Here’s what you never hear prospective visitors to Italy say: “We’re going first to Florence, then Rome and Venice, and then Genova.” Genova? Doesn’t seem to be on too many tourist’s maps, and it’s a pity, because it’s a terrific city, well worth a visit.
Genova, long and narrow, is spread out on the strip of land between the mountains and the sea around her generous harbor. She is the capital of Liguria and boasts a metropolitan area population of some 1.4 million. Known as ‘La Superba’ for her ancient and glorious history, she is now an important economic center of Italy and was, in 2004, the European Union’s Capital of Culture. The Bank of St. George, one of the oldest known banks, was founded in Genova in 1407.
Ancient remains suggest that the city was inhabited (by Greeks?) as early as the 6th or 5th century BC, perhaps even earlier. It was destroyed by Carthaginians in 209 BC, later rebuilt and later still invaded by Ostrogoths and Lombards. Wikipedia has a very brief history of Genova here if you’d like a quick study.
If Americans think of Genova at all, it may be as the purported home of Christopher Columbus. The wee little house where he may have lived, just outside the city walls, is a must-see.
I have an idea: let me take you on ‘The Tour’ of Genova that I give guests when I can lure them away from the delights of Rapallo for a day. It is a train ride of about 40 minutes to the more eastern of Genova’s two train stations, Brignole. From there it is easy to find Via XX Settembre, the broad and well-traveled street with many famous shops.
At the top of Via XX Settembre is Piazza de Ferrari, newly reconstructed after being torn up for years to accommodate construction of the new metro subway.
If you had taken this photo the Carlo Felice opera house would be on your left, the Palazzo Ducale behind you, and behind that the tumble jumble of medieval Genova’s streets.
From here let’s take a stroll through the atrium of the magnificent Palazzo Ducale, turn left, and walk down the timeworn steps to Piazza Matteoti, home of the Chiesa del Gesu e Sant’Ambrogio.
We’ll nip in to take a peek at the The Circumcision (link is to a probable study from the Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna) painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1605, one of two paintings he made for the church during his stay in the city. After we leave the church we’ll turn left and walk up to and through the tall city gate.
Hey! Who’s that?
Very teeny indeed. For €4 you can go in and look, but perhaps we don’t need to do that today. Of more interest, to me anyway, are the beautiful remains of the Chiostro di Sant’Andrea, moved to its present location just next door to the house in 1922. The cloister dates from the XII century and is a little island of calm amidst the bustle of the city that has grown around it.
In the background you can see an X-Files rendition of the Porto Soprano, one of the gates in the city walls which were constructed in the XII century. Here are a couple of details from the top of the cloister columns.
Why is there a rabbit on top of that donkey?
From this peaceful corner we will go back through the Porto Soprano,
and continue down to the magnificent Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, which was consecrated in 1118. The black and white stripes are a medieval symbol of nobility.
As well as many beautiful paintings and some 13th century frescoes, the church contains a most unusual artifact, a grenade that struck the church on February 9, 1941, during a bombardment by the British. The grenade went through the roof of the cathedral without exploding and can still be seen in the right aisle.
Now it’s time to launch ourselves into the warren of narrow streets in the medieval part of the city. How narrow, you ask? Well, narrow enough that a small truck has to make a complicated back and turn maneuver to make a simple 90 degree turn.
Many of the streets are too narrow to accommodate even a car, never mind a small truck.
Time for lunch! We’ll stop at one of the many restaurants and trattorie in the old section and partake of a bit of Genova’s signature dish: farinata, a very flat pancake made from chickpea flour.
Maybe we’ve done enough for one day. Let’s take our full bellies home and have a nap before tucking into whatever the Captain has cooked up for us in our absence. We’ll come back very soon to finish the tour of beautiful Genova.