When we left our first Genova tour we had just eaten our fill of farinata at the Antica Sa Pasto. Now that we’ve eaten so much we can barely walk, let’s roll down the hill to the port area. While Genova still has an extremely active port (it’s the place to bring little boys who want to see really big boats), a large section of it, the Porto Antica, has been refashioned as a cultural and tourist center. On the city side of the busy street you can see Palazzo San Giorgio, constructed in 1260, and obviously tarted up in the centuries since. It was the home to one of the world’s first banks.
From about 1900 it served as the Port Authority; it now has several rooms that have been turned into exhibit space. Cross the busy street and you will come to the Pirate Ship, one of the silliest of Genova’s offerings, maybe even sillier than Elvis.
Yo Yo Ho! Arrrrrgh, let’s all talk like pirates! Called Il Galleone Neptune (would you have guessed??), this replica of a 17th century pirate ship was built for the filming of Roman Polanski’s movie Pirates in 1986 (starring Walter Matthau as Cap’n Red). You can go aboard for a fee, and it turns out to be rather fun.
A little bit farther along the road we come to Genova’s famous Aquarium, built in 1992 and justifiably known as the finest in Europe. It is immense; you can easily spend a whole day, and you may want to – it’s not cheap to enter. The displays are imaginative, interesting and clean; the whole thing is a delight.
In addition to all the usual fishy displays you would expect, you will also find a hummingbird house, and a glass biosphere designed by Renzo Piano at the time of the G8 meeting in Genova in 2001 (in fact Piano had a hand in the whole refashioning of the Port area).
The Aquarium is just a part of the so-called AquarioVillage which also includes the gigantic (5 floors) and fascinating Galata Museo del Mare (Museum of the Sea). This museum is particularly appropriate to Genova, which was one of the four Maritime Republics in the Middle Ages (the others were Venezia, Amalfi and Pisa – yes! Pisa, which was once on the sea). Here you can see a full size model of a galley, numerous models of all kinds of ships,
There are tools of the sea-faring life, life-size models of shipwrights at work, a studio where model-builders work their magic, a part size model of a Vessel and of a much later Steam ship, and a reproduction of a submarine. Attached nearby is a submarine, the Nazario Sauro, which is part of the museum and which guests can visit. At present the Museum has an exhibit called “La Merica” about Italian emigration to the U.S. I found it particularly interesting as the Captain’s father made the trip from Sicily to America in the early years of the 20th century, the period covered in the exhibit. In addition to being informative it’s just plain fun. Visitors are issued reproduction Italian passports, circa 1920, as well as an entry document.
Leaving the Port complex we’ll take a not-very-long walk to the Palazzo Principe, built by Andrea Doria around 1530 and now a museum. iPods with tons of information about the exhibits are issued when you buy your ticket. Picture-taking is not allowed inside, but you can snap away to your heart’s content in the gardens.
Well, that ends my extremely superficial tour of part of the beautiful city of Genova. From here it’s a short walk to the other main rail station, Principe, where you can catch a train to wherever you’re going.
There are huge portions of the city that I haven’t mentioned (because I’ve never seen them), and many sites worth visiting (which are still on my own to-do list), including The Palazzo Bianco, The Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Reale and the fabulous Staglieno Cemetery among many others. There’s even a cog railway from Principe to Granarolo – sadly not operating the day I was there. I can’t wait to go back!