Genoa… I’m not from Genoa, but “she” is in me and with me ever since.
Genoa is in the genes of my family, is the harbor from which they escaped before returning to sail away again, it’s our history and culture, is the basis in our speech, is all those specific and concise expressions that make the Ligurian as they are, it’s our heart because “in Genoa, you can find everything.”
I guess you already understood that I love it and for this reason, I always find an excuse for a day trip: a theatre performance, a doctor, shopping, a friend and many other things. A few weeks ago, however, I saw it differently, a bit as if, for the first time, during a meeting with bloggers I didn’t know and who was about to discover the city. Some nuances have been confirmed, and others have sharpened …
Genoa is female, is stubborn and obstinate, is complex and often grumpy, is passionate, is varied and diverse. Genoa is beautiful and vertical and has to be seen looking up.
Genova è la città dei contrasti, dei grandi palazzi e dei miseri caruggi …
Vicente Blasco Ibáñez
Our Genoa Walking Tour
Our starting point to explore the narrow streets of the city was the galleon movie set of “Pirates” by Roman Polanski, now moored at the Old Harbour, and right away, it was natural to look up to admire Zena (i.e., Genoa in the local dialect) all around.
From Palazzo San Giorgio, formerly Palazzo delle Compere of San Giorgio and now headquarters of the harbor authority, with its brilliant facade painted that gives color to the opposite Piazza Caricamento, which owes its name to the loading and unloading of goods which occupied the square for the past two centuries as it was the first seat of the docks the sea once reaching up the arcades of Sottoripa!
The palazzata of Sottoripa (i.e., complex buildings) represents one of the first Italian public porches. Where once stood warehouses storing goods you can now find ancient historical shops and unfortunately also a Mac Donald … even walking below these arcades leads to point the nose upwards to admire the vaults or the beautiful exposed beams, frescoes and effigies and all those great little details that testify the passing of time.
From square Caricamento and the porch of Sottoripa spread the mythical alleyways of Genoa, largely named accordingly to a specific craft sector: Vico Indoratori (i.e., gilders’ alley), via Orefici (i.e., goldsmith street), the butchery of Soziglia, etc.
The history and traditions of Genoa, however, are not only told by the trades practiced in the various districts of the city but also by legends and popular sayings and then both have evocative names such as the “Perfect Love alley” … 🙂
Getting lost in this maze of streets offers unexpected views, beautiful architecture, and many Genoese moods. It also involves looking up to look for the light and discover details between wire-hanging clothes and other things.
We have embarked on via al Ponte Calvi leaving the waterfront to reach one of the beating hearts of the city, square Fossatello, famous because here lies one of the Rolli Palaces declared UNESCO heritage, the Palazzo Pallavicini; because from here you can walk along Via del Campo, made famous by Fabrizio De André’s song, and access the historic district of malpractice Pré, where until the Italian Merlin Law of 1958 was located the most popular and frequented brothels.
From this square, you can also walk along via Lomellini, the street where Mazzini was born and where now is the Museum of Italian Risorgimento, and also via Fossatello at whose corner you can enter one of my favorite historical shops!
The Pasticceria Liquoreria Marescotti, relieved from the dust and abandon by Alessandro Cavo.
I love this place for several reasons: the beautiful architecture and furnishings of the room, the yummy baked cakes, the happy hour and the weekend brunch, and then Alessandro is the son and grandson of people especially dear to my grandfather and before him to my great-grandmother…
They all come from Voltaggio, a small country village right behind Genoa where the Cavo family prepare since ever the legendary soft macaroons, my madeleine of Proust 🙂 If you pass by, I recommend you cross the threshold to taste the amaretti of Voltaggio and chat with Alessandro because the history of this place told by him really deserves to listen to!
After this sweet stage, we walked to Piazza Banchi, dominated by the Loggia dei Mercanti and by the colorful church of San Pietro in Banchi.
Besides the historical and commercial importance of this place, I like to come here to observe the never-ending queue in front of the old lady reading cards and because when I am in this square, I can’t help but smile thinking of Genovese theatre actor Gilberto Govi … if you speak Italian, watch this video, and you’ll understand me:
Other milestones of a walk in this area of Genoa are the square of the Cinque Lampadi and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, with its typical Genoese facade in black and white marble – a symbol of nobility -, the peculiarities of a single bell tower flanked by a second tower never accomplished and culminating in a loggia. I find it beautiful!
Leaving the cathedral, we headed to Piazza San Matteo, crowned by colorful mansions of different historical periods. Move to the middle of the esplanade in front of the church and look upwards while turning around yourself. You’ll discover loggias, roof gardens, frescoed ceilings, and amazing painted windows… something you can actually find in any town once dominated by the Republic of Genoa, that by imposing a tax on windows pushed the Genovese to paint rather than open them… is it why people use to say that we are stingy???
One of our last visits was dedicated to the Diocesan Museum. I’d never been there since it opened in the 90s, and I am happy to have rectified it! Inside, in addition to the exhibited collections, you can admire the beautiful cloister of the Canons of San Lorenzo and an exhibition dedicated to the very special “blue of Genoa.”
Fiber flax canvas fiber dyed with indigo and painted monochrome representing scenes of the Passion and, in fact, used as vestments during Easter during the sixteenth century. The texture of the fabric is obviously different since it is not cotton. Still, the ancestors of the canvases of Genoa certainly used to manufacture the uniforms of the workers and dockers in the Harbour and today are known as blue jeans.
Our walk in the historical center ended in Piazza de Ferrari, the heart of Genoa, and home to our exceptional opera house Carlo Felice, the Linguistics Academy, the Palazzo Ducale, the Palace of the New Stock Exchange, and the headquarters of the Region. You can also reach the city’s major shopping streets such as Via Roma and Via XX Settembre from this square.
Ah, in the middle of the square, there’s o the oh photogenic bronze fountain which is rarely filled with clear water as it is increasingly being dyed to celebrate important events such as the Day of autism, the fight against cancer, and so on.
I was almost forgetting! Looking up at Genoa, you’ll notice everywhere the flag with the cross of St. George, once a symbol of the pilgrims and then of the Crusaders, finally adopted by the Superba and for a time also raised by the British ships so that they could enjoy the Genovese fleets’ protection in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in return for an annual tribute.
England, the city of London, and the Royal Navy still hoist the flag of St George, which is also part of the Union Jack.
Oh, Genoa must also be seen from the sea, from its forts and lived through the notes and words of its songwriters, but these are other stories, and I will tell you about them soon… in the meantime, I suggest you read this excellent post written by Sarah: What you don’t know about Genoa!
* Thanks to Yael and Chiara for leading us through this Genovese maze!