Publisher’s Tour 2016: Genoa
In some ways, there’s no more appropriate port of call for a cruise than Genoa. It is the country’s sixth largest city and its maritime heritage is historic. Its harbor was alive with boats before the Roman Empire had risen – and it spent the entirety of the Middle Ages as an independent city-state, competing with Venice for trade and influence in the Mediterranean. In the course of this grand era, it gave the world the great navigator Christopher Columbus.
The Beauty and Splendor of Genoa
Located in the Gulf of Genoa where it meets the Ligurian Sea, Genoa is one of Europe’s largest cities on the Mediterranean Sea and the largest seaport in Italy. It is set among a mountainous area where elevations rise quickly as one travels inland.
The city’s rich cultural history, notably its art, music and cuisine, allowed it to become the 2004 European Capital of Culture. In addition to being the birthplace of Columbus, Niccolò Paganini and Giuseppe Mazzini were also Genoese.
Genoa, which forms the southern corner of the Milan-Turin-Genoa industrial triangle of northwest Italy, is one of the country’s major economic centers. The city has hosted massive shipyards and steelworks since the 19th century and its solid financial sector dates to the Middle Ages. The Bank of Saint George, founded in 1407, is among the oldest in the world and has played an important role in the city’s prosperity since the middle of the 15th century. At the time of Genoa’s zenith during the 16th century, the city attracted many artists, including Rubens, Caravaggio and Van Dyck. The famed architect Galeazzo Alessi (1512–1572) designed many of the city’s splendid palazzi and Bartolomeo Bianco (1590 -1657) designed the centerpieces of University of Genoa.
The glory days of the city live on in the Renaissance palaces in Genoa’s Centro Storico (Old Town). Wandering down Via Garibaldi, you will find one of the densest concentrations of palazzi anywhere. This historic street, with its abundance of palatial residences is also an UNESCO heritage site. The street’s origin dates to 1550. Originally named as Strada Maggiore, then Strada Nuova. It was only in 1882 that its name was dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi, now known for its opulent 16th century residences, museums and Renaissance palaces. It is one of the centerpieces of the city.
At 2 Via Garibaldi you will find the 1558 palace of Banco di Chiavari and the Italian Riviera. The Palace Spinola, also known as Palazzo Gambaro, was built by architect Bernardo Spazio for Pantaleo Spinola. It is one of the most artistically and architecturally important palaces in Genoa, in particular, due to the fresco of Janus – one of the symbols of Genoa, along with Hercules and the mythological symbol of Peace by Domenico Piola and Paul Brozzi. The next palazzo reached is Carrega-Cataldi. The building now houses the Chamber of Commerce of Genoa. It is notable for the degree of ornamentation of the building’s most famous room – its chapel; decorated by Lorenzo De Ferrari, even the doors were used as a canvas by the painter.
Palazzo Lercari-Parodi was built in 1571 by Franco Lercari. In 1845, it was bought by the Parodi family, which still owns the palace. In front of the structure is a very interesting portal of Taddeo Carlone’s work, framed by two mythical Greek figures who have flat noses. It recalls the terrible legend of Megollo Lercari, ancestor of the owner, who avenged his enemies by cutting off their noses and ears.
Built around 1563 by architect Bernardino County on behalf of the powerful family of Spinola, Palazzo Doria looks like a solid cube without any external decoration. The building underwent radical changes when it was acquired by the Doria family, the lords and Marquis of Montaldeo. Inside, in addition to priceless period furnishings, decoration is in 18th century Rococo stucco with vault frescoes by Luca Cambiaso, two of which depict the Fall of Phaeton and the Fall of Icarus.
The Palazzo Angelo Giovanni Spinola of 1558, is exceptional due to the height and size of its rooms. The decorative themes are rather solemn, giving the palace a formal atmosphere, which unfortunately is more detached and cold than most of the palaces lining Via Garibaldi. Palazzo Lomellino is an outstanding Bergamasco-style building, completed in 1569.
Palazzo delle Torrette occupies numbers 14 and 16 of Via Garibaldi. It derives its name from two towers on either side of the building. Part of the reason for the building’s height was to act as a visual shield for Palazzo Doria Tursi, blocking from its view the medieval-era area homes behind it.
Palazzo Doria Tursi is by far the most impressive and important building of the Via Garibaldi. Two large balconies frame the main building. The majestic marble portal is crowned by the emblem of the City of Genoa. Nowadays, the palace is a museum dedicated mainly to the art of Italian musician Niccolo Paganini.
The Red Palace – Palazzo Rosso, is one of the newer buildings along Via Garibaldi, built between 1671 and 1677. It takes its name from the characteristic Genovese red color. It houses the Galleria di Palazzo Rosso, a major city gallery, together with those of nearby Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Doria Tursi.
The Centro Storico is a hub of opportunities for shopping. Via San Luca, parallel to the port, is a narrow, cluttered alley, filled with cafés and souvenir stores. After visiting the palazzi, head to the Piazza de Ferrari. Recently restored is the square’s monumental fountain, an impressive sight, day or night. The piazza is situated in the heart of the city between the historical and the modern center. Nearby is the Teatro Carlo Felice, the principal opera house of Genoa and the “Mazzini Gallery,” a nineteenth-century series of buildings containing many elegant shops and coffee bars. Stop in and enjoy lunch before heading out for more sights.
Afterwards, head over to the Palazzo San Giorgio – a lovely architectural fragment of 1260, on Piazza Caricamento. At times, it has been a bank and a jail (Venetian wanderer Marco Polo was held here in 1298). Now used as the headquarters of the port authority (porto.genova.it), it is open to the public, who can peek at its quiet courtyard and debating chambers.
Adjacent to the palazzo, the Porto Antico (Old Port) is where the city’s story began. By the middle of the last century it had become obsolete, too small to host modern vessels. But it was re-energized in 1992 by Genoese architect Renzo Piano. Today it thrives with restaurants and bars. A unique feature is the spider-like Il Bigo, a many-limbed “panoramic lift” (another Piano creation) that hoists its passengers 131 feet off the ground for views of the area.
For other interesting sights, visit Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, the city’s cathedral. Built in a Gothic-Romanesque style, the cathedral was consecrated by Pope Gelasius II in 1118 and was built between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries. Among the artworks inside the church are the numerous ceiling frescoes. The Museum of the Treasury lies under the cathedral and holds a collection of jewelry and silverware from 9 AD up to the present. Among the most important pieces is the Sacro Catino, brought by Guglielmo Embriaco after the conquest of Caesarea. It is reputedly the chalice used by Christ during the Last Supper and the Cassa Processionale del Corpus Domini.
Genoa is a city that blends the old with the new…and is as fascinating as it is beautiful.