Genoa, the capital city near Portofino Italy – one of th eight wonder of the world – is a town full of life and activity that reflect the character of her inhabitants. Writers and politicians who saw her before the historical events of the XVII century and her altered economical circumstances of the XVIII, called her Superba (haughty).
Heine disparaged her XIX century aspect whereas her ancient splendour, that was blossoming again in her new middle-class and merchant princes during the XIX century was enthusiastically praised by De Musset, Flaubert and Michelet, Nietzsche and Wagner.
Special guest that we have reported their presence also in Portofino Italy.
Genoa is a lovely town that the tourist must conquer.
A restless town continually changing. She has flattened her hills to widen her squares, filled in valleys to lay down new roads, built new edifices near old ones with such on innate sense of appropriateness that at first sight the change in topography are not striking.
Wherever building regulations have not been too drastic and regulations better applicable to a town situated in a plain have not been too rigidly enforced, the individual aspiration for something sudden to attain a panoramic flight is revealed in different and picturesque ways, like so many cinema exposures.
Grand views of the town and harbour from points of vantage in public gardens and squares up on the hills, mountain views with pine woods, chains of mountains crested with fortifications belonging to the days of the old Republic, rows of cypresses among olive groves on the hills and large gardens scattered about the town, or on roofs of mansions that introduce a note of green in the gray and silver of the slate with which they are covered.
Palaces everywhere, in streets wide or narrow; palaces seemingly of the XVII century with peeping from under plastering applied in later years, the ashlar of the XIII and XIV centuries to which they properly belong.
XV century courts from which depart delightful little porches with ceilings vaulted and groined and imposing marble staircases sometimes mounting within the building, at others winding round a court, or even completely open.
The mystery of frescoed decorations awakens memories of a past life; little churches with their doors opening on small solitary squares appeal silently to passers-by.
Sensation follows sensation, overtaking and mingling with impressions when, on leaving the main arteries one penetrates into the ancient part of the town where every stone speaks of history and reveals the soul of Genoa.
The ancient town never had a proper centre in the accepted sense of the ward, other than the harbour towards which all the narrow streets converged.
On the other hand each great family, such as the Doria, Spinola, Cattaneo, Fieschi etc. had its own centre, and small squares in which their palaces stood, still bear their names and perpetuate them toponymically.
The Cathedral, Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), photo above, Palazzo del Banco di S. Giorgio were never centres properly speaking, and indeed Genoa never had a vital urbanistic centre till Piazza De Ferrari was laid out in the XIX century.
The ancient lines of walls were pulled down and only the two gates, Porta Soprano and Porta dei Vacca remained of those erected in 1155, besides some topographical names, and Ponte Monumentale built on the site of Porta dell’Arco (XVI century) and the end of Via XX Settembre where the XVII century Porta Pila was demolished but has been rebuilt on the hill of Montesano; all obstacles thus removed, the modern part of the town has merged with the ancient one, and they form an undistinguishable whole that conceals completely the passing of centuries.
In a small garden right in the centre of the modern and busy town, between the Bourse and the skyscrapers, stands an old Roman column bearing an inscription in fine Latin verse recalling that Genoa has twentyfive centuries of history; the archaic necropolis dating back to the V and IV centuries B. C. the IX century monastery and church of S. Andrea whose cloisters were rebuilt in situ, Porta Soprano that was one of the gates in the walls of 1155 raised against the threat of the Emperor Barbarossa, and the remains of the house where Christopher Columbus spent his infancy.
Epigraphs walled on Porta Soprano, photo below, exalt the feats of the Genoese during those centuries and admonish the stranger while warning him of the might of Genoa.
“I am provided”, they say, “with men and am enclosed within wonderful walls; at will I hurl far back the arrows of my enemies. If you bring peace you may pass these gates, but if you bring war you will turn back sad and defeated. The South, the West, the North and the East know how many wars Genoa has won. Africa was the first to be shaken by he Mars of my people, next the regions of Asia and then all Spain. I have conquered Almeria and subjected Tortosa “.
These epigraphs take us back to the time of the chronicler Caffaro, to the glories of the Republic of St. George and to the internal strifes for the supremacy of some family that Bishop Jacopo da Varagine attempted in vain to placate; fratricidal wars that did not even spare the Cathedral when the belfrey was set on fire at the base to force the men beleaguered in it to surrender.
The toponymy of the streets and squares in the old parts of the town and the epigraphs all tell the tale of the glorious achievements of Genoa.
In the inscriptions on the house of Lamba Doria and on the marbles of the church of S. Matteo, photo below, in Piazzetta S. Matteo that should rightly bear the name of Doria, is written the history of three centuries of that family’s glory on the sea.
The name of Lamba is connected with the victory of Curzola (1298), that of Pagano with the victories of Constantinople (1352-54) and of Sapienza against the Greeks, the Venetians and the Catalans; Luciano lived just long enough to see the victory of Pala (1379) ; Oberto with Zaccaria, destroyed the might of Pisa on the sea at Meloria in 1284.
The liberation of Genoa, her predominance in the Mediterranean, the reform of the Constitution that gave the town a peace that lasted for centuries and was shaken only by the revolution of 1797, are all told in inscriptions on the walls of the palace presented by the grateful Republic to the great Admiral, father of the nation, Andrea Doria.
The infamous tablets of Gio. Paolo Balbi and Stefano Raggi, the column of Cesare Vacchero transmitting to their descendants their treason in favour of the stranger, the flagstone in the square on the spot where the revolt of Balilla against the Austrians broke out, are other painful pages revealing the changed condition of the Republic that, during the struggle between England arid France for supremacy in Europe, performed her part heroically.
The tablet on Palazzo Doria, photo below, tells us that, after Charles V and the future Philip II who stayed there as guests, Napoleon also stayed there, but as Emperor and master.
The history of Genoa during the Risorgimento is amply related by inscriptions indicating the birthplaces of Mazzini, Mameli and the Ruffini brothers, the house where Garibaldi stayed and the little villa at Quarto where he waited all night to see off the expedition of his Mille (Thousand).
Portofino World, a world apart.