploration and European colonization of the Americas.

The city has hosted massive shipyards and steelworks since the 19th century, and its solid financial sector dates back to the Middle Ages. Strolling down, getting more and more into the city, we stopped in a first bar to have our morning espresso and macchiatto. Living in Sicily for a year, being on the road now for 5 days, we quickly picked up the habits of Italians.

The walls of Genoa defended the city of Genoa, since the roman times. To this day, large portions of these walls remain, and Genoa has more and longer walls than any other city in Italy. The construction of the walls dragged until 1163; in that year, the international political situation and particularly relations with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa led to an acceleration of work. Thre were the three main gates with a monumental look, with high semicircular towers. We passed through Porta Soprana.

To discover the charm of ancient Genoa you have to walk on foot and enter the “caruggi”, the picturesque alleys of medieval origin, get lost in the streets lined with noble buildings and the characteristic squares overlooked by ancient churches. Sometimes, we passed through some very obscure caruggi where we discovered ladies standing in their corners. The two of them warned me that the cleaning machine is coming and I might jump quickly around the other corner to hide from the water and cleanser chemicals.

The spirit of Genoa lies precisely in the alleys, where smells, flavors, languages ​​and different cultures have always mixed. And the historic center, more than any other part of the city, has always been a melting pot. Buildings and architectural styles also overlap.

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo is 12th century cathedral with Romanesque style although the main facade is Gothic. Money came from the successful enterprises of the Genoese fleets in the Crusades. According to history, this hexagonal emerald-coloured glass bowl was brought to the city of Genoa after the conquest of Cesarea in 1101. It is believed that it is the Holy Grail, the cup used during the Last Supper. At the beginning of XIX century, Napoleon’s troops took it as a war booty. After a Napoleons Époque, the bowl was given back to Genoa. This information is now confusing me as I have found the similar theory that the holy grail was in Cathedral of Valencia.

In the historic center of Genoa, time seems to stand still: noble palaces and splendid churches intersperse with shops, where the specialties are still prepared according to ancient recipes and the handicrafts are processed according to centuries-old traditions.

Focaccia is the most typical dish of Genoa. It is prepared in many ways: with olives, onion, cheese, sage and so on. The Genoese eat it at any time of the day, from breakfast time to dinner time. Genoese focaccia is really difficult to prepare at home, for this reason, the Genoese buy it in bakeries.

The panissa is one of the most particular dishes of Genoa, to be tasted in the alleys of the historic center at the numerous frying shops. It is in fact a kind of polenta made with chickpea flour, cut into sticks and fried. It can also be found in restaurants and is usually accompanied by other fried vegetables.

The old city, besides bars and shops has many churches. Many squares host the ancient churches that over the centuries have represented the heart of a city from which the faithful left for the Holy Land. We entered in the San Donato church: from 12th-century Romanesque church featuring a bell tower and Renaissance paintings. It had an interesting inscription on the portal: indulgentia plenaria quotidiana. Seemed right, as the Christian society just entered into the Lent.

Genoa’s history and fortunes started at its Porto Antico, active since the fifth century BC. The wind is strong as you will be in the golf area just looking at the sea but there is plenty to look at. It attracts lots of people and all sorts of characters.

On this very same place which is actually a Piazza Caricamento, following Renzo Piano’s renovations is  Palazzo San Giorgio built in 13th century by the first Doge of Genoa. Even more to add, it later became a jail (famous prisoner: Marco Polo) and in the early 1400s housed the world’s first bank – Christopher Columbus was an account holder.

The bank was called Bank of Saint George and it was a financial institution of the Republic of Genoa. It was founded in 15th century to consolidate the public debt, which had been escalating due to the war with Venice for trading and financial dominance. The Bank’s primary mission was to facilitate the management of the San Giorgio shares (luoghi). It was one of the oldest chartered banks in Europe and of the world.

The Port of Genoa is one of the most important seaports in Italy, in competition with the ports of Marseille and Barcelona in the Mediterranean Sea. With a trade volume of 51.6 million tonnes, it is the busiest port of Italy after the port of Trieste by cargo tonnage.

In the Port of Genova we got amased by this is full scale, ship replica of a 17-the Spanish galleon Nettuno. It was constructed in 1985 for the film Pirates directed by Roman Polanski. It is a real ship that is able to cruise across the sea. It was built in Tunisia and after shooting, it was moved to a promotional tour in Cannes in France, and then moved to Genoa in Liguria.

I am usually very attracted by the sea and water in general. But I have to say that this time, Genoa got me more into its alleys and carruggi. One can find many incredible places in the carruggi. However, to fascinate is mainly their structure that had a defensive duty in the past. The maze of narrow streets, in fact, made difficult the passage of enemy armies and the Genoese could better defend themselves by building barricades and preparing ambushes where it was easy to get lost without a profound knowledge of the city. Genova owes a lot to its Carruggi.

The artisan shops of the city have always belonged to this ancient place; some are home to activities that have lasted for over a hundred years and are the Genoeses’ pride. The names of the alleys are often the reminder of the ancient crafts that existed there. Via degli Orefici (jeweler street) and Vico del Ferro (iron alley) are good examples. During the Middle Ages, the artisans found their strength gathering in unions that found room between these same roads.

From medieval to the renaissance: Via Garibaldi is a street built by noble families of Genoa in 15th and 16th centuries. It is one of the Strade Nuove of Genoa. The aristocracy started a careful town planning to transform the existing medieval city and initiate a sizeable urban expansion towards the north. The extraordinary wealth was coming into the city through prosperous financing activities with several European powers. The Genoese aristocracy financed the expensive maritime ‘new world discoveries’ of the Spanish Crown. The ruling class of Genoa, mixing nobility of blood with new mercantile wealth, sought to underpin their prestige by the construction of grand city palaces and suburban villas of unusual splendor.

The wind is not so strong among carruggi as you feel a bit more sheltered. But early March makes your body shiver from the long passeggiata and requires some warm up. We found some cozy osteria in which donna Francesca offered us typical amaro from Liguria. Just what we needed before the lunch.

After that, the lunch was a disappointment as they served me pesce spada (sword fish) frozen. It is the moment I realised I am starting to miss Sicily. Somehow. -.-

We ate and decided it is time to finish the exploring. We wandered more through the obscure allies, discovering life behind the port. To see all of this, we must be carried away by the alleys, following their path to experience the history of Genova.

If you look close enough and pay attention to details, you can almost hear the history. For texample, this Chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena. The name of the church, Maddalena, has also been given to the surrounding street, piazza and district. According to folklore, the name could have other connotations other than those of the name of the church and its saint; the “oldest profession” in the world has always been practiced in this area.

The more we climb up back again towards to our beautiful hotel, the more we advance through the history of architecture. Towards the end of the 19th century, it became fashionable in Italy to build covered pedestrian areas with elegant wrought iron and glass structures resembling the passages in Paris, so that people could stroll in the city centre, where the fashionable shops and cafés were, without the bother of having to carry an umbrella or a parasol. This is how galleries, or shopping arcades like Galleria Mazzini, came to exist. 

Then just nearby is the Teatro Carlo Felice – the principal opera house of Genoa, Italy, used for performances of opera, ballet, orchestral music and recitals. After all, the Devil’s violinist Niccolò Paganini was born in Genoa in 1782.

As we were slowly driving out of the city, I was taking photos of the landmarks of the city. Including the Lighthouse of Genoa or in Italian: Lanterna di Genova – the symbol and a landmark for the City of Genoa. Built of masonry, at 76 m it is the world’s fifth tallest lighthouse.


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