Genoa: La Superba

Genoa, whose proud merchant fleet once ruled the seas inspiring its nickname, La Superba, is nestled on a hillside on the Gulf of Genoa which leads to the Ligurian Sea. As Italy’s major sea port today, it has a population of about 620,000 within its city limits and is the capitol of its own province and the region of Liguria. Genoa is easily accessible by plane with the Cristoforo Colombo Airport just 6km outside the city with daily flights throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. It can also be easily reached by train or coach, and even by sea, with ferries arriving daily from Sardinia, Sicily and even Tunisia. From Genoa, it is an easy trip to cities on the Italian Riviera, including San Remo, or even on to Nice in France. In the other direction, one can easily arrive in Turin, Milan, or Pavia. Genoa, with such natives as Christopher Columbus and Giuseppe Garibaldi, has influenced history not only in Italy, but throughout the world, for centuries. Evidence of its past glories can be seen as you walk the colorful streets of its shipping district and its narrow hillsides alleyways. Genoa was once the center of a merchant shipping Empire, an international banking power that influenced politics throughout Europe, and the starting point for such adventures as the crusades and the discovery and exploration of the New World. Genoa has gone out its way to make the city a great place to visit with the whole family, offering many points of interest for adults and children alike.

 Like many Italian cities, Genoa’s roots are ancient, with evidence of a Greek settlement in the area as early as the 6th or 5th century BC. It later became a Roman outpost, with a privileged alliance called an, “Equal Pact.” It was after the fall of Rome and the invasion of the northern Ostrogoths and Lombards, however, that Genoa became important. In the 10th century, after being sacked by Arab pirates in 934, Genoa built its merchant fleet, and began ruling the seas. Its ideal position on the on the Gulf leading to the Ligurian Sea made Genoa, like Venice, Amalfi and Pisa, a rich city that controlled much of the European trade with the East and gained enormous wealth from the crusades. It went on to set up colonies in the Middle East, on the Aegean Sea, and in Sicily and North Africa. By 1100, Genoa was an independent Republic, and through its alliance with the Byzantine Empire, it even gained access to the Crimean and Black Seas. At one point, Genoa controlled all of modern Liguria, parts of modern Piedmont, Sardinia, Corsica and most of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In 1349, however, Genoa’s power was damaged as half its population was lost to the Black Plague, leading eventually to the French invasion of 1394-1409 and a loss of much of its territories, including Sardinia and many of its Middle Eastern Colonies. At this point, Genoa founded a banking Empire with the Banco di San Giorgio, asserting its influence in economic affairs throughout Europe. By the 16th century Genoa was one of Europe’s leading economic powers, lending huge of sums of money to both Spain and France. Under the leadership of Andrea Doria, who was given the title “Prince of Melfi” by Charles V, ties with Spain were made tighter, making Genoa an independent satellite under the protection of Spain. Unfortunately, Spain’s own decline left Genoa vulnerable, and in was invaded by Napoleon ion 1797, and though it did liberate itself from France in 1814, it fell under the domination of the Savoys and the Kingdom of Piedmont under an agreement that was part of the Congress of Vienna. It was eventually from Genoa that native Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification, or Risorgimento, would depart in 1860 to help form the Kingdom of Italy.


Main Attractions

Palazzo Principe Doria Pamphilij

Begun in 1529, this palace was the home of Andrea Doria, named Prince of Melfi by Charles V. In its time, many of Genoa’s esteemed visitors were guests in this palace, including Charles V himself in 1533. Andrea Doria also was attributed with bringing the Renaissance to Genoa, and within one finds many examples of this including frescoes which idealize the Doria family, with Andrea Doria at one point portrayed as Neptune, the god of the sea, while others celebrate the family victories and virtues. The palace is still in the Doria family, and is now the private home of Princess Doria Pamphilij who has opened it to the public for tours. Within one also finds the Galleria Aurea which displays a fine collection of paintings, laces and tapestries. Outside is a formal garden with a fountain of Neptune at the center.

San Giovanni in Prè

This religious complex was built by the Knights of St. John in 1180 to serve as a hostel and convent for pilgrims on their way to the holy land. The two story Romanesque church has strong vaults and black stone walls, and its bell tower is filled with spires. The church is now used primarily for cultural events. Next door is the Hospital of the Commendam which was built during the middle ages.

Palazzo Reale

Originally built by the Balbi family from 1643-1655, it was renovated later by Carlo Fontana. It is referred to as the royal palace because the Savoy family took it as their residence in 1825. One can tour the palace and see the how it was when the Savoys lived there. The tour includes the ballroom, throne room and mirror gallery, in addition to the private living quarters of the royal family. On the first floor of the palace is the National Gallery which has in its collection pieces by Van Dyck, Tintoretto, Guido Reni and Guercino. Also of note are some mosaics salvaged from the Monastery of the Turchine in Castelletto.

Via Garibaldi

Named for the hero of Italian unification and Genoa’s native son, Giuseppe Garibaldi, this street demonstrates the wealth and power of Genoa during the 16th century with its mannerist palaces that belonged to some of the wealthiest local families including the Doria, Spinola and Pallavicinio. Now a pedestrian zone, one can enjoy the walk and visit the many palaces on the way. The Palazzo Rosso, one of the largest and oldest homes in Genoa, now houses a modern picture gallery with works by Van Dyck, Rigaud, Von Maros and Gros. One can also tour the aristocratic home as it would have been with its period furniture, mirrors and china.

Also on via Garibaldi is the Palazzo Bianco Gallery, a picture gallery with a large collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings with works by Reubens, Van Dyck, and Memling. There are also works from the Spanish school, including Zurbaràn and Murillo, and works by Italian artists like Filippo Lippi, Caravaggio and Strozzi. Still on via Garibaldi is the Palazzo Tursi-Doria, dating from 1565, this was once Genoa’s Town Hall. It now houses a collection of local artifacts including the violin which once belonged to Niccolò Paganimi and three letters written by Christopher Columbus.

Porto Antico

Genoa has reclaimed this historic water front district that was once the center of the local shipping industry and turned it into a great place for families to visit. Here one finds many family friendly activities, one of the most important of which is Genoa’s Aquarium, the largest in Europe and built directly into the Mediterranean Sea. With over 59 tanks holding more than 4 million liters of water, the aquarium houses more than 500 different species, including sharks, seals, penguins and jellyfish. Nearby, in an old Cotton Warehouse, is the Navigation and Sea Pavilion, a museum dedicated to the history of shipping in Genoa. The collection features famous sailors and ships, and even has a model home that shows how a 17th century shipping merchant would have lived. Not far off is the City of Children which has a large collection of antique toys including model boats that the kids can sail on a small channel. It is an ideal place to bring kids ages 3-14, with fun and educational activities geared for them, including a television station that the children help run. Nearby is also the Antarctic Museum whose exhibit features the latest research on Antarctica. Outside be sure to visit the Bigo and the Bubble, both structures by Renzo Piano. The Biga was erected in 1992 for the Colombiadi, and is a model of the many armed cranes once used to lift crates on to ships. It has a panoramic lift that goes 40 meters above the harbor offering a great 360° view of the city. The Bubble, built in 2001 for the G8, is a 17.5 meter tall bubble made of 336 different glass panels that has a diameter of 20.5 meters. Within this green house like structure are a number of species of ferns and another interesting view of the city.

Duomo di San Lorenzo

Genoa’s cathedral since the 9th century, the oldest parts of the structure of the Duomo di San Lorenzo date back as far the 5th or 6th century. Within are Roman walls and pre-Christian sarcophagi in a round burial area under the parvis of the church. Most of the present structure, however, dates from the 12th century on and is in the Romanesque style. The façade was erected from 1307-1312, while the altars and chapels within date from the 14th and 15th centuries. At one time, both the cathedral and the Piazza San Lorenzo on which it sits were considered the center of city life in Genoa. It was in 1133 that the Duomo became the seat for the archbishop, adding to its importance. Within the basement of the church is the Treasure Museum filled with articles brought back from the crusades such as the Cross of Zaccaria, a 13th century Byzantine cross covered in gems and pearls, the Ark of the Ashes of St. John the Baptist, believed to hold the saint’s ashes, and the famous Holy Bowl, a green glass bowl in 9th century Islamic style which legend said was the Holy Grail used at the Last Supper. Also at the Duomo di San Lorenzo is the Diocesan Museum within the 12th Century cloisters. Of interest are the different altarpieces, wooden furniture, polyptychs and silver from around Genoa.


The Lantern

Built in 1543, this lighthouse is one of Genoa’s greatest symbols and also the oldest working lighthouse in the world, not to mention the tallest brick light house, standing at 117 meters tall. At one time the light to guide ships into the harbor was made with an open fire, but now the electric beam can arrive as far out as 33km from shore to warn the ever present incoming ships. If you feel up to taking the 375 steps to the top, you will be rewarded with an incredible view.


Palazzo Spinola National Gallery

Housed in a 17th century palace, this picture gallery has a great collection of works by artists such as Antonello da Messina, Van Cleeve, Van Dyck, Giovanni Pisano and Ruebens, all arranged as if on display in a private home. There is also a collection of porcelain, both European and Oriental, and a large exhibit of handmade majolica. Within one also finds the Laboratory of Educational Games, the Gallery of Mirrors, and a splendid view of the harbor.


2 Risposte to “Genoa”

  1. I found this useful. Thank you.

  2. Happy to know it! thank you too! And come back soon!


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