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Genoa: Romance and revolution

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 :-)

For a Valentine's Day diary, you should have included the beautifully named Vicolo (or vico) dell'Amor Perfetto in the old city. There are conflicting accounts of the origin of the name, some involving some romantic story concerning the nobility, others to the presence of brothels on this street...
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 09:31:05 AM EST
Clearly my affection for the city is far from perfetto :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 09:50:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I forgot to include this relevant fact about the site where Strada Nouva, the street of palaces, was built:

This area known as the Maddalena had, at least since the 14th century, been enclosed for the use of prostitutes ...

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 10:00:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I leaped at the chance of reading about revolutionary Genova from where such immortal bards as Fabrizio De André hailed. Where the masses chased out the Fascists and Nazis and consigned the city to the Allies.

Naturally, a word about the unfortunate conspiracy of Gian Luigi Fieschi in 1547 against the tyrant Andrea Doria would have been appreciated by my handle, Jean-Francois Paul de Gondi, cardinal de Retz, who wrote a book on the episode at the precious age of 18.

After reading the manuscript, Cardinal Richelieu remarked, "Here's a dangerous spirit." And indeed de Gondi lived up to the compliment.

Genova also has one of the most stunning monumental cemeteries on earth, Stagliano.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 12:08:59 PM EST
As it happened I thought about including that conspiracy - one of many - it was in Howard's book. As I remember it (I'm tired), Doria didn't believe it when someone warned him about it (like Stalin and warnings about the Nazi invasion). Poor Fieschi, trying to board a ship, slipped on a plank and fell into the sea, wearing armour he sank to the bottom. Leaderless the conspirators gave up and fled. Doria was ruthless in revenge, had some beheaded and had Fieschi's body thrown back into the harbour.

That do ? :-)

Cemeteries ? - plenty of time for them - much later - I hope :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 12:47:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose Count Fieschi would have been as despotic as the Dorias had he managed his coup. Nipped in the bud, he ended up being depicted as either a hero or a lout according to the author's political credo. De Gondi managed to avoid slipping on a plank at the least, lead a fascinating life and die of old age. If Fieschi was an adolescent construct for de Gondi, he quickly outdid him.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 05:02:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i made a film there long long ago about revolutionaries who got stamped on but still managed to wiggle out


by irishhead on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 04:21:17 PM EST
i made a film there long long ago about revolutionaries who got stamped on but still managed to wiggle out


by irishhead on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 04:21:44 PM EST
Thanks for your work and for bringing the matter up: the days of Genova when the police ran berserk and shamed Western Europe. The sentence for the Diaz school put it bluntly even if the sentences were light: the police felt they could get away with anything because the national mood had changed. They would no longer be called to account. The sentence observed that Italy has yet to pass law against torture, and what was systematic torture had to be judged as single acts of brutality.

We won't see Italy adopting a law against torture in the foreseeable future.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 04:50:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is so BEAUTIFUL.  Thank you for the views of Genoa, a place I'd never considered being a destination.  Oh well, just have to put it on the list for when the economy picks up-I'll still be around then won't I?

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Fri Feb 20th, 2009 at 08:06:58 PM EST
Thanks NN - as with CH - Howard and I are glad to have infected you with our enthusiasm. Maybe don't wait till the economy picks up IF it does - the euro has dropped againzt the dollar - carpe diem.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Feb 21st, 2009 at 04:32:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope to next year, this year I'm taking the grandkids (12, 7) on a road trip from California to Chicago via the north National Parks, then down to Ind and back the southern route.  Probably take about a month.  Next year I hpe to get back over and get to ET land.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 09:53:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds like quite a road-trip, don't omit to make the movie :-)  Maybe I'll see you in ET land next year.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Feb 25th, 2009 at 02:46:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks a fookin lot Ted.  Now look what you've done.  some photos and historical background, and i'm forced to add another spot in Europe to the wish list.  Why don't you stay in Nice where it's nice?  they have nice light there, n'est pas?

(this diary makes me place Genoa high on the list)

Two Stars taken off for quoting the governator of Californication at the end.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Feb 21st, 2009 at 01:57:22 PM EST
But then again there are people all over her who only need to provide a picture for most of us to want to add yet another place to our list of the unvisited.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Feb 21st, 2009 at 02:07:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the Buddha can stay home and visit everywhere, everytime, according to no research.  not being the buddha, i keep a wish list also.

But i'm so thrilled with Brrremen, where everything is new for me, i don't really need to travel.  almost every trip out is a voyage.  i'm just pissed at Ted for making me think of leaving here for a burst.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Feb 21st, 2009 at 04:01:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, well, I can live with that - Howard and I are glad we've infected you with our enthusiasm.

Nice is nice - wait till you see my latest carnaval pics ! :-) - but it would be stupid to pass up the chance to visit Genoa and environs when it's just a two hour drive or train ride away. Enjoy the Germanic delights of Bremen, but when you feel the need for la dolce vita on the Med - try Genoa. But remember: "Paesi che vai, usanze che trovi."  Ask de Gondi :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Feb 21st, 2009 at 04:30:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That wasn't the Gov of Calif - it was a fictional character - you must get these things straight - I want my two stars back :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Feb 21st, 2009 at 04:34:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, here's a 4 from me. That was, as usual, a fabulous diary Ted. And as always, an inspiration.

Genoa has usually been only an ugly trainstop on the way to Milano for me...and always associated with a sense of panic. It is one of those stations where you pull in and exit from the same port. Not understanding the announcement, I always think I am going the wrong direction after the stop.

And the expressways are a horror as well. Glad to see that the city redeems itself so well.           Ciao.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 08:41:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes; it's unfortunate that it has that sort of image for a lot of people, but good for people like me who prefer the place as it is and not full of tourist hordes. Of course Eurotribbers are, like me, "travellers", an altogether different category :-)

A traveller enters a new place with an open mind and a hunger to experience.

I know when I say this my geek will be showing, but nothing says it better than the Monty Python Tourist Sketch:

What's the point of going abroad if you're just another tourist carted around in buses surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry... complaining about the tea - "Oh they don't make it properly here, do they, not like at home"... squirting Timothy White's suncream all over their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh `cos they "overdid it on the first day"...

And sending tinted postcards of places they don't realise they haven't even visited to "All at number 22, weather wonderful, our room is marked with an `X'. Food very greasy but we've found a charming little local place hidden away in the back streets...where they serve Watney's Red Barrel and cheese and onion..."

Expressed more pithily and earthily :-)

Tourists expect toilet paper -- travelers carry their own (with the carton roll removed and pressed flat).


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 02:50:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is quite amazing what kind of wealth they were able to create in Italy in the 16th century.
by kjr63 on Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 03:59:03 PM EST
It was pretty amazing in Italy in the 1st century :-)

Also, after an early setback in the East, SOME Genoese were able to profit from the success of the Spanish empire:

"The Spanish poet Quevedo wrote that gold was born in America, died in Seville and was buried in Genoa. A Piedmontese magistrate, after a visit to Spain in 1711, commented that the Genoese had transferred to Spain the poverty of Genoa and its surroundings while accumulating in Genoa the copious treasures of Spain."

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 04:47:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you,Ted.
I have a very different adventure of my own to tell of Genoa, but no less pleasant than yours. Just different.
Wonderful photos, comments--  you saw so much more of genoa than we did- we were on our way to the Cinque Terre, and we allowed that to cloud our vision and focus our actions. Plus, I left my flight bag on the train.
Attempting to close a flight plan with the tower at the Genoa airport when we were an event so unusual that no one knew how to deal with us--

We have some images in common.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 03:09:34 PM EST
Sorry to hear about that nightmare - I'm paranoid about my travel docs. I hope you get back to Genoa some time with more time to explore its many pleasures.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Feb 25th, 2009 at 02:48:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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