Historic Genoa, a living museum

By | Category: Travel destinations
the indoor food market in Genoa

the covered food market in Genoa

The historic centre of Genoa has been well preserved. A visit there is like ‘walking through a museum under the sky’. The city, surrounded by hills, captivates you with its architecture, some of which is still as it was originally built in the 1300s.

The historical centre, with its 42 palaces dating back to the 15/1600s, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the North West Coast of Italy, Genoa has the added advantage of being a port on the Mediterranean Sea, and a stopping off point on a cruise.

Everything is centralised, and it is only a short walk if coming from the train station to the main shopping street, Via 20 September. Stop along here for an espresso, very strong coffee or a cappuccino, a white coffee with lots of froth but no chocolate on top. I believe that is a British invention! Italian coffee tends to be served luke warm for those on the run so expect to stand while you drink it. If however you do sit down, you will pay more for the privilege.

Wander into the covered food market, which is on your right as you walk towards the main Piazza (square). Here, as well as vegetables, you will find stalls selling cold meats, salamis, olives, and cheeses all beautifully displayed. You may think that visiting a food market is a waste if you are staying in a hotel but if you like food, you will enjoy the experience, and might find something delicious to take home with you.

Piazza de Ferrari

Piazza de Ferrari

Since the nineteenth century, the Piazza De Ferrari has been the central focal point of Genoa with a fountain in its midst. Facing onto it is the Gothic Ducal (Duke’s) Palace. The impressive building, dating back to the fourteenth century, was originally the heart of political life and public administration during the Venetian Republic. The armoury still exists and its bell tower houses the remains of what was once a prison with a torture chamber. Guided tours need to be booked in advance. In the square, too, is the Carlo Felice Opera House. Opera or ballet buffs might like to check out their programme as tickets can often be bought at the last minute. The city’s tourist office is also located here.

Near to the Piazza, the Romanesque Cathedral of San Lorenzo is the seat of the Archbishop of Genoa. Its interior has colonnades and some of the chapels have their ceilings painted with frescos. Beneath the cathedral is the museum of the Treasury, which has jewellery and silverware from 9AD to the present day.

the cathedral of San Lorenzo

the cathedral of San Lorenzo

Many of the buildings have ornate exteriors, some with colourful frescoes on their façade. The architecture, much of which dates back to the Renaissance period, has been preserved. While the main street is wide, a must is investigating the many side streets, some of which are so narrow that you can hardly see the sky. Half the enjoyment is looking through windows and open door ways, to see grand interiors and courtyards. Look up as often you can also see ceilings painted with frescoes.

In this area you will discover, hidden away, restaurants and shops. Stop for a bowl of pasta, the national dish, covered with a variety of sauces or wander down to the ancient port for a typical local dish such as burrida fish stew or stocca fisso accomodato, dried salted cod cooked with sliced potatoes and black olives.

In the middle ages, the ruling noble families lived in elegant palaces, which were also used to entertain important state visitors. The 42 palaces are collectively known as the ‘Palazzi dei Rolli’. ‘Rolli Days’ weekends, which take place several times a year, have been introduced where there are exclusive openings and guided tours of those not usually open to the public. This year, the Rolli Days are from 30th May – 2nd June 2015 with one of the openings being the roof gardens that link the Palazzo Tursi with the Palazzo Bianco. It is possible to buy a ticket that allows you to visit three of the palaces on Via Garibaldi. These palaces unfortunately are devoid of furniture, but contain a vast collection of paintings, mostly religious, from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the Red Palace, an elevator whisks you to the roof where you have a 360-degree view of the city. Of the houses on Strada Balbi, the Palazzo Balbi Senarega has Baroque frescoes. Palazzo Balbi Durazzo, now called the Royal Palace, was once the residence of Italian kings, and has Baroque furniture, a gallery of paintings, and a roof garden with a floor of black and white cobblestones, known as risseu,  typical Liguarian flooring used in former times.

The narrow winding streets of the historical city weave down to the ancient port where the replica of a seventeenth century Spanish galleon, the Neptune is moored. The schooner, which can be visited, was built for the Roman Polanski film, Pirates.

the pirate ship built for Polanski

the pirate ship built for the Polanski film, Pirates

Here too is Europe’s largest aquarium where you can see hundreds of different fish, learn about the history of the sea, and take a tour of a submarine. The recently added Cetaceans Pavilion is dedicated to the study and display of dolphins, whales and porpoises. The open-air tanks can be seen from the layered, upper level decks.

The information point by the aquarium is also the meeting place for guided tours, in English, of the Historical Centre and Palaces every Saturday at 10am.

If time allows, and to enjoy the lovely scenery, it’s worth taking the Zecca-Righi funicular that takes you to up the hill to Righi, 300 metres above the town returning on foot along Salita San Simone.

In Italy virtually everything except the restaurants closes for lunch between 12.30 and 3 pm. Some museums remain open, but it is advisable to check in advance. On Monday a lot of public buildings are closed.

For more information about Genoa, click here.

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