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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Genoa - A Quick Guide

Immagine da Genova - piazza De Ferrari
Immagine da Genova - piazza De Ferrari (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By []Massimo Viola

Similar to Liguria, Genoa extends on a long and thin strip of land, for a distance of 30 KM from the westernmost to the easternmost spot. The historical city developed in the space between the two valleys Polcevera on the west and Bisagno on the east. This is the central and the thickest part in the town, characteristically fan-shaped, descending towards the sea from the fortresses and the walls on the hills.

Genoa has a unique conformation: it is not surrounded by walls and has not a real periphery. It has developed absorbing the villages on the coast, on the west and on the east, in the XIX and XX centuries. The Great Genoa, in 1926, was formed by the annexation of the autonomous coastal municipalities: industrial areas such as Sestri Ponente, Voltri, Sanpierdarena or touristic resorts such as Nervi and Pegli. So, the today Genoa is formed by many different centres with their own character: the district of Pegli, for example, on the westernmost side, far from looking like a residential periphery, has historical villas and palaces similar to those you can find in the central Genoa, and the same can be said about the industrial district of Sanpierdarena.   

The history of Genoa is obviously not separable by the sea. After the Meloria's bloody battle and the destruction of the Pisan fleet, in 1284, Genoa, known as "the Superb", is the dominator of the Tyrrhenian sea and arrive to collide more than once with Venice, the dominator of the Adriatic sea, the eastern side of Mediterranean. At the end of 1400, before the beginning of its golden century, the great Genoan families are enormously rich thanks to the maritime commerce and the capitals provided to the European monarchies. The Genoan Banco di San Giorgio, founded in 1407, is considered the first bank in the world. But Genoa lacks a strong political leadership and it is subjected to the French influence.

Andrea Doria is the man who takes the lead of the town during the Genoan Renaissance, in the XVI century. Commander of fortune, he contributes to expel the French and becomes the prince "de facto" of the city, which was governed by the oligarchy of the most powerful families: Doria, Fieschi, Spineta and Grimaldi, a branch of whom had established further east and had founded the Principality of Monaco. Andrea Doria had begun the construction of a pompous palace, named Palace of the Prince. Following his example, the wealthy families who lived in the narrow medieval quarters of Genoa, decide to migrate in a more spacious zone and to build new palaces, more suited to their conditions. The new zone, close to the walls, is named "Strada Nuova" (New Street): it corresponds to the current Via Garibaldi and Via Balbi. Lead by Galeazzo Alessi, the best architects of the time work to build sumptuous palaces, with Renaissance facades, staircases and courtyards. The Genoan noble families were competing to be inscribed into the "Rolli", the list of the palaces recognized suitable to host the most important foreign guests. The result was so impressive that Rubens wished to portray those palaces one by one to make his compatriots to know them.

Genoa is a complex city. After the golden century of Andrea Doria, it has experienced centuries of decadence and then a new strong industrial growth, which led the city to be one of the centres of the industrial development in Italy in the sixties. And now Genoa needs to change again, to overcome the disused industrial model and to affirm itself as a city of technology and services. Every age has left its marks. The via XX Settembre, the skyscrapers in Piazza Dante (e.g. the Piacentini Tower, built in the forties, the tallest building in Italy until 1954), the "sopraelevata" road built in the sixties to manage the ever-growing traffic crossing the city, the underground opened in 1990 (now it has eight stations), the North Tower (better known as Matitone, built in 1991 by a project of Skidmore), the Expo and the renovated port are the marks of the XX century.

Genoa is a complex city, and it has a complex structure, as we have seen. There are many ways to know it and there are many different routes one can take. The route of the magnificent palaces in via Garibaldi and via Balbi (Unesco World Heritage since 2006) is just one of these. You can choose to begin your visit from the central square, Piazza De Ferrari, where the Ducal Palace and the Carlo Felice Theatre stand. From the De Ferrari Square you can walk through the medieval city (via San Lorenzo leads to the cathedral and to the port) and the famous historical centre, crowded of stalls and small shops, where you can find almost anything. Piazza Caricamento, the heart of the old port, has been for centuries the access door to the town.

You could also choose to approach the city from the high, where the many fortresses (Castellaccio, Sperone, Puin, Fratello Minore, Diamante and other again: Genoa had the reputation to be the strongest fortress in Europe in XVIII century) which were defending Genoa in the past centuries allow a wonderful view on the city. The tour to the fortresses may begin from the district of Righi, one of the most panoramic spots of Genoa. You can ascend to Righi from Largo Zecca, by a funicular at the cost of an ordinary bus ticket.

Or you can take the way of the sea, eastward, from Corso Italia to the hamlet of Boccadasse, from Boccadasse up to Quarto, Quinto and the sea promenade and the parks of Nervi. The western side, Sanpierdarena, the commercial port in Voltri, is the site of the industrial settlements.  

Or again, you may wish to visit the shops of Via XX Settembre and via Roma: here, at number 38, is the historical shop of Finollo, one of the most famous tie and shirt-maker in the world. From via Roma, you can arrive in the beautiful Piazza Corvetto, overlooked by the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, king of Italy, and then go to relax in the near Spianata dell'Acquasanta park.

Massimo Viola is the founder of []Liguria for Sale a web guide to the territory and property market of Liguria. The site contains several articles about []Genoa and the other Liguria's cities.

Article Source: [] Genoa - A Quick Guide

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