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Genoa is a major seaport and industrial centre in north-western Italy, on the Gulf of Genoa. It is the capital of Genoa province and the region of Liguria. It once formed the heart of an independent republic, which had colonies in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

Above: Genoa, as seen from Il Bigo - an architectural structure designed by Renzo Piano which includes a 360°, 130-foot (40m) high panoramic lift/elevator.

An important commercial centre in the Middle Ages, Genoa’s fortunes declined in the 15th century and it came under foreign control. It was occupied by Napoleon in 1796 and it passed to France in 1805 and Sardinia in 1815. The city is noted for its art and architecture, including its black-and-white-striped medieval buildings. Genoa is the birthplace of the famous explorer, Christopher Columbus (circa 1451) and is also noted for its university (1471) and an academy of fine arts (1751). Exports from the city include rice, wine, olive oil, silk, marble and macaroni, whilst its industries include iron and steel, textiles, chemicals and shipbuilding.


Above: Statue of Christopher Columbus (left) near Genova Piazza Principe, the city’s main railway station, and ‘The Neptune’ (right), a replica of a 17th-century Spanish galleon which was built in 1985 for Roman Polanski's film Pirates. . She also featured as Captain Hook’s ship the Jolly Roger in the TV miniseries Neverland.

The city has a lot to offer the visitor and is set in a spectacular location along the Mediterranean coast. Starting life by the sea around the basin of the Porto Antico (the old port), as the city grew, it could only expand upwards into the hilly terrain. The old town is a labyrinth of narrow medieval streets and alleys, known locally as “carruggi”, which run up the steep hills behind the port, followed by newer streets further up, which were laid out in the 16th and 17th-centuries. These streets are lined with a seemingly endless number of grand palazzi (palaces or mansions), which were constructed for the wealthy merchant families.

Above: The Palazzo Reale

The 19th-century and modern areas of Genoa climb steeply again, adapting to the geography. This sometimes awkward landscape resulted in the need for funiculars and lifts to get around in some parts of the city; from the top of some of these, such as the Art Nouveau-style public lift from Piazza del Portello up to the Castello, it is possible to take in panoramic views over the roofs of the old town and the port. Since 2006, “Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli” has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this covers a number of streets and palaces in the centre of the city.

Above: Panoramic stitch photograph showing Duomo di Genova (Genoa Cathedral), also called the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (Cathedral of Saint Lawrence). It was consecrated by Pope Gelasius II in 1118.

In his Pictures from Italy, Charles Dickens wrote of Genoa:

It is a place that “grows upon you” every day. There seems to be always something to find out in it. There are the most extraordinary alleys and by-ways to walk about in. You can lose your way (what a comfort that is, when you are idle!) twenty times a day, if you like; and turn up again, under the most unexpected and surprising difficulties. It abounds in the strangest contrasts; things that are picturesque, ugly, mean, magnificent, delightful, and offensive, break upon the view at every turn.

Being the largest medieval centre in Europe, having 20th-centurity additions such as the large flyover running near the centre and finding even GPS navigation difficult under the numerous archways and in often narrow streets and alleyways, perhaps for the visitor, much of what Dickens wrote in 1846 is as valid today as it was in his time.


Above: Christopher Columbus House (left), an 18th-century reconstruction of the house in which Columbus grew up, and a view towards the bustling Porto Antico - the old port (right).

The following extensive thumbnail gallery contains photos from a visit to Genoa and below it is a brief description of a few of the city’s highlights; a full treatment would be beyond the scope of this webpage (click on an image to enlarge):

Il Centro Storico

Il Centro Storico (the historic centre) is grouped around Porto Antico (the old port) and as well as the streets and alleyways, contains a number of staircases and small piazzas. Although somewhat neglected in parts, it is very well preserved and contains many sites of interest. The relationship between the old town and the port has historically been an issue, mainly due to the lack of integration between the two, compounded in more recent times during the 20th century, with the construction of a fairly brutal flyover. In the 1990’s, improvements to the area commenced in order to assist with the re-establishment of links between the historic centre and Porto Antico. Many old buildings, including the Teatro Carlo Felice were restored and new projects were launched around the old port. Some of the highlights in this part of the city include:

Duomo di Genova / Genoa Cathedral (photos 192-232 in the thumbnail gallery above) – More specifically the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (Cathedral of Saint Lawrence), this beautiful building was constructed between the 11th and 16th-centuries in the Romanesque-Gothic style. The cathedral has fine sculpture on the exterior, as well as the interior, and inside, the chapels of Lercari and San Giovanni Battista are of special interest. The green glass cup that is said to be the legendary Holy Grail is housed in the Treasure Museum inside the cathedral.

Palazzo Ducale (e.g. photos 235, 528-529) – This was the principal seat of the doge of Genoa, doge being the most important government official in an Italian city-state. The palace was begun in the middle-ages and enlarged in the 16th century. Overlooking Piazza Matteotti, it has two large courtyards and today, its spacious rooms contain valuable works of art and are used for major exhibitions.

Piazza De Ferrari (photos 239-254, 512-520) – By Genoa’s standards, a large square and home of the Teatro Carlo Felice. The square was redesigned and turned into a pedestrian area in 2001. Its centrepiece is a large fountain, designed in 1936 by Guiseppe Crosa di Vergagni. If Genoa has a centre, this is probably it.

Porta Soprana (photo 270) – A distinctive gate which was part of the 12th-century city walls. Today, it marks the boundary between the historic centre and the modern city. Near here is the Christopher Columbus House (Casa di Colombo)/(photos 264-269).

Porto Antico / The Old Port (example photos including views from: 20-119) – The 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus first arriving in the New World took place in 1992. Although his voyages left from Spain (where he was able to secure funding), it is generally agreed between scholars that Columbus was born in the Republic of Genoa and spoke a dialect of Ligurian as his first language. The old port of Genoa was chosen as the perfect place for staging the Columbus celebrations of 1992 and with this came the ideal opportunity to restore the link between the Porto Antico and Il Centro Storico (the historic centre) with the rest of the city. A major restoration project of Porto Antico was undertaken by local and world-renowned architect Renzo Piano (his other works have included The Shard in London (2012), and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (2015)). The project involved restoring disused buildings, including the 19th-century cotton warehouses, and constructing new landmarks, such as the Aquarium and Il Bigo. The latter (example photos 123-125, 127-132, followed by views from, and 347, by night) was inspired by the masts of a ship and features a 360°-revolving panoramic lift which offers views of the port and city from a height of 130 feet (40m). Renzo Piano’s large-scale restoration and new additions to Porto Antico have made it an attraction in its own right. The Aquarium is built within a ship anchored in the port and is one of Europe’s largest. Other attractions here include Biosphera (a futuristic tropical glasshouse, also designed by Renzo Piano) and Porta del Molo (1553).

La Lanterna – Seen from Porto Antico (e.g. photo 57), this is the symbol of Genoa. It is the oldest working lighthouse in the world. The original structure dated from the 12th-century, though was destroyed by Louis XIII’s French Army. Seen today is the structure which was rebuilt in 1543. The beam in use extends some 33 miles (52km) and it is possible to ascend the structure via 375 steps to admire the views from the top. Also of note is the flag of Genoa on the side of the light house, recognisable to people from England and the Republic of Georgia as the St. George's Cross.

Above: Scrollable panoramic stitch photograph showing a view from Porto Antico

Public and private wealth has brought about many fine buildings in this part of the city. Other highlights include Piazza San Matteo (at the heart of the district and once home of the Doria family, a medieval square and church of the same name which includes the Doria family mansions), Il Gesù (a former Jesuit church dating from 1597 which has an intricate and lavish interior, including two works by Rubens), Museo di Sant’Agostino (cloisters of a ruined church housing a collection of sculpture and architectural relics from around the city), the aristocratic Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria and Palazzo San Giorgio and the Loggia dei Mercanti. There are indeed many buildings of note here, as one might expect from a city which once formed the heart of a prosperous independent republic.

Le Strade Nuove

Translating to “The New Streets”, Le Strade Nuove, unlike the name suggests these days, presents the visitor with a throwback to the 16th and 17th-centuries, when the city was very influential in matters concerning much of Europe’s economy. With many of the places of interest stretching along Via Balbi and Via Garibaldi, the “Genoese Century” (1528-1630), when the city was at its peak, meant that at the time there were several wealthy families in the city. Their power is reflected by the buildings and art seen today in this part of the city. They did don’t build in Il Centro Storico (the historic centre) as the preference at the time was to construct new ornate buildings alongside the old, applying Renaissance designs to the hilly terrain; the slopes are often disguised in the design of the palazzi with the inclusion of hanging gardens and loggias. Some of the highlights in this part of the city include:

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj or del Principe – This palace was built for the great 16th-century admiral and politician Andrea Doria at a time when he was at the height of his power. It is located near the main railway station, Stazione Principe, just west of Via Balbi and still has apartments in the original decor, as well as paintings that Doria commissioned by artists including Perin del Vaga and Sebastiano del Piombo.

Palazzo dell’Universita (photos 2 & 3) in the thumbnail gallery further up the page) – Located on Via Balbi, this palazzo was constructed in 1634-36 as a Jesuit college and has been the seat of the University of Genoa since 1775.

Palazzo Reale (photos 350-478) – Also located on Via Balbi, this vast palace was built for the Balbi family in the early 17th-century and was later occupied by the Durazzo dynasty and the Savoyard royals. The palace includes a large atrium overlooking a courtyard garden and a grand staircase which leads to the ballroom, and several rooms to the left including the impressive Hall of Mirrors. On the other side of the palace are the royal quarters, a chapel gallery, throne room, and an audience room, all of which are lavishly decorated. The many paintings hanging up here include works by Van Dyck, Bernado Strozzi and Luca Giordano and the palace is now the seat of the Galleria Nazionale.

Via Garibaldi (e.g. photos 305-326, 486-506) – This was laid out in the 1550’s as a residential quarter for the wealthier families in the city and was the first of the “new streets”. Celebrated by travellers for centuries, the impressive palazzi lining its streets are very well preserved. Many have ornate interiors, containing fine art collections, as well as exceptional decor. Several of the palazzi are open to the public, the largest being the 16th-century Palazzo Doria-Tursi which serves as the town hall and is three times the length of the other mansions along this street. Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso house the Musei di Strada Nuova (Genoa’s largest art Gallery) with the former containing 13th to 18th-century European paintings and the latter contains portraits by Van Dyck, as well as Genoese 16th to 18th-century works. Palazzo del Podestà has a façade in the Genoese Mannerism style and was begun in 1563, whilst Palazzo Doria has a Baroque façade, dating from 1563-67. Towards the eastern end of Via Garibaldi is Palazzo Carrega Cataldi, which now houses the Chamber of Commerce. Just west of Via Garibaldi is the ancient cathedral, San Siro, which is thought to date from the 4th-century, destroyed in the late 16th-century and reconstructed by the Theatine Order as a richly decorated temple. On the eastern end of Via Garibaldi is Piazza Fontane Marose (e.g. photo 304) and beyond here in Parco della Villetta di Negro is the Edoardo Chiossone museum which is home to a rare collection of oriental art. Via Garibaldi is pedestrianised and is a pleasure to walk down not only for the architecture but as a place to sit down for a coffee and watch the world go by.

Galata Museo del Mare (photo 558) – Genoa’s Museum of the Sea is the largest museum of its kind on the Mediterranean. It was completed in 2004 as part of the port area’s revival and documents the city’s historical relationship with the sea from the Middle Ages through to the present day.

As well as many other palazzi and churches, also of note in Le Strade Nuove is Albergo dei Poveri, a former poorhouse which was one of Italy’s earliest charitable institutions and symbolised the generosity of the city’s nobility; this grand building is now part of the University of Genoa. As with the above section on Il Centro Storico, the above list is far from exhaustive and as the tourist information leaflet states on the front cover, “UNESCO has discovered it, now discover it for yourself”.

Above: Scrollable panoramic stitch II


It may be worth mentioning on this page also about the Morandi Bridge, which brought Genoa to world attention in August, 2018 when it partially collapsed with the loss of 43 lives of people who were crossing it at the time. The bridge was a road viaduct on the A10/E80 motorway and formed one of the major links from Italy to France. Unofficially named after its architect, Riccardo Morandi, and more officially the Polcevera Viaduct, after the river it crossed, the partial collapse was blamed on corrosion in the cable stays and caused a major political controversy about the poor state of infrastructure in Italy. A decision was made to demolish the bridge, rather than to repair it. At the time of writing, a replacement bridge, designed Renzo Piano has been in construction since June, 2019, and is due to be opened in 2020.

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