Genoa

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Visitors either love or hate Genoa and few can remain indifferent. Most are wary at first and then begin to appreciate the city after having taken time to discover it. As Dickens wrote in 1843: 'I would never have thought that I would have become attached to the stones of the Genoan streets, and to think of the city with affection, as the place in which I had spent many hours of peace and happiness'. Even today, Genoa provokes conflicting feelings, due to the fact that it is a place of contradictions. It is a Mediterranean port, which has always traded with nearby countries and so it has assimilated some of their habits and words, and it has always been a city of merchants and bankers, known by all as the most English city in Italy.

It is easy to be enraptured by the maze of narrow streets in the historic centre. Genoa is a vertical city, where the sky can sometimes feel very close and give one a feeling of dizziness. Refined palaces are side by side with humble houses, which in the historic centre, are all close to the beautiful churches of the city, which have austere, black and white striped, marble facades or opulent, baroque architecture. Genoa has a secret beauty that can be found in its daring architecture, traces of splendid frescoes and imposing, noble palaces. Beginning in Strada Nuova, now known as Via Garibaldi, this is a visible sign of the historic period of the seventeenth century, when the great, Genovese families were at their richest. This is a unique street because of the urban planning that it has inspired and the number of palaces here and their beauty. Visitors can enter the internal gardens and see the frescoes in the great salons. Some of these buldings are now museums and are home to works of art by Genovese artist and the great, Flemish school, such as the (Galleria di Palazzo Bianco and the Galleria di Palazzo Rosso). A visit to the nearby National Gallery of Palazzo Spinola is also a chance to learn about the habits and furnishings of Genovese homes of the period.

Via Balbi is also rich with palaces and now houses the university buildings of the School of the Humanities. Via Assarotti, is a sign of the nineteenth century expansion towards the hills, Via XX Settembre is a modern, elegant street full of business and commerce, and finally, Corso Italia, is the promenade leading to the sea and Boccadasse.

The real essence of daily Genoese life, is not found in the rich palaces, but in the maze of alleyways the historic centre, such as Via di Sottoripa. This is the place where Genoese will stop for a chat, amidst the cries of street vendors and smells of coffee, fried food, perfumes and the unmistakeable smell of pesto, which is a typically Ligurian sauce. Thanks to the Acquario di Genova, Genoa's Acquarium, the largest and most modern of its kind in Europe that was built on the anniversary of Columbus in 1992, the city is now a tourist destination. People also come here to visit the Old Port area, which has been renovated for public use, and the new Expo area has become, along with the more classic Lanterna, the new symbol of Genoa. From the top of the old piers, and the lift on the Bigo, a metallic structure built on the Old Pier, there is a splendid view over the whole city. The Republic of Genoa, a naval power, had to defend itself on land with a wall and surrounding forts. This was built in the first half of the seventeenth century and there is a comprehensive view of the city from here, which includes the remains of the towers, a testimony to past greatness and modern day towers. The stupendous view embraces the whole of the Ligurian coast, from Monte di Portofino to Capo Mele, as well as the Ligurian Appenines. Genoa has many satellite cities, which have been incorporated into the same council since 1926. The origins of these places are where Genovese used to have their summer residences and some of the towns, such as Nervi e a Pegli, still have parks that are true islands of greenery. As a final note, R. Wagner summed it up in 1853 when he wrote, 'I have never seen anything like Genoa! It is something indescribably beautiful, grandiose, distinctive'I really would not know how to begin to tell you the impression that it has made and continues to make on me'.

History of Genoa

The name Genoa is believed to derive from 'Genua', founded by the two headed Giano, protector of ships and coins. This was a city of two faces, which looks both inland and towards the sea. Genoa, as well as being full of mythical origins, has always been a crossroads of traffic and culture, between continental Europe and the Mediterranean, thanks to it natural position and the initiative of its inhabitants. After the conquest of the Padana plain in 569, Genoa became the main, Byzantine stronghold with its own fleet, uniting the commercial and seafaring sides of the city. Conquered and plundered by the Rotari from 641 to 643 and then by Saracen pirates, the city only began to develop again after the tenth century, thanks to help from the monasteries and abbey and the first wall that finally surrounded the city. The great, powerful and prosperous, sea commerce of Genoa started in the eleventh century and, the city rivalled Pisa and Venice. Genoa's participation in the Eastern Crusades, as well as responding to religious needs and the aspirations of the Genoan soldiers, made the city a valued importer of riches and new products. In 1098, the merchants took over the commercial district of Antiochia, and the 'Compagna' was set up the next year, as the first communal associative instituition, giving life to a mixed, ruling class of aristocratic, feudal and mercantile origin. The historic centre was divided into eight districts and the houses had to have porticoes to show the limits of each area. These are still visible in Via di Sottoripa and were opened in 1125. Churches in roman style were built here, including the Chiesa di S.M. di Castello, Chiesa di S.Donato and the A href=http://www.wcities.com/55/2/36/160/102519/detail.html>Cathedral of S.Lorenzo, , which was built in 1118. The 'del Barbarossa' walls were built from 1155 to 1160, of which there are still some remains including Porta Soprana or di S.Andrea and Porta dei Vacca (o di S.Fede).

Genoa increased its business in the east, and in 1284, in the naval battle of Meloria, it defeated Pisa, which was also an important port, and so gained control of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Contrary to its naval victories, it had a bitter fight on land for supremacy and power, led by the Doria and Spinola families who were Ghibellines and the Fieschi and Grimaldi families who were Guelfs. Even the election in 1339 of the first doge, Simon Boccanegra, did nothing to placate the struggles. In this atmosphere of conflict and tension, the population got together in 'alberghi', organised around the most prestigious families. Those who followed them, gave up their own name and political rank to assume that of the house they had chosen on the basis of geographical vicinity or family ties. This period produced gothic architecture, characterised by the use of black and white marble to decorate facades. Popular with the religious orders from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, this led to the construction of around ten churches including, the churches of S.Agostino and S.Domenico, the façade of S.Lorenzo, and also the civil palaces and towers. The Doria district, facing onto Piazza S.Matteo, is a magnificent example of this and is still relatively untouched, as is the Palace of the Capitano del Popolo and the Grimaldi houses in Piazza S.Luca. As there was a large population increase because of the economic success of the city, it almost tripled in size, and in the first half of the fourteenth century, a new city wall was built.

At the end of the next century, which was characterised by a profound artistic transformation, with the intervention of Lombardian and Tuscan painters and sculptors, the Genoan Christopher Columbus discovered America. There followed a period in which Genoa, defeated by Venice, was dominated by Charles VII of France, by Francesco Sforza, the Visconti of Milano and then by the French again. In 1522, the Republic was set up and in 1528, the Admiral Andrea Doria seized power and the city came under the rule of Spain. A number of pirate attacks occurred along the Ligurian coast in the second half of the sixteenth century, when barbarians destroyed, plundered and kidnapped in Rapallo, Recco, Lavagna, Moneglia and Sori. Watch out towers were built after this from Arenzano to Moneglia. Despite the loss of the Mediterranean colonies, the next thirty years of the dictatorship of Andrea Doria gave stability and a new constitution to the Republic with a radical renewal of building carried out by the mot famous, renaissance masters, from Rome, Tuscany, Venice and abroad, including Rubens and Van Dyck. The end of internal fighting and foreign domination led to an extraordinary blossoming of art and a period of great ecomomic prosperity. The noble families competed to commission masterpieces by the most famous artists of the time. The Genoan baroque, which was very elegant and sophisticated, was innovated mainly by P. Puget and F. Parodi, followed later by A. Maragliano and the sculpture of F. Schiaffino. Outstanding eighteenth century painters include A. Magnasco. In 1746 Genoa was occupied by the Austrians but managed to overcome them led by Balilla. In 1797, the Democatic Ligurian Republic was set up on the French model. Besieged by the Austrians again and defended by the French General Massena, in 1805 Genoa became part of the French Empire, and in 1815, the new Duchy of Genoa was united with the Kingdom of Sardinia. In the nineteenth century, Genoa went through another phase of urban renewal led by Carlo Barabino and the Cantone brothers with the opening of large roads and some important public works, such as the Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno (Cemetery of Staglieno) and the Carlo Felice Theatre. Some famous figures from the Risorgimento have Ligurian origins such as Mazzini, Bixio and Mameli. Garibaldi's expedition left from the Quarto rock, at the east of the city, which led to the unification of Italy. Genoa was the first merchant port at the end of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the entire region contributed both men and means to the two world wars and the fight for liberation. After the industrial boom of the 1960's and the successive economic stagnation, the port and the iron and steel industry was faced with crisis, and Genoa became a cultural centre, a new tourist destination and a city of art. It now faces the G8 in 2001 and will be European Cultural Capital in 2004.

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