A (Partly) Rainy Day in Genoa, Part 1 of 2

I promised you recollections from my trip to Genoa. A bit belatedly, here they are:

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I stayed in the little seaside town of Arenzano, about ten miles outside Genoa. On the map above, you can see the coast, with Arenzano on the far left and Genoa on the far right. From my window at night, I could see Genoa lit up across the water. It was a gorgeous sight; unfortunately, my camera is useless in the dark. If it looks like the airport (“Genova Cristoforo Colombo”) is in the middle of the Mediterranean, that’s because it is. Just before the plane hits the tarmac, you have the confusing fear that you are about to plunge into the water. The runway is literally a few yards from the sea.

The walk from my hotel to the train took me through a beautiful park past a medieval-looking building, and then it’s a 20-minute ride to the city. I got off at the Piazza Principe Train Station, pinpointed “A” on the map below. This map shows you the station in relation to the rest of the city that I walked through that day.  Screen shot 2009-11-17 at 19.20.10

Alright, now let’s get a move on. The first stop is the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato, which was largely constructed in its current beautiful form in the 17th century, though the structure and location date back to the Franciscans in 1520. Originally, this spot was just outside the city wall, which is what “Vastato” refers to. (In Latin, vastinium is “a safety belt within the protective bastions.”) The outer facade was designed in the mid-19th century. For the rest of this post, please bear in mind that I am not a good photographer and I was using a camera phone. Here, then, is the basilica:

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At this point, we’ve gone downhill and southeast:

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I should mention that it was drizzling when I left the train station, but now it is a full downpour. I have no umbrella, so I’m doing some mild jogging. Fortunately, it eases up by the time I reach the waterfront. Genoa, as you’ve probably noticed, is inextricably linked to the water. Its harbor was used as far back as the Etruscans. During the Roman Empire, it lost much of its power to the capital and was even destroyed by the Carthaginians in 209 BC, but geography prevailed after Rome fell. First, the Ostrogoths took it over, then the Byzantines took it from them in the Gothic War. The Byzantines made it “the seat of their vicar.” The Lombards slowly took over Italy, starting in 568, and by 643, Genoa fell. For several centuries, it was just a little ole fishing village, but during that time, it was building a merchant fleet with the hopes of becoming a commercial hub in the future.

It’s a good idea to keep that history in mind while you’re walking along the coast. From the opposite side of the Strada Sopraelevata (that orange strip on the map that represents a highway), you can look at the harbor and imagine all the times residents of Genoa saw invading ships coming in and merchant ships going out. Meanwhile, the covered sidewalk you’re walking on gives enough of a taste of Italy to be its own distraction:

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That last picture is looking back at the city from the Piazza Caricamento. We’re now standing at point “B” on the map to the left, looking northwest. But only for a moment, and now we turn away from the sea.

Our next goal is to get to Via Garibaldi, the heart of the historical city. To do that requires a few narrow passages and bustling old walkways. You can just imagine how crowded they must have been after Genoa became a city-state in the 11th century. It was technically a theocracy, with the Holy Roman Emperor and the Bishop of Genoa as the faces of power, but most decisions were made by democratically elected “consuls.” Just as today, the wealthy interests usually found a way to direct that democratic power to themselves. And wealthy interests were aplenty. Finally Genoa was reaping the blessings of the sea. Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa, and Venice became known as the “Maritime Republics.” These Republics extended well beyond their own cities. Genoa’s territory included such other lands as Sardinia and Corsica, two islands that have had the misfortune to be tossed about from empire to empire throughout history. All this trade did have a downside, however: It was Genoa who brought the Black Death to Europe. Their traders had picked it up in Crimea along the Black Sea.

It should not surprise regular readers of this blog to learn that (1) wealth equals power and (2) wealth and power all too often lead to an unstoppable urge for more wealth and power, eventually at the cost of many lives. Genoa waged war after war to extend its glory—first joining the Crusades, then turning against its Crusade ally Venice, next against the Barbary pirates, and finally the French in the early 15th century, at which point it started losing power to the enemies it had made during its imperial prosperity.

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That was a fun hike. We are now, as the map indicates, at Via Garibaldi.

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On Via Garibaldi, we see, in the pictures below: In the upper left, the street itself; in the upper right and lower right, the Palazzo of Nicolo Gramaldi, a wealthy 16th-century merchant nicknamed “the Monarch;” and in the lower left, the Palazzo of Nicolosio Lomellino, another wealthy 16th-century merchant.

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This post is long enough for one day. I’ll pick up here tomorrow, and we’ll wind through the rest of the city. I must thank Google and Wikipedia for the maps and history, respectively, as well as my trusty Blackberry for all the photos. I hope you enjoyed this little tour and will join me for round two.