A Day in Genoa
The City's Medieval center is one of the largest in Europe. The “vicoli” or “caruggi”, Genoa's warren of ancient alleys and causeways, hide magnificent architectural treasures, museums, churches, and a trove of shops, craftsman's studios, and restaurants so hard for visitors to find.
Porto Antico - Entrance
We suggest that you start your walking tour of Genoa from “Porto Antico” (http://www.portoantico.it), the expansive waterfront area of the city which was renovated to host the EXPO '92 celebrating the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary.
The restoration of the port area was conceived and executed by world famous Genoese architect, Renzo Piano, based on the model of the harbor area of Baltimore, MD, Genoa's sister city. Now the seeds sown for EXPO '92 are beginning to bear fruits. The site is full of shops, restaurants, museums, movie theaters and a fully-equipped convention and congress facility in addition to accommodations on the wharf.
The marvelous Aquarium (http://www.acquariodigenova.it/) had proved a great success, along with the Children's Library (http://www.cittadeibambini.net/), and the Galata Museo del Mare (http://www.galatamuseodelmare.it) inaugurated in 2004, the most important maritime museum in the Mediterranean which displays, among others, a fascinating 18th C. galley, original letters from Christopher Columbus as well as a section on Italian emigration to America.
Genoa's Aquarium is a major tourist attraction, not only for its natural wonders but for the very structure itself, designed by American architect Peter Chermayeff, creator of Boston and Baltimore aquariums. Plan on devoting at least two hours to the aquarium. New exhibitions are always being added including even crocodiles. If possible, schedule a visit around feeding time. Children are fascinated. But not to worry! When the crocks grow dangerously large, they are returned to their natural environment. (Note: The Acquarium is undergoing a year + restoration and the lower section is closed where the crocodoles are. Not expected to reopen until Jan. 2014)
The odd-looking panoramic elevator located at the entrance of the Porto Antico is known as the “Bigo”. It offers a delightful view of the “Lanterna” (http://www.liguri.org/lanterna/lighthouse.asp) (Genoa's trademark lighthouse), the fortresses on the hills, the Portofino promontory and the port area which once represented the last glimpse of the old country for so many Italians bound for America.
Views of the Porto Antico
Boat tours of the port are available year round and boat tours (http://www.golfoparadiso.it/public/php/index.php) of the Cinque Terre (http://www.cinqueterreonline.com/villages.htm), Portofino (http://goitaly.about.com/od/portofino/p/portofino.htm), San Fruttuoso (http://www.sanfruttuoso.eu/)
and Camogli (http://www.comune.camogli.ge.it/ on the “Riviera di Levante” are offered during the summer months (July-August).
Tightly squeezed between the mountains and the sea, Genoa is a compact city, and its concentrated city center provides an oasis for pedestrians, and a multitude of intriguing walking tours.
Leaving the “Porto Antico”, visitors are greeted by Palazzo San Giorgio (XV C.) which once housed the famous Bank of St. George and now serves as the Genoa Port Authority headquarters.
Palazzo San Giorgio
The present building incorporates a section of the original Medieval structure, built in 1260 by People's Capitán Guglielmo Boccanegra, and designed by the famous Cistercian monk, Friar Oliverio. Marco Polo dictated the account of his journey to China known as “Il Milione” in this very place, where he was imprisoned by the Genoveses during the Battle of Curzola in 1298.
Moving away from Palazzo San Giorgio, walk up Via San Lorenzo toward Piazza De Ferrari. The Cathedral of San Lorenzo (Duomo) (http://www.genova-turismo.it/spip.php?article183) built between the 12th and the 16th centuries is to the left as you approach the top of the incline. The Duomo contains the chapel housing the bones of St. John the Baptist (Patron Saint of Genoa) and the Treasury Museum (Museo del Tesoro) with the “Sacred Basin” which is believed to be the real Holy Gral and which was brought to Genoa by Guglielmo Embriaco in 1101.
Exiting the Duomo, move toward Piazza Matteotti, site of “Palazzo Ducale” (http://www.palazzoducale.genova.it), for centuries the seat of the Government of the Republic of Genoa. Boasting Medieval origins and a monumental facade (1778), the Doge's palace was restored in 1992 becoming an important multi-use cultural center. It now contains libraries and conference facilities, and hosts important exhibits. In 2001 the G8 Summit took place here.
On the same “Piazza” (square) the Jesuit “Chiesa del Gesù” (http://www.gesuiti.it/attivita/1329/2463/schedabase.asp) church built by Tibaldi in 1597, displays two paintings by Rubens: “The Circumcision of Jesus” and “St. Ignatius Curing the Sick.”
Chiesa del Gesu'
To continue the tour of historic Genoa, move on to Piazza De Ferrari and take walk along Via Dante to the Columbus House, close to the Medieval “Porta Soprana” city gates. Located in Vico Dritto di Ponticello, the House is the site of the residence and shop established by Domenico Colombo, father of Christopher Columbus, in 1455 where he plied his trade as a weaver of woolen cloth. It is certain that Columbus lived here as a young boy.
Restoration of the house was completed in 2001 under the auspices of a project inspired and supported by the Clinton Administration's Millennium project “Save America's Treasures” initiative.
Columbus Day at the Columbus House
From the Columbus House, head back towards Piazza De Ferrari, passing the Carlo Felice Opera House to your right.
Piazza De Ferrari Opera House
Continue on, veering to the left and following Via XXV Aprile to Piazza Fontane Marose. The “piazza” opens into Via Garibaldi, once known as “Strada Nuova” or “Via Aurea.” In 2006, Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the System of the Palazzi dei Rolli (http://www.rolliestradenuove.it/eng/index.htm were designated UNESCO World Heritage (http://www.genova-turismo.it/spip.php?page=scheda&id_article=386) sites.
This elegant street, lined with splendid palaces built as private homes, was conceptualized in the 1550's by Gian Galeazzo Alessi. The “Palazzi” constituted the residential area of Genoa's upper class families who were bent on giving the city a decidedly sophisticated and prestigious avenue to rival its counterparts elsewhere in Europe, while at the same time affirming their oligarchic presence over local society.
When the painter Peter Paul Rubens came to Genoa as a young man in 1606, he was so impressed by the local architecture that in 1622 he published a collection of plans and elevations entitled “I Palazzi di Genova” (The Palaces of Genoa).
Among the best known of these palaces is the Palazzo Doria-Tursi, Genoa's City Hall, built by the Grimaldi Family and once the home of Giovanni Andrea Doria, nephew of Admiral of the Empire, Andrea Doria.
Palazzo Tursi - Entrance
Others include the Palazzo Pallavicino-Cambiaso (now home of a bank) designed by Alessi, the Palazzo Bianco built in 1565 by the Grimaldi Family and the Palazzo Rosso, built in 1671 by Gio' Francesco and Ridolfo Brignole Sale which are now among the most visited museums in Genoa (http://www.museidigenova.it/spip.php?rubrique).
Both Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso were inherited by Maria Brignole Sale, Duchessa di Galliera, who donated them to the City of Genoa. The generous cultural patroness also donated the much of the homes' priceless contents, including collections of Genovese paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries by artists such as Cambiaso, Strozzi, Assereto, Castiglione, Castello, De Ferrari Piola and Magnasco; Italian paintings by Veronese and Caravaggio, among others, and Flemish works by the likes of Memling, Rubens and Van Dick. Other significant works include a selection of Dutch, French and Spanish paintings.
From Via Garibaldi, walk to nearby Piazza Portello where the “Ascensore Portello Castelletto” (an Art Nuveau elevator) carries the weary effortlessly to the top of the “Belvedere Montaldo” and its magnificent panoramic view of the city.
Piazza Portello Ascensore Portello-Castelletto
Panoramic view of Genoa from Belvedere Castelletto
If you'd like to see more of the city, plan visits to the important churches and museums around the city.