by Ted Welch
Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 04:08:00 AM EST
I liked Genoa when we had a brief stay at Xmas, so I was happy for an excuse to go back - since it was the weekend of Valentine's day, what better than an Italian city?
Since Xmas I had acquired a rare copy (thanks to the internet) of a book on Genoa by Edmund Howard, who'd been British Consul-General there for four years in the 1960s. All quotations are from it, unless otherwise indicated:
... I hope in a small compass to do justice to the wealth and variety of its architecture, painting and sculpture ... in this way I should wish to arouse in many visitors to Italy a desire to become well acquainted with a mysterious and altogether fascinating city and to share with them my enthusiasm for it.
Genoa: History and art in an old seaport
take a European trip - afew
The old-world charm of the Bristol Hotel, Genoa - "All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
Zeffirino, apparently a favourite of Frank Sinatra:
I thought I was smart, booking it for Feb 13th and escaping the inflated Valentine charges. Apparently St. Valentine didn't approve - I was too sick to eat anything and we left early. But I didn't notice any Valentine's day menus in restaurants; I thought maybe the Italians don't feel the need for a SPECIAL day for romance:
People of Italy see Valentine's Day as a holiday imported from US, just like Halloween and Mother's Day. For the love and lovers country of Italy, the major day for celebration of love is il giorno della festa degli innamorati. As lovers' exclusively celebrate this day family members and friends do not exchange gifts.
In recent times however, lovers in Italy celebrate Valentine's Day by expressing their love to sweethearts. Couples usually go out for dinners at pizzeria or ristorante. Just as in several other countries, the festival has been commercialized to a great extent.
But then commerce is not exactly alien to the Genoese and they had long fought to control it in their region:
On the way we had lunch in Ventimiglia, once controlled by Genoa:
[In the 12th c.] ... fired by civic pride, religious fervour and mercantile enterprise, the Genoese had consolidated their position on the mainland by securing the cession of feudal lands from lords who swore fealty to the Compagna ... occupying Sestri Levante, Portovenere and Lerici on the eastern coast; Ventimiglia, San Remo and Taggia on the western ...
They seem to have been a determined, independent and stubborn bunch:
... in 1162 Frederick Barbarossa, to whom the Genoese refused to pay tribute, granted them, in return for naval aid in the conquest of Sicily, a decree of full communal autonomy.
... Frederick II's further formal order to the Genoese to pay homage in 1227 was resisted and led to a breach of relations.
The final defeat of Frederick was accomplished first at Parma in 1248 when the forces of the Lombard League, assisted by Genoese crossbowmen, routed the imperialists, and then at Fossalta di Modena in 1249.
"Religion is the opium of the people ...":
Religious fervour was good business for the Genoese:
The overthrow of the Emperor did much to restore Genoa's self-confidence. Another almost contemporary event restored her economic strength - the building of a large part of the great fleet of 1000 and more ships which was to transport the troops of Saint Louis of France on the seventh crusade (1248-1252)
The port from the roof of the Palazzo Rosso:
... The expansion of commerce, following the setting down in so many parts of the Mediterranean of trading communities, led to an accumulation of great wealth in the hands of of the Genoese ... Nor were they scrupulous about what they dealt in. If the bargain was a good one it was indifferent to them whether the merchandize were a bale of silk or a human being ...
... the profits of trading which should have been divided between the citizen and the state went almost entirely into the pockets of the commercial aristocracy ...
So unlike today !
Via Garibaldi - formerly Strada Nouva, where the rich built their palaces to flaunt their wealth in the 16th c.:
One of the palaces is now the town hall - with happy bride - on Valentine's day: "Yes, I actually said: '... and obey'"
As we've seen, the Genoese weren't very good at obeying, and this building has a statue celebrating a later example:
The view from the porch leads up a flight of balustraded stairs in the centre of the atrium, past the vaulted portico into the grandiose courtyard ... In the centre ... is a bronze statue of the Balilla (a boy) in the act of flinging his historic stone at the Austrian soldiers ...
It led to a general revolt and the otherthrowing of Austrian rule - but by the people not the official leaders:
The government tried to calm the crowd and sent an emissary to General Adorno asking that the Austrian troops should be careful not to provoke the people. Adorno replied contemptuously that his men were not afraid of the Genoese."
The Genoese taught him a lesson - inspired by an outraged boy.
Palazzo Rosso is, like the Palazzo Bianco, a museum now:
M in Palazzo Rosso - "I could get used to style like this":
Me and my new Genoese mate: "Are you sure she's safe with that instrument old boy?"
Palazzo Bianco - as it happened we timed our visit just right, starting in the sun, and ending as the palaces were lit up:
Palazzo Rosso from Palazzo Bianco:
The sun set on the Genoese Republic (sorry, I hate it when TV news makes those kinds of links :-)). Revolutionary ideas spread:
The habits of thought of both the rulers and the ruled had become ossified. There was a glaring contrast between the wealth of a few and the poverty of the many ...
...poor nobles were ... part of a stagnant mass in the 18th century society of Genoa, but some of them were dissatisfied enough to become propagators of the new ideas of the Enlightenment and they were worked on by the emissaries of the Paris Convention and Directory with such effect as to make conservative Genoa the pepperpot of Jacobinism in Italy.
... if the Napoleonic era ... was ... the direct cause of the demise of the Genoese Republic ...nevertheless ...it helped to create the environment in which the new spirit of the Risorgiomento could develop.
- appropriately with the Opera House in the background:
Garibaldi [was] the man of action and predestined hero of romance in a romantic age. He was born in Nice in 1807, but his first effort to escape from his family and go to sea had Genoa as its goal
Many eyes in Genoa and along the coast must have watched the [ships] Piemonte and Lombardo disappear round the mountain of Portofino with exultation and apprehension. Seldom have a thousand men, so uncertain of support, so poorly equipped, so haphazardly trained achieved so dramatic a change in the course of history.
Garibaldi had won a signal victory. He gained worldwide renown and the adulation of Italians.
... Having finished the conquest of Sicily, he crossed the Strait of Messina, with the help of the British Navy, and marched northward. Garibaldi's progress was met with more celebration than resistance, and on September 7 he entered the capital city of Naples, by train.
Our hotel was in Via 20th Settembre:
The 20th September, as every Italian schoolboy knows, is the date when ... the temporal power of the Papacy came to an end and when Italy became at last a united country. It was the culmination of the Risorgiamento.
The spirit of rebellion persisted:
During the war, the left-wing parties were exceedingly active in organizing resistance to the Germans ... and, togther with other parties in the Genoese Committee of National Liberation, they had driven out the Germans and were in control of the city when the Allied forces arrived there in April 1945.
But in the 20th c. Genoa was something of a backwater; as Howard says, many tourists saw it as an irritating obstacle in their way as they made for the beaches of resorts.
There is difficulty in accessing the centre of the town due to the narrowness of the streets ... During the 20th century, the historical centre gradually became isolated from the newer parts of the city and an elevated highway was built which forms a noisy and visual barrier between the old city and the sea. Growing traffic, insufficient street lighting and garbage dumped in the streets all add to the problems of the historical centre.
I like exploring the narrow streets of the old town, but can you imagine venturing down this at night in the 16th c. - or even the early 20th ? You might well stop for a quick prayer.
You might turn and run back out to the cathedral:
But today Genoa is still evolving:
New gods, bearing old names.
Today Genoa appears as an example of urban and socio-economic regeneration. A city with a glorious past as a maritime republic, home of great explores, centre of the state- controlled industry for a long time. After a long economic crisis has managed to renew itself, adapt to the present and plan for the future. Today the city has a different image, still based on the traditional pillars of its economy such as the commerce, the port and the industry, but with an expanding advanced technology sector and a burgeoning tourist trade.
... A new culture has pervaded and transformed the city, opening it up and making it intersting to visit and to discover. Genova has gained today a new dimension. The cultural events like Genoa Capital of culture aims to leave a legacy which will last beyond the 2004.
Selfishly, I hope tourism doesn't develop too much; as with Bologna, it still feels quite Italian and is not full of tourist hordes like poor Florence.
I like the raffish charm of Piazza delle Erbe in the old town, but with a bit of a view.
Bordighera - a drink on the way back:
Passing the lower coastal mountains - behind them the higher ones have had metres of snow:
Back to Nice, Garibaldi's birthplace, not far from the mountain snows and blocked roads, where life is un peu plus douce:
But it won't be long before we return to Genoa; Howard lived there for four years and remained enthusiastic, I've only been there for a few days. There's still plenty to see, but if you want a break from the city there are the hills and mountains behind it:
The view from the Palazzo Rosso to the north:
I remember also walking in the mountains behind Genoa (only 20 minutes away by car) where all is light and air; from where you can see a hundred miles of dazzling coastline and range after range of Apennines and Alps with the honeycomb city, enclosing its ship laden harbour, at your feet and the changeable gulf beyond, blue or gold or beaten into a white froth by one of the ferocious winds which whips across it. Up on those high crests I have walked for hours without meeting anyone and in springtime over carpets of aromatic flowers.
There are also little coastal towns on either side. Howard waxes lyrical again:
San Fruttuoso: This is undoubtedly one of the places no tourist should miss seeing. The setting of this fishing village is breathtaking. A pinewood covers both sides of the the steep valley which runns into a small bay of deep blue and green water.
Portofino: This is a fishing village of sheer enchantment, the character of which has changed (not for the better) since it has become one of the tourist centres of the Mediterranean. While the beauty of San Fruttuoso, set in a deep valley, among pinewoods and huge precipices, is essentially wild, that of Portofino is gentle and entrancing, and is best seen nowadays in spring or autumn when the big crowds are not sprawling over it. It is a dream of what a fishing village should be.
I'll be back :-)