The ravages of time can be seen in Genoa’s stones. A major revolution modernised the city, with wide streets and large buildings.
But the distant Middle Ages are always present. We live a modern life in an ancient context. Genoa has a mediaeval heart, and its history is intertwined with the great civilisations of the Mediterranean. As Europe’s port, for centuries it dominated the surrounding sea and land.
Inside the city walls, the urban fabric was designed to be compact, and reflected the economic, social and political structure of the city and its citizens.
Powerful walls broken up by imposing towers and gates surround alleys and small squares. Secret spaces hide in irregular openings and on bends. The thousand-year-old porticoes in Sottoripa, swarming with pedestrians, contrast with the small, silent convent cloisters.
This is a stone city that still recounts its glorious past as a great seafaring republic and international financial centre.
Workshops and fondaci (merchants’ warehouses and residences) point to lively and prosperous trading, the tall towers recount the famous families and their political intrigues, and hidden chapels describe privileges and exclusive concessions.
The black and white of the marble and stone do not mean simplicity: the decorations that survive are sculptural and triumphal. They describe the achievements of the condottieri, the mercenary captains, in the Holy Land and their power, greatness and honour. Allegorical symbols, signs of a visual and striking culture, real and imaginary animals, plants and flowers still embellish the churches and palazzi.
Stone rules supreme, surrounding us in the paving slabs and vertiginous walls, and the suspended bridges that conceal hidden passages. Solid gateways and mighty railings. Groin and umbrella vaults. Steep steps and slate tiles, the small amount of red brick standing out and contrasting with the white marble.
Tall bell towers covered in tiles stick out above triangular cloisters, and the role of the magister, the master mason, can be seen in the vertical, towering architecture and the extraordinary use of the little space available, which called for unique solutions.
The Churches of San Giorgio and San Giovanni Battista remind us of the conquests made by the Genoese during the Crusades, the liberation of Jerusalem under the banner of the Republic, with its red cross on a white background.
Statues of saints accompany pedestrians as they walk along the alleys in the small shrines that offer protection and mark the intersections in the labyrinth of caruggi. Sometimes their presence is imperceptible: you are never alone in this city.