15-16 May 2022
Standing in front of the kiosk at the train station, one must remember there are different ways to spell my destination – Genoa or Genova. Genoa is the English spelling and Genova is the Italian. If I want buy a ticket, I type in Genova. But no matter which way I spell it, Genova is a gorgeous city to visit.
Located in the Liguria region of Italy, Genova is located between the Principality of Monaco and the region of Tuscany. Genova represents one of the mightiest naval powers in history. Today, its main marvels are shopping, shipping, eating and passeggiata. The city is stunning to admire from the sea and beautiful when strolling its streets. Things not to miss when in Genova:
Porto Antica is a cacophony of noise and activity. The port area is a massive encirclement of docks. Incredibly busy this sunny Sunday afternoon, there must be 1 million people strolling about. Moored in the port are billions of dollars of catamarans, yachts and sail boats, plus 3 huge cruise ships flying flags from South Africa, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Greece and more.
There are the ubiquitous cafes and restaurants, but there are also a plethora of activities ranging from from the casual to the carny. The movie museum blasts its exciting “real-life” stars and paraphernalia. The Bigo is a crane lift which will take you several feet up for a brief panoramic view of the city and harbor. The Biosfera, a bubble shaped building on the water showcases tropical plants and animals. On the next dock is the Aquarium which displays both freshwater and marine species. Additionally, there’s a maritime museum which includes entirely reconstructed ships, a submarine, and stories about the maritime history of this port.
For the historian, there are remains of the fortifications and ancient walls and gates. Porta del Molo has guarded entry to Genova since 1551.
The port’s background is the undulating hills of Genova. A miles long crescent of Liberty-style buildings wrap some 250° around the port. It is not a skyscraper view but one of typical Ligurian colors and style but on steroids. I cannot help but wonder where along that mass of city that I drove a car some 12 years ago. I certainly can see how I came to be incredibly lost, driving in circles, trying to find my hotel.
Genova is chockablock with architecturally beautiful piazzas. Perhaps the best is Piazza Rafaellae de Ferrari. Used for special events, the piazza is surrounded by cultural buildings including the Opera House and Doge’s Palace. In the center is a huge bronze fountain. This main piazza is just one of many around the old city. This Sunday, street markets fill the squares and pedestrian streets with lively music, kiosks of antiques, crafts and foods. And the piazzas are surrounded by architectural gems. And usually a church.
I seldom pass an open church without stepping inside. No matter the facade, the interiors can always surprise; the plainest of exteriors may shelter the most ornate of interiors. Excellent examples are Chiesa di San Filippo, Basilica dell’Annunziata, Chiesa di San Siro, Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Consolazione, Chiesa del Gesù, and Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. All these churches have impressive, ornate interiors and altars. Entering these neighborhood churches, I can see the wealth that built them and the ongoing struggle to maintain them.
In fact, it is easy to walk the streets of Genoa and only see the decay of these 15th and 16th century, and older, buildings. However, if you look closer you’ll see the Herculean efforts to restore the streets, buildings, once aristocratic residences, and marvelous architecture. There is scaffolding and sounds of sanding and hammers everywhere as workers painstakingly restore and maintain centuries old doorways, alleyways, villas and the gorgeous vaulted ceilings, frescoes and courtyards.
Shopping is an art in Genova. The beautiful Galleria Giuseppe Mazzini is reminiscent of Milan’s famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II with its high arched glass ceiling. Walk the length of Guiseppe Garibaldi/La Strade Nouve and one will recognize why it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The street is lined with at least 42 wonderful 16th-century noble residences and gardens. These buildings were once the villas of wealthy and influential Genoans. Now many house St. Laurent and Ferragamo, Deutsche Bank and Unicredit. In fact, Unicredit is housed is some of the most beautiful buildings in Genova.
And Genova has a large selection of museums, art galleries, and historical sites. Ducale Palace is the site of many special exhibits; I visited the excellent Claude Monet exhibition. There is the Royal Palace Museum and the D’Albertis Castle, both of which were closed and may force me to return to Genova just to visit these sites.
The small Christopher Columbus House was open but I chose not to visit as, although Columbus was born in Genova, he never lived in this stone building. However, in the gardens next to the house is the stunning remains of a 12th-century cloister. And just over a bridge is Porta Saprana, a dual towered gate in the 12th century walls of Genova.
I also avoided the Aquarium because at least a thousand elementary children swarmed it’s exhibits. Instead, I visited the Biosfera, the bubble building exhibiting tropical plants and animals where hardly anyone was entering. If you’re under six, you might be fascinated but otherwise it is a very sad exhibition of an absent ibis, some fish, a turtle, a few stick insects that really look like twigs with legs, and a very noisy cockatoo. I quickly walked past the Disney-reject, movie-produced and gaudy Neptune galleon.
My stay in Genova is celebrated with a long lunch at the port. As usual, the menu choices are difficult, everything is appealing. I choose an antipasto of cheese fried focaccia and Parma ham and a Secondo piatto of grilled fish and vegetables. And of course a Prosecco. From my table, I view Porto Antica and the hills of Genova. From my point of view, it is a pretty amazing city with lots more to see. A wonderful end to my Cinque Terre adventure of 2022.
The best conclusion of any trip is the desire to come back.