Genoa or Genova
Genoa, or Genova in Italian, is a port city in Liguria, in the north of Italy. A city that has been high on my wish list for several years because this is La Superba, the exquisite one. A town seemingly dipped in gold. But within moments of entering the city centre, I realise all that glitters is not gold.
Walking from the port into the city centre, one enters a maze of narrow streets, with towering buildings on either side, depriving the wanderer of any chance of orientation. Within minutes I lose my sense of direction. I admit that doesn’t take much, as I am geographically challenged. Still, the disoriēntation is extreme in this city.
Even Google Maps, normally my lifesaver, gets confused in no time. So, after following Google’s directions and ending up at the same point three times, I take matters into my own hands.
I follow the map we brought from the hotel. This one has four tourist walking routes. I go for the orange route, the south side of the city.
Tourist walking routes
The walking routes are a very rough approximation of reality. The description doesn’t make sense. Whoever plotted these smoked a lot of weed or drew the guide in a drunken stupor.
So after a while, I throw away my map and wander through this decaying labyrinth hoping for a miracle way out.
All roads lead to the port of Genoa
A distraught fellow tourist asks me where the exit is from this maze of winding alleys. Alas, I can’t tell her. In desperation, we confirm each other’s ‘Indeed, Google Maps is acting weird’.
Luckily, as the city is mainly on a hill, little can go wrong, I convince myself. Following the road downhill, we reach sea level, and our hotel is at the harbour. So, in the end, all will be well. And if it is not, it is not the end.
Sightseeing in Genoa
After hours of wandering through narrow alleys, I come close to the port, a neighbourhood with mainly ethnic shops. The streets ooze a melange of Middle Eastern scents combined with the smell of a public toilet. The city, at least the ‘low part’, teems with immigrants, graffiti, vagrants and human excrement.
That is, to a certain extent. Because halfway up the hill from Piazza de Ferrari, the world suddenly looks different. Genova, La Superba, the ‘Exquisite’ is whiter, wealthier and cleaner here. The buildings above this line are more pompous, the streets wide. Clearly, the squares from the mid-15th century were built to impress.
Piazza De Ferrari and art nouveau
The watershed from poor to rich is Piazza De Ferrari. The square is named after Raffaele De Ferrari, the Duke of Galliera. A generous benefactor who donated considerable money to expand the port in 1875.
At the centre of the square is a monumental fountain designed by architect Cesare Crosa of Vergagni in 1936. The Palazzo della Nuova Borsa (the new Stock Exchange) is one of the finest examples of Genoese Art Nouveau (1912).
The world-famous Strade Nuove (new streets) are via Garibaldi (Strada Nuova), via Cairoli (Strada Nuovissima) and via Balbi (Strada Balbi). These were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. Hence the name ‘new streets’! This neighbourhood is a feast for lovers of frescoes and tinsel. The Trump family would indeed feel at home here among all that baroque.
Via Garibaldi UNESCO World Heritage Site
Via Garibaldi is located north of Piazza de Ferrari.
The palazzi on this street are decorated with stucco, marble, frescoes, grandiose atriums and fountains. In the 17th century, these buildings aroused the interest of Pieter Paul Rubens. The Flemish painter published a book of drawings of the buildings as a blueprint for the homes of the European aristocracy. The Genoese palaces’ architectural quality and Rubens’ interest ensured this neighbourhood was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2006. However, most of the buildings are now owned by banks.
Palazzi dei Rolli
On Via Garibaldi lies a prestigious museum complex. The three important Genoese palaces are:
- Palazzo Doria Tursi (Palazzo Grimaldi Niccolò), also the seat of the city hall. Its halls house famous masterpieces such as the violin that belonged to Paganini;
- Palazzo Bianco (Palazzo Grimaldi Luca), with, among others, works by Caravaggio;
- Palazzo Rosso (Palazzo Brignole Sale Rodolfo and Francesco) is temporarily closed for restoration. This palace is famous for its frescoes by the greatest painters of the Ligurian 17th century.
Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato – the Golden church
Continuing towards Piazza della Nunziata is the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato, Genoa’s Catholic cathedral. The neo-baroque church was richly decorated with gold in the 17th.
Admission is free.
The balcony of Belvedere Castelletto
For a brisk walk, hike up to Spianata Castelletto. Alternatively, take the Ascensore Castelletto Levante, an Art Nouveau lift from 1909. It departs from Piazza del Portello. From the balcony of Spianata Castelletto, enjoy 360° views of the city and the Gulf of Genoa.
Villetta Di Negro – waterfall
On the way up is the Villetta di Negro park. This two-hectare acre green oasis lies in the city’s heart, with an artificial waterfall as a curiosity. In summer, it is an excellent place to cool off.
South of the city centre, you will find the House of Columbus, the Porta Sorprana and the Monastery of Saint Andrew.
House of Columbus
Christopher Columbus lived part of his life, between 1455 and 1470, in the building known as Casa di Colombo (House of Columbus). The house is near Piazza De Ferrari and a stone’s throw from Porta Soprana.
Click here to book a tour of the House of Columbus and the Monastery of Saint Andrew.
The Monastery of Saint Andrew
In the garden behind Columbus House is the Monastery of Saint Andrew, rebuilt here after its demolition in 1904.
A short distance away is the Porta Soprana, of medieval origin, one of the main gates to the city.
Porta Soprana was the entrance to the city for anyone entering Genoa from the east. It dominated the hill of S. Andrea, named after the monastery described above.
The tall towers framing the entrance to Porta Soprana still bear two Latin plaques commemorating Genoa’s architectural achievement and glory: one of them, on the left side of the entrance, addresses the person about to enter and says, among other things:
“I am guarded by soldiers, surrounded by beautiful walls, and I chase away enemy arrows with my courage. If you bring peace, approach these gates; if you seek war, you will retreat saddened and defeated”.
San Lorenzo cathedral
In San Lorenzo Cathedral, one can admire not only the one and only Holy Grail but also an unexploded shell from World War II.
The cathedral had a lucky escape on 9 February 1941 when the city was shelled. Due to a crew error, the British battleship HMS Malaya fired a shell at the church. It miraculously did not explode.
In the treasury under the cathedral, you will find a collection of jewellery and silverware from AD 9 to the present day. One of the most important pieces is the Holy Grail (Sacro Catino). This is said to be the chalice used by Christ during the Last Supper.
Genoa’s old port – Porto Antico
The old port area was redeveloped in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. It is now a city tourist centre with watering halls, restaurants, shopping plazas and cinemas.
At the end of the dock is the Magazzini del Cotone complex. From this point, the Lanterna (lighthouse) is visible. It is the oldest working lighthouse in the world.
In the background, the hills are full of colours, lit up in daylight and at night.
Visit the Genoa aquarium, the largest in Europe with 70 tanks housing more than 12,000 animals of 600 species. Discover marine life on a journey among dolphins and sharks, penguins and manatees, jellyfish and seals, tropical fish and Antarctic animals.
Outside the aquarium, other attractions include the panoramic lift, Bigo (whose shape and name are reminiscent of ancient manual loading cranes), the Biosfera and the Città dei Bambini, a recreational and interactive museum for children aged between 2 and 14.
Practical info Genoa
We stayed at Morali Palace, a veritable golden palace. Extremely fitting for this city, as the entire interior – and I mean everything – is bathed in gold. The hotel is on the 4th floor of an 18th-century building in central Genoa, opposite the city’s port and aquarium, 200 metres from St Lorenzo Cathedral and Doge’s Palace. Accessible by lift, these spacious rooms come with air conditioning, a TV and a private bathroom.
San Giorgio Metro Station is a 1-minute walk from the accommodation.
To view prices and availability, click here.
Genoa is located on hills. You can’t get around by car, especially in the historic centre. Therefore, there are cable cars and lifts in the city. These are free to use but only sometimes clearly signposted.
- Most centres in Italy can only be reached by car by residents. This is referred to as a ZTL, Zona Traffico Limitato. There are hefty fines for violating the ZTL. So don’t. Genoa has several large car parks outside the city centre with ample parking space.
- Like most cities in Italy, Genoa is easy to reach by train.
- The ferry goes from Genoa to several places in Italy, connecting the country with Corsica, Sardinia, Tunisia, Spain, and Morocco. Click for more information on the ferry to and from Genoa.
Local cuisine and facts
- Genova is the birthplace of pesto and focaccia. So you know what to do.
- Caruggi is the Italian name for the typically Genoese narrow alleys.
- Creuse are the ancient paths that connect Genoa’s city centre to the upper part of the city.
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