Genoa Italy Capital of Culture
Genoa Italy peace march
Portofino harbor
Riviera de Levante
Riviera de Levante


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© 2006
Tom Buhl

Genoa Italy carrugi
House of Mirrors Genoa
Portofino Harbor
Riviera de Levante
Focceta in Recco
  Portofino Italy harbor
I have many fond memories of the time I spent exploring Genoa, Italy. It is not a common tourist destination, at least for travelers from North America, except for perhaps one day as they make their way from France to the more traditional Italian destinations Rome, Florence and Venice.
An industrialized waterfront and a sprawl of development into the hills and mountains is the image many have of this one time maritime republic powerhouse. Genoa has suffered greatly as globalization and other socio-economic factors have diminished their ability to compete in these fields. Replacing old guard manufacturing with services and tourist income has been embraced, but quite a challenge as money to pursue this strategy has been difficult to come by. A number of recent events have helped create a will and funds to improve infrastructure, renovate attractions and to create new attractions.
Genoa, along with Lille, France, was a designated European Capital of Culture for 2004. Wide-ranging Capital of Culture projects built upon work begun with the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492. Additionally, reparations for the 2002 G8 Conference contributed further funding and attention. Today, locals and visitors reap the benefits of this decade-long process.
Three of the Via Garibaldi palazzos take you back to the 16th century’s splendorous age of Genovese Doges. Also known as Strada Nouva, this pedestrian area is an open and orderly layout – a sharp contrast to the nearby carruggi’s narrow, twisting maze of the ancient city. Here, we are treated to the 16th century aristocracy’s magnificent expression of success – collecting and patronage of art and artists. Palazzo Carrega Cataldi is a delight of stucco and fresco decorations but the lasting memory will be the overwhelming mirrored and gilded gallery. Like many of Genoa’s buildings this one suffered extensive bombing damage during World War II. A great many of the gallery’s ornate elements are now housed in museums around the world, however the restoration credibly recreates the splendor and experience.
Palazzo Lomellino features the controversial frescos depicting the landing of Faith in the New World. Disputes between the artist and owner kept this ambitious project from completion. The twentieth century dustup between Diego Rivera’s RCA Building mural and the Rockfeller family was merely carrying on an ancient tradition.
Can a showroom calling itself a glamour design store be possibly understating its case? Absolutely! Via Garibaldi 12 is glamourous to the nth degree. Setting up shop in the Plazzo Campanella, this Renaissance palace was built by Baldassarre Lomellino, restored in 1772, then in 2001 the architect William Sawaya arranged a multipurpose setting presently converted into an exquisite, harmonious and exciting fusion of ancient styles with latest trends. Below glided frescos you’ll find an Alvar Aalto vase, a Hermés watch, Bauhaus porcelain and a sofa by Zaha Hadid. Tantalizing and inspiring.
A few blocks from Via Garibaldi take the Castelletto lift to Spianata Castelletto (Belvedere L. Montaldo) for breathtaking panoramic views of the city, harbor and Alpine backdrop which define Genoa.
Moving from the opulent to the gritty, but picturesque carruggi, immerses you emotionally and literally in the heart of Genoa. One of Italy’s four medieval maritime republics, this was the entry to the city as well as an important aspect of its defense structure. Today, the maze of ancient alleys and lanes give us a sense of timelessness and discovery. Long a place for new arrivals at the bottom of the economic ladder, this area is undergoing a gradual gentrification as young and young-at-heart professionals are shaping the old city’s renaissance. They are trading space and perhaps modern conveniences for a lifestyle of richness and vitality.
Wandering through the carruggi evokes that feeling of timelessness and discovery found in situations and environments where you are experiencing something unpackaged and different from your regular world. We did find ourselves in some areas that would not be recommended. Passages become smaller, muted sounds of tension or confrontation emanate behind walls or from around corners, used syringes lay about, but we didn't feel directly threatened so we just increased our pace a bit and moved towards areas of wider passages and brighter lights as best our intuition could guide us.
Visitors staying in or near Centro Storico, historical center, experience a rich melange of people, sights, sounds and smells that characterize the northern Italian love of life. A key focal point for Genoa’s cultural activities is Palazzo Ducale. This museum hosts exhibits temporary and permanent along with serving as cultural community center and gathering place. Around the corner is Genoa’s landmark black and white striped cathedral, San Lorenzo. Across from Palazzo Ducale look closely and you’ll discover Piazza della Erbe with its small shops, bars and cafes. Night after night we were drawn to this area to enjoy the tapas cafes, meet people from all over the world and to savor our magical time in this historic port city.
One sunny afternoon we came across a peace march proceeding from the waterfront area along Via San Lorenzo to the Cathedral. While marching and displaying banners pleading for peace and to bring the boys home the marchers sang the hauntingly beautiful World War II era tune that had the similar theme, “bring the partisans home.” Back then it was to bring them back to Rome which was occupied by the Nazis. Today’s plea was to bring them back from unpopular foreign excursions (Iraq). I found myself humming the tune throughout my visit. Several months later I heard a gypsy boy playing that song while visiting Rome. That brought back fond memories and a bit of a tear.
The Darsena and Porto Antico harbor area has been transformed from a dreary, neglected space into a major attraction. Today you’ll find Europe’s largest aquarium, the sea museum and a family-friendly entertainment center. The aquarium has sharks, dolphins, penguins and over 600 species of ocean critters. Children are even allowed to touch some of them such as rays in a special pond. To the west, the Galata Museum of the Sea tells the story of Genoa and its relationship to the sea and power exercised by those who dared to conquer its challenges. Extremely well-conceived and written storyboards complement artifacts, multi-media and full-scale replicas of important vessels. The rise and fall of many Mediterranean states and cultures are told through developments in navigation. Because Genoa’s destiny has been so tied to the sea, this is one of the most interesting ways to learn of that evolution. Movie aficionados will love the montage of film clips reliving the glamour of cruising as seen through the eyes of Hollywood from the early days of the cinema to the present.
On the east side of the aquarium a row of cotton warehouses has been transformed into a playground of cinemas, cafes, gelato vendors and arcades. Only two decades ago this area was cut off by the elevated highway and forgotten by all except for those who worked the docks. Today the harbor area is vibrant, entertaining and educational.
A favorite late night stroll is along the Promenade which runs east from Fiera di Genova through Lido and to the quaint fishing village of Boccadasse which now serves world-renown gelato in a multitude of flavors well into the wee hours. Along this popular (and long) stroll are beach clubs, sports facilities, bars and restaurants. Taking this walk during a full moon is especially enchanting as moon shadows accompany your journey with young lovers, children, families and long-time residents enjoying the famous south-facing ocean climate and views. Boccadasse is far enough away from the bright lights of Genoa so we enjoyed a great view of the stars as we savored our treats.
East of Genoa you’ll find Portofino, the crown jewel of the Riviera di Levante. The short ferry ride from Santa Margherita is a dramatic entryway into this fabulous hideaway. The little shops, cafes and apartments create an artist’s vision with their variety of brilliant hues contrasting the deep blue of the harbor. At this playground and refuge for the rich and famous you can enjoy a relaxing lunch or drink in a small cafe, visit shops and galleries catering to Portofino’s jet-setters or simply bask in the tranquil beauty beneath the Mediterranean sun. Above the town is a lovely network of paths with spectacular views of the town and coastline.
Return from Portofino by the local road takes you through Recco and the century-old home of de ö Vittorio Trattoria. Twin brothers, Vittorio and Gianni Bisso, carry on the family tradition of lovingly and enthusiastically serving traditional northern Italian cuisine with a passion and flair. When we arrived they were conducting a pesto workshop for visitors from a cruise shop. Pesto being Liguria’s signature contribution to the culinary world. As we were talking over a superb lunch, a gentleman who was dining with his wife came over and introduced himself. He picked up from our conversation that we were special (or something). They were from London and come over a couple of times a year just to have lunch or dinner at Da ö Vittorio. Or so he said.
In addition to funds for sprucing up, a long-term benefit of the Capital of Culture designation is that Genoa now offers a very strong calendar of music, poetry, theater, cinema, dance presentations and festivals scheduled throughout the year. Check online sites to see what events coincide with your visit. They will have to continue their hard work and remained focused to compete for attention from travelers, but this writer is looking forward to returning soon. It felt more like a place to be than just a string of sights.





Related Tom Buhl photos

A one-day walking tour of Genoa (in English by the Int’l Women’s Club of Genoa)

Official Liguria web information (in English)

Via Garibaldi 12 (the English version is inconsistent, but you’ll understand!)

Da ö Vittorio trattoria (in Italian)

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Genoa article index
Via Garibaldi
Piazza della Erbe
Darsena and Portico Antico
Galatta Museum of the Sea
De ö Vittorio Trattoria



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