Genoa is among the most beautiful and interesting cities in Italy and, for this reason, every year welcomes a large number of tourists eager to discover its history, culture and traditions.
Behind it, in fact, the Ligurian city preserves a past characterized by conquests, expansions, dominance, colonization, power struggles and, as often happens, moments of total darkness alternating with decades of maximum splendor.
The origins of the city of Genoa
About the birth of Genoa there are, still, unbridgeable gaps; the only certain thing is that its foundation is to be attributed to the Ligurians, a population formed by isolated families that joined only to be able to better defend themselves from the attacks of the enemies.
Its name seems to derive from the Celtic term “genua”, that is “entry”, since since its origins the city has been in the sea and, at the same time, access to northern Italy and central Europe.
Its history officially begins in 205 B.C. when the Carthaginian Mago, brother of Hannibal, arrives by sea to plunder and destroy it because of his link with Rome. Just a couple of years later, in fact, it is the same Roman praetor Spurio Lucrezio to order the reconstruction of the city, enlarging the port and equipping it with a city wall as a protection.
The Municipality of Genoa, however, was formed after the year 1000 thanks to the Compañeras, that is, the merchant and military associations.
The expansion in the Mediterranean
The turning point for Genoa was the First Crusade, ordered by Pope Urban II to liberate the city of Jerusalem. The expedition ended with the liberation of Antioch, which represented for Genoa the first step towards its colonial expansion.
A second expedition was organized and led by Guglielmo Embriaco, which ended with the liberation of the Holy City in 1099. Embriaco himself is also the protagonist of a third expedition, the outcome of which involves the conquest of Tyre and Caesarea.
The various conquests, synonymous with success, lead Genoa to be a self-governed city; the birth of the flourishing colonial network only increases trade and pushes the Genoese to look around and evolve towards new forms of credit and insurance.
Given its political, military and economic growth, the Ligurian city begins to expand its area of influence also on the surrounding territories: it expands, therefore, to the north of the Tyrrhenian Sea attracting the dislikes of Pisa, especially when it arrives to conquer Portovenere. This is only the beginning of a long struggle (armed and otherwise) between the two Maritime Republics.
Meanwhile, Genoa established trade relations not only with Christian states, but also with Muslim nations, which proved to be flourishing and profitable. As a result, along the western coast of the Mediterranean, more and more Genoese colonies began to emerge, both on the Spanish and Christian shores, and on the southern and Muslim shores.
Soon, the entire Spanish coast between Valencia and Gibraltar is filled with colonies purely Genoese and the Italian city becomes a fundamental crossroads of trade of northern Europe with all Mediterranean countries: from the Genoese port, in fact, ships loaded with spices (and goods in general) leave for the most important fairs in northern Europe.
The crisis following the expansion
The period of greatest expansion is not, for Genoa, without crises and problems both internal and external. If, on the one hand, the Genoese families continue to get rich the same cannot be said for the state coffers, so much so that they have to resort to the collection of the duty on various goods to obtain large sums with which to fill the gaps. In short, a real privatization of the tax.
In the meantime, the other maritime cities became increasingly restless and the hatred with Pisa, in particular, became so evident that it eventually ended in a terrible war that ended with the victory of Genoa.
But it does not end here, because the Ligurian city must also cope with the attacks of Venice; during a clash is also taken prisoner Marco Polo, who remains for 4 years in Ligurian prisons, during which he told his travel memories to his cellmate, Rustichello from Pisa, creating the famous “Million”.
The following years were marked by blood, massacres and murders, as well as death sown by hunger and plague. At the same time, foreign invaders also arrive to try to placate the internal riots, with the French at the forefront.
And while Genoa deals with the internal struggles, Christopher Columbus, after being “snubbed” by his fellow citizens and having obtained the necessary funding for the expedition from the Spanish king, crosses the ocean and discovers America. A very low blow.
We must wait until the sixteenth century to elect a Doge able to manage the city; the first is Paolo da Novi who, after a long fight against Louis XII, ends up on the scaffold. One of the most discussed figures in the history of Genoa, that of Andrea Doria, called “the Prince”, appears: tired of serving France, he organizes his very own army and conquers the city, where it governs for a long period of wealth and splendor.
With the advent of the seventeenth century, Genoa faces its period of decline: the Turks take possession of its colonies in the East and America subtracts the primacy in the direction of European trade.
A last glimmer of hope can be glimpsed in the French Revolution: Genoa allied itself with Napoleon Bonaparte, hoping to obtain independence but, as the French emperor ascended to the throne and proclaimed himself King of Italy, the whole of Liguria becomes in fact a French province.
The desire for freedom on the part of the Genoese was definitively crushed by the fall of Napoleon: with the Treaty of Vienna of 1814, in fact, Liguria was annexed to Piedmont. In 1860, then, Garibaldi started the famous expedition of the Thousand beginning the enterprise that will lead to the unification of Italy. The rest is history.
The contemporary Genoa
The events of Genoa after the unification of Italy are closely linked to those of the peninsula: the outbreak of the First World War, the advent of fascism, the Second World War and all that has ensued. The radical change that the twentieth century has brought to the city is predominantly economic: from a merchant hub, Genoa is transformed into an industrial zone rich in ironworks, steel mills, sugar factories, basic industries and very attentive to the shipbuilding industry.
Its port is still very important for the Italian territory, because it allows to quickly connect north and south and to maintain close and effective relations with foreign countries, not only economically but also and especially tourist.
What to see in Genoa in a day
All this history definitely makes you want to visit Genoa and be able to touch first hand what was its past, so tortuous but at the same time exciting! Here’s what to see in a day spent in the city:
Piazza della Vittoria
Behind the railway station of Genova Brignole, you can admire Piazza della Vittoria: in its center there is a monument of great importance, that is the imposing triumphal arch dedicated to the Genoese who died during the First World War. In the background, there is the Caravelle Staircase, where the three Caravelles with which Christopher Columbus set out to discover America are depicted.
Address XX Settembre
Via XX Settembre is famous for its many prestigious shops and super elegant bars; both make it very attractive, especially for those who love shopping and can not wait to enjoy a few hours of carefree. It is advisable to walk looking up: the ceilings are wonderful and characterized by black and white colors, typical of the ancient Genoese nobility.
Piazza De Ferrari
About 1 km from Via XX Settembre is Piazza de Ferrari, the heart of the center of Genoa, easily recognizable because of the large bronze fountain that houses inside. There are four eclectic buildings, today the headquarters of companies and institutions, the Palazzo Ducale and the Carlo Felice Theatre.
The Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Continuing straight on Via San Lorenzo you reach the famous Cathedral of San Lorenzo, made of white and black marble and marked by two large lions at the entrance. Built between 1100 and the end of 1300, it is famous for being bombed by the British fleet during the Second World War and, despite the strong impact, the bomb is still inside the cathedral.
On the opposite side of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, and that is following Via San Lorenzo downhill instead of uphill, you arrive at Porto Antico, a very famous area of the Port of Genoa that, in 1992, hosted the Colombiadi (ie the Expo); in that occasion the port is completely restored on the base of the plan of the architect Renzo Piano.
The Caruggi and the Fabrizio De Andrè Museum
The Genoese term “Caruggi” indicates the arcades and shady alleys that characterize the city, so enchanting to be admired and carefully contemplated. Continuing straight you reach Via del Campo, made famous by the artist Fabrizio De André, to whom was dedicated a museum to be visited.
The Church of the Annunciation
After walking along Via del Campo you can admire the beautiful Church dell’Annunziata, which stands on the square of the same name. If from the outside it can look like a normal cathedral, it is really recommended to enter inside: it is able, in fact, to leave anyone speechless.
The Royal Palace
Among the most important streets of Genoa is Via Balbi because it houses the Royal Palace and the headquarters of the University of Genoa, then finish at the railway station of Genoa Piazza Principe. On the left is the Salita di Santa Brigida, with its bright and charming colours.
Via Garibaldi, in Genoa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: it consists of an avenue 250 meters long and 7.5 meters wide completely closed to traffic and surrounded by elegant and luxurious buildings that belonged to the ancient Genoese lordship.
Finally, it is not to be missed the view from Spianata Castelletto: from Piazza Portello you take a lift carved into the rock that, in a few minutes, leads to the top of a square from which you can enjoy a breathtaking view overlooking the historic center and Porto Antico.
From here you can admire all the history of Genoa: the old and the new that meet in a single glance.