Think of a seaside city that thanks to its prosperity is autonomous and able to arm warships to defend its port and its trade. That so can expand its influence, its independence and therefore its strength.
You will get the formula put in place by the Maritime Republics to dominate the Mediterranean alternately between the 10th and 13th centuries AD. Genova
Let’s start from Genoa the story of this story, and then see what the city offers today. We discover how this model of development arose in the Middle Ages on the coasts of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Genoa, developed in parallel with the free municipalities of inland Italy, and how some maritime realities managed to survive until the Napoleonic rule in Italy.
In addition to the four most famous former Maritime Republics or the cities of Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice, initially, there were four others, namely Ancona, Gaeta, Noli and Ragusa in Dalmatia The latter, however, unlike the former, have not been able to face and resist the succession of historical events that inevitably involved them.
Each Republic evolved differently, but they all had one aspect in common: they consisted of municipal entities that, instead of expanding territorially, expressed and emphasized all their power through control over maritime trade routes.
This allowed them to be in constant contact with foreign countries and to own a very powerful war fleet. Moreover, their system of government was generally republican (although Venice has taken on oligarchic overtones throughout its history).
The only three Maritime Republics that have survived until the modern age are Genoa, Ragusa and Venice; the latter has been independent for more than a thousand years, while the first two owe their survival to the powerful naval fleet, and their participation in the Crusades.
Subsequently, two remained: Genoa and Venice, bitter enemies in perpetual competition. Their hostility has often led to real clashes, mainly by sea, but there have been opportunities for alliance, born to face the attacks of common enemies.
With the discovery of America and the enemy invasions, the Maritime Republics begin their inexorable decline. Genoa, in particular, after having experienced a period of great prosperity thanks to the loans granted by the Habsburgs, was definitively subdued by France, and then fell into the hands of Napoleon.
Given its location, the city was not spared even during the Second World War: estimates report over 11 thousand buildings destroyed or damaged by bombing. It can boast, however, a leading role in the partisan resistance, which helped to remove the German troops from Italian territory.
Genoa was also a favourite setting for the economic boom of the sixties, workers’ struggles and the phenomenon of the tertiary sector.
Since the early 2000s, the area of the port of Genoa has finally been valued so much that the city, in 2004, was named European Capital of Culture.
What to see in Genoa
Overlooking its gulf and surrounded by mountains, linked to the past but open to the future, city of passage of different peoples and cultures, Genoa was the muse of writers, poets and songwriters who, in their works, have exalted the beauty, the contrasts and the depth of his soul.
Despite being mainly known for its famous Aquarium, Genoa holds inside wonderful historical evidence, as well as beautiful works of art that pay homage to modern Italian architecture.
That’s why, walking through the streets of the center, you can admire noble palaces, ancient churches, fascinating museums and breathtaking landscapes. Here’s what you should definitely see if you choose Genoa as a destination for your next vacation.
The testimony of the glorious past as a Maritime Republic is given by the port, still today the largest in Italy, on which stands the lighthouse of Genoa, more commonly known as the Lantern: is 77 meters high and is located on the remains of a hill located about 177 meters above sea level. Built to signal the ships entering the port, dates back to the fourteenth century, but its current appearance is due to a reconstruction carried out in the sixteenth century.
The tower also includes the Lantern Museum entirely dedicated to the city and its province.
The old town
The historic center of Genoa is a blaze of history and tradition; finally, after years of neglect, has been renovated and returned to the city. What makes it unique and picturesque is the succession of “carruggi”, alleys of medieval origin, and “creuze”, that is, small streets embedded in the walls.
Much of the historic center has been declared a World Heritage Site and includes sites of historical interest such as the Castrum, that is the first urban settlement dating back to the Roman and Etruscan periods, and the famous Palazzo Spinola and Palazzo Ducale, two majestic buildings symbolizing the splendor of the ancient maritime republic.
The center, then, is also the ideal place to taste typical dishes, sip a drink and spend a few hours of fun with friends. There are, of course, shops and souvenir shops that welcome, every year, hundreds of visitors.
The main tourist attraction of Genoa is its Aquarium: inaugurated in 1992, it is the largest Italian aquarium and the second in all of Europe (the record belongs to that of Valencia). Inside it houses 12 thousand specimens of 600 different species, welcoming them in a specially reproduced habitat respecting the original.
Visiting the Aquarium is a unique and unforgettable experience, which gives strong emotions, as it allows you to know the aquatic fauna walking through the seas around the world. The internal path winds through over 70 exhibition tanks and numerous popular areas that combine visual experience and scientific information.
Via Garibaldi and Strada Nuova Museums
Among the assets recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the beautiful Via Garibaldi, the “Strada Nuova”, also known as Via Aurea for the majesty of its buildings.
On all its extension houses the museum dedicated to ancient art, which connects three historic municipal buildings:
- Palazzo Rosso: it preserves the historic furnishings and art collections of the seventeenth-century Brignole-Sale family;
- Palazzo Bianco: houses a collection of Italian, Flemish, Dutch, French and Spanish paintings;
- Palazzo Doria Tursi: it houses the representative hall of the mayor, the “Cannone”, that is the famous violin of Paganini made in the eighteenth century by the famous luthier Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarnieri and the “Maddalena Penitente” of Canova.
The Palaces of the Rolli
The Palazzi dei Rolli of Genoa correspond to the splendid residences of the Genoese nobility that, between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, housed illustrious people passing through. There are more than a hundred dwellings and, in the past, they were divided into three categories according to their architectural value and their sumptuousness; each category, then, was intended for certain guests.
Since 2006, forty-two of these residences have been recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO; you can visit them on the occasion of the Rolly Days that the City of Genoa proposes almost every weekend.
Galata Museum of the Sea
Another testimony to the deep connection between Genoa and the sea is the Galata Museo del Mare, the largest maritime museum in the Mediterranean entirely dedicated to the history of navigation.
Inside there are reproductions and exhibitions of boats of all sizes and types, accompanied by instruments, nautical charts, multimedia and interactive stations.
On the occasion of the visit to the museum, you can enjoy a beautiful view from the Mirador Terrace.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Dating back to the ninth century, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo is majestic and solemn and corresponds to the Cathedral of Genoa. It has a beautiful Gothic facade in Genoese style with French influences (visible in the portals and in the central rose window), while the dome and the bell tower are of the sixteenth century.
Its interior consists of three naves and houses a large number of sculptures and paintings. In the Chapel of San Giovanni Battista are preserved the bones of San Lorenzo while, crossing the right aisle, you reach the Treasure Museum of the Cathedral.
The Old Port of Genoa was, in the past, the center of the merchant activity of the city. Since 1992, the Piazza di Genova on the Mediterranean overlooking the docks still used by the Genoese, has been transformed into a place completely dedicated to leisure and tourism; here you can visit, in fact:
- the Aquarium, which attracts visitors of any age;
- the Biosphere, a steel and glass bubble placed on the water designed by Renzo Piano that preserves a tropical environment characterized by animal and plant species;
- Galata, the largest maritime museum in the Mediterranean;
- the Bigo, also by Renzo Piano, which consists of a metal structure similar to a crane that stands out on the sea and allows visitors to enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
The redevelopment of the Old Port, however, has not only introduced attractions and innovations, but has also revalued old port buildings, such as the ancient Cotton Warehouses that now house playful and cultural facilities such as the City of Children.
Via del Campo and the places of Fabrizio de André
Those who love Fabrizio de André will surely have heard, at least once in their life, his famous “Via del Campo”; here, in this song the author tells one of the symbolic places of Genoa. On this street there was a record shop that, for decades, spread his music and exposed in the showcase the original covers of his records. After the death of the owner, the store became the Museum of Via del Campo 29 Rosso.
The places linked and dedicated to the Genoese singer-songwriter are many: the Pegli district, for example, or the Sant’Ilario district, famous for being the setting of “Bocca di Rosa”.
In short, there is no shortage of references and discover them walking through the streets of the city is absolutely priceless.
The village of Boccadasse
We highly recommend the walk of about 1 kilometer that leads from the mouth to the village of Boccadasse, a small cove characterized by colorful houses, fishing boats, restaurants on the sea and an appearance that does not seem to have suffered the passage of time.
The village welcomes the Church of Sant’Antonio da Padova and from the belvedere you can enjoy a wonderful view of the coast.
Its name probably derives from the fact that inside it flows the Asse stream, or takes its cue from the Genoese “Bocca d’Asino”; in any case, it is a highly suggestive place, as well as the scenery of the famous “La Gatta” by Gino Paoli.
The Esplanade of Castelletto
To admire Genoa in all its splendor you have to go to the Esplanade of Castelletto where, until 1849, there was the Fortress of Castelletto that the Genoese decided to demolish to free the view of the city.
It can be reached by car, on foot (along Via Garibaldi) to enjoy the panoramic views, or by the elevator that goes up from Piazza Portello.
The Monumental Cemetery
Usually, cemeteries are not part of the tourist itineraries of a city but, in the case of Genoa, you have to make an exception. Its Monumental Cemetery, in fact, enjoys an incredible architectural beauty and its construction comes from the meeting of two different concepts of cemetery: a place of collective memory and a point where anyone can reflect on death in an intimate and personal way.
Inside are buried famous Italian and foreign personalities, including Fabrizio de Andrè, Giuseppe Mazzini, Nino Bixio and Fernando Pivano.
The Genoa Train – Casella
A must for anyone visiting Genoa is the train to Casella: it is a historic locomotive that runs about 25 kilometers from the center of Genoa and its destination Casella, ideal for trips out of town.
During the journey you can admire the hills, valleys and small towns adjacent. Once the route is completed, you can taste excellent dishes in the various trattorias of Casella, as well as hiking and hiking.
The Mint Funicular – Righi
Another unmissable attraction in Genoa is the Zecca – Righi Funicular, a system that connects Largo Zecca (in the center) with the hilly Righi district, located at 300 meters above sea level.
Why would you do that? The funicular ride is an exciting experience and allows you to admire Genoa from another point of view, especially when you reach the top. If you want, you can get off at the Madonnetta station to reach the Sanctuary of the Madonnetta, inside which there is the “Perennial Crib”.
Villa Durazzo Pallavicini
Another mandatory stop is at Villa Durazzo Pallavicini, a typical example of residence of the Genoese aristocracy known mainly for its park, recognized as “Italy’s most beautiful park” in 2017.
Its construction, commissioned by Marquis Ignazio Alessandro Pallavicini, dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century. It is also possible to visit it independently, but it is recommended to take a guided tour to discover details and curiosities.
The tour is suitable for families with children, especially because of the presence of lakes, bridges, water games and other very interesting attractions.
GAM – Modern Art Gallery
Finally, in Genoa there is the Modern Art Gallery (GAM) which is part of the Nervi museum complex together with the Giannettino Luxoro Museum, the Wolfsoniana collection and the Frugone Collections. It is located inside Villa Saluzzo Serra, an extraordinary sixteenth-century building, and offers three floors that host over 3 thousand works of art.
The collection kept in the GAM was born with a first donation of Prince Odone of Savoy in 1866, which was followed by other donations and purchase campaigns by prominent Genoese characters.
What to eat in Genoa
To complete the visit of Genoa in the best way there is only one thing to do: enjoy some typical dishes! The gastronomic tradition of Genoa is very interesting and is known mainly for focaccia and pesto, but there are many other culinary proposals you should definitely taste:
- stuffed pasta, such as ravioli and pansotti, with eggs, chard and ricotta;
- Pasqualina cake, a puff pastry filled with artichokes or cooked chard, zucchini, eggs and cheese;
- the Genoese vegetable soup;
- the farinata, a thin focaccia made of chickpea flour mixed with water, oil and salt and cooked in a wood oven;
- cod, squid, anchovy and sardine-based Genovese-style stockfish;
- Cappon magro, a rich salad composed of biscuits flavored with garlic, vinegar and salt, fish, hard-boiled eggs, boiled vegetables, artichokes, tuna and shrimps.
And since at the end of the meal the dessert certainly can not miss, here is the Genoese Christmas pandolce, a kind of crushed panettone filled with raisins and lemon peel, apple pancakes, chestnut and canestrelli.
Bon voyage, see you soon with the second episode of the quadrilogy of the Maritime Republics