Genoa is a city where you can easily get aching feet. It smells of “the big wide world,” the Mediterranean is omnipresent and dominates everyday life. So it already was in 1451 as Christopher Columbus was born, just here in the city. Here he conceived his plan to explore the western route to India. Today most tourists come to Genoa only to take the boat and raise anchor to holiday destinations, because here many cruise ships and ferries to Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily starts. But the city itself is worth a visit.
The streets of the pedestrianized centre are sometimes so narrow that the residents are able to shake hands with people at the opposite window. Laundry hanging on the streets, vendors selling fruit and fish, and street musicians accompany the Mediterranean atmosphere.
“Genoa is indescribably beautiful, gorgeous, characteristic,” the composer Richard Wagner has so described once the city, that counts today 700,000 inhabitants. And “gorgeous” is actually the word that best characterizes the buildings around the shopping streets of Via Balbi, Via Cairoli and Via Garibaldi. “La Superba” – the proud – as the Italians call Genoa for this impressive palaces that rise up to seven floors high in the sky. Often they house collections of paintings or surprise with charming courtyards.
From the medieval Palazzo Ducale in Piazza Matteotti, the former seat of the Genoese Doge, it is only a short walk to the harbour, which is one of the largest in the Mediterranean sea. Star architect Renzo Piano has designed it on the occasion of the Columbus celebrations and the opening of the Expo 1992. “A port is now even a port,” he said at the time – and probably he meant that one can make it difficult to transform it in something else as a modern architect. In spite of this, Piano, who is himself Genoese, succeeded in bridging the gap between modern and historic buildings and transforming the district into a place of relax and amusement. In addition to the surreal design “Il Bigo“, in which a panoramic elevator of glass is built, Genoa harbour houses today one of the largest aquariums in Europe. Starfishes, dolphins, sharks, seals, penguins and a lot of varieties of fishes from all over the world crowd more than 50 basins of the aquariums. The antique cotton warehouse houses restaurants, shops and cinemas and the “City of kids”, that is considered the greatest pleasure resort of its kind in Italy.
And above all stands the “Lanterna“, the landmark of the city. You can climb the 76 meter high lighthouse, which offers a panoramic breathtaking view. In the foreground there are the harbour and the sea, behind the hill crowned with forts and what remains of the fortified walls; at its feet Genoa extends in pastel colours.
In the famous aquarium in the Old Port 6000 species of sea and coastal area animals live. “Stars” are the sharks, the favourite ones are dolphins and penguins. Every year the aquarium counts 1.5 million visitors! A lot of the revenue is invested in science and animal welfare, which is considered as exemplary, with research projects and conservation activities. Besides fishes, sea mammals and sea birds, the latest achievement is a species-appropriate terrarium with tortoises from Madagascar.
Biosfera by Renzo Piano
Inaugurated in October 2003 the Biosfera (the Biosphere) by Renzo Piano houses a rich assortment of tropical organisms which live in symbiosis. The historical and botanical collections in the city of Genoa have a group of fully grown tropical trees, which are very rare to see and the familiar tree ferns, perhaps the largest ever grown in pots. There are also various plants, people said are useful, and should point to the urgent need to preserve the rainforest for mankind, since the income coming from each hectare of deforestation today is lower than the income from cultivations (rubber, coffee, cocoa).
Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Built around 1098 and expanded over the following centuries, this magnificent cathedral solemnly keeps loose ashes of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the city of Genoa. Not to be missed is the Museum of Treasure of the Cathedral and the Diocesan Museum. Impressive is the more than 1000 years old Cathedral of San Lorenzo, whose interior boasts a mixture of Gothic and strict lush baroque decorations. The Church has two bell towers, a typical Genoese black and white facade and decorated portals.
Genoa visitors should also visit the 18th-century Columbus house in Piazza Dante.
In the evening you can dine in one of the restaurants in the old town. Genoa is finally home to the most famous delicacy of Liguria: Pesto alla Genovese. Besides basil, Parmesan and pecorino cheese, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts are crushed for the green pasta sauce. Delicious is also warm focaccia, a flat bread made with flour, salt, dry yeast and olive oil. Satisfied visitors will then agree with the French writer Gustave Flaubert, who once wrote in the 19th century: “Now I’m in a beautiful place, in the truly beautiful city of Genoa.”