“I wandered for a long time at hazard through the tortuous by-ways of the city, I said to myself, not without an accent of private triumph, that here at last was something it would be almost impossible to modernise….. Genoa, as I have hinted, is the crookedest and most incoherent of cities. …Down about the basements, in the close crepuscular alleys, the people are for ever moving to and fro or standing in their cavernous doorways and their dusky, crowded shops, calling, chattering, laughing, lamenting, living their lives in the conversational Italian fashion.” Henry James
The largest historic city centre in Europe is a living and vibrant part of the city of Genoa, perched atop a hill overlooking the sea. Modern changes have embellished it, without taking away its history and art.
Genoa’s mercantile past re-emerges in its streets, and the distant Middle Ages can still be found in everyday life. Ships moored against the city walls, surrounded by a multitude of people: dockers, coal handlers, slaves, notaries and ship owners all ready for business, unloading and transportation.
A large Mediterranean port. Different voices and languages mix to form what is now the Genoese dialect, a mixture of parlance and words. Handcarts invade narrow streets and cross paths with the sedan chairs of the nobility. You can’t see inside, but from the decoration and the way the bearers are dressed it is clearly a rich aristocrat. Young maids hurry around, walking beneath the porticoes to avoid the crowd. Strong smells of food and humanity mix together.
The sun is rarely seen; it hardly ever manages to reach the street. Genoa is secretive and not easy to unearth, and it doesn’t allow the sun in. Only a few lucky souls can enjoy it from the upper floors of their houses. Pitched roofs and small terraces are infrequent and sought-after spaces.
This is a closed and inaccessible city, difficult to discover and reserved, not prone to showing off. Its mediaeval streets form a vast labyrinth, a maze of extremely tall houses, known as ‘tower houses’. The city feels lived in, not an open-air museum. The ghosts of those who lived here in the past are still present and visible in the walls, in the gates, in the bas-reliefs, in the inscriptions and in the engravings.
Then, all of a sudden, everything opens out into a small square. A palazzo or a church. Powerful families could also rule over a small part of this unique city.
Arches, pillars, marble and black stone – a Middle Ages made of stone that still hangs on, and which slowly reveals itself to those who wish to discover it.
The government buildings demonstrate the power of a great Republic. The Doge’s Palace and its Grimaldina Tower, the city walls and the majestic entrance gates, the prisons and the fondaci, merchants’ living quarters and storehouses, tell the story of a life of business and trade, hard work and dedication. Great politicians, great adventurers and sailors of international renown like Christopher Columbus all explored the streets of this city, which is incoherent and completely out of the ordinary.