Genoa, Italy’s Largest Little-Known City

we hear the name Genoa it harkens thoughts of dry salami.
That’s SO not what this city is all about. Our latest Italian
adventure would open our eyes to an often overlooked
region of Il Bel Paese (The Beautiful Country) — the Italian Riviera
along the Ligurian Sea.

Click for Genoa’s Ancient City Photos
decided to begin our explorations in the oldest section of
the city. As with many towns in ancient times, walls were
built to keep out the invading hordes. Within those walls,
the old city of Genoa (or Genova to the Italians) is the biggest
and one of the best preserved in all of Europe — and is currently
a bustling community filled with charming restaurants, shops
and residences.

The ancient buildings and narrow cobblestone
streets survived the World Wars much better than most and is in
a constant state of renovation. It takes a lot of work to keep a
place like this up to snuff.

Click to enlarge photo
not that Genoa was never bombarded, her harbor has taken some
severe beat-downs, but her old city remained fairly unscathed.
One might even speculate that there was divine intervention
because the Cathedral San Lorenzo proudly displays an unexploded
bomb that had miraculously spared the church. Sure glad this
ominous projectile was a dud — the cathedral is such a unique
architectural specimen — its loss would have been tragic.
Hopefully the priests of San Lorenzo were expert
bomb diffusers — we would hate for their incredible luck to run
out while we were snapping a photo.
Cathedral San Lorenzo, Genoa Italy
Click for more San Lorenzo Photos
plaza facing San Lorenzo is so small that Veronica had to
lie supine with her head propped on an opposite building to
capture a partial photo of this wonderfully quirky cathedral.
Tight as the plaza is, musicians, street entertainers, balloon
artists and art students crowded the steps and cobblestones.

The public is not permitted to tour in the middle of the day,
so we whiled away
a few hours inspecting the magnificent exterior and watching tourists
boorishly climb atop the church’s marble guard lions for snapshots
as if at Disneyland. Italians rightly expect decorum — this is
a place of worship, after all — appropriate dress is mandatory
and even the school children use polite hushed tones while visiting.

Cathedral San Lorenzo, Genoa Italy
Click for more San Lorenzo Photos
Lorenzo began as a small church in the fifth or sixth century
and was rebuilt several times before being consecrated as
Genoa’s main cathedral in 1118. As is often the case with
medieval churches, the construction continued for centuries
incorporating numerous architects and styles throughout the
years. The facade, with the black and white layered stripes
of marble and slate is typical of this area, was finished in 1312.
Cathedral San Lorenzo, Genoa Italy An
asymmetrical window on the south side of the church stopped
us in our tracks. Approaching from the front, nothing seemed
amiss, but once we stepped back a few paces we discovered
the window had a decidedly lopsided skew. Between it and the
bizarre unmatched columns,
we were in heaven. We love that kind of stuff.
final touches inside San Lorenzo weren’t completed until the
seventeenth century. It’s
a wonderful display of a mishmashed styles.

Black and white continues to dominate the decor, yet the altar
area and the pipe organ are bright and colorful — the contrast strange
and wonderful.

the cathedral we went in search of Genoa’s most noted native
son, Christopher Columbus. We had heard that his house was
still around so we headed toward the eastern edge of the old
city, googling on the go.

Christoffa Corombo, as he was known in the 15th century Genoese
language (a dialect
that is still in use today), was probably born here in 1451 but
almost certainly NOT in the little tourist trap house by the Porta

We decided
to skip the house since our research revealed that

it probably
wasn’t built until long after the celebrated sailor had set sail
on that great ocean in the sky. It’s possible that it was built
on top of Christopher’s OLD crib but that’s still about as likely
as sailing to India from Portugal by going west.

the other hand, the towers at the Porta Soprana are more than
worth a look. Built in 1155 when the city walls were renovated,
the two towers stand 100 feet high and frame the eastern entrance
to the historic center of Genoa. A fine example of medieval
fortification if there ever was one.

Walking through
the Centro Storico we realized that, although his house is a fake,
the man known here as Cristoforo Colombo had a huge impact on this
city. Before he gallivanted off in search of

India, Genoa had lost
a little of its luster. Wars, pestilence, and foreign dominance
had taken a bit of the spice out of the salami.

Even though
Columbus discovered the treasures of the New World for the Spanish
Crown he didn’t forget his hometown. He deposited his money in
Europe’s –perhaps the world’s — first public bank, The Bank
of St. George (Banco di San Giorgio) in Genoa. He also donated
one tenth of his earnings toward tax relief for the city. Genoa
became Spain’s banker and piles New World gold and silver started
flowing into her coffers. Presto, the return of the spicy cold

are still remnants of those financial glory days, mainly around
the Piazza De Ferrari.

The piazza is dominated by a huge fountain in the center,
surrounded by majestic buildings including
the regal Palazzo Ducale, the Stock Exchange and several wildly
ornate banks. The Palazzo was home to the Doges (dukes) of Genoa
for over

450 years until Napoleon took the city in 1797 and it was
stormed by soldiers and mobs. The Palazzo is now a museum and, happily,
the mob has moved on.

It seems
that new, modern mobs have overtaken Genoa. Vespas!Other than perambulating they are the conveyance of choice
and the only vehicles allowed in the ancient city. It may
not be the sea that Columbus knew — but it is a
sea nonetheless –a sea of scooters. Not an ocean that ole Chris
would recognize but then, he went to his grave believing that the
Caribbean was India, so perhaps recognizing things wasn’t his strong

Just so happens
that our friend Paolo’s Mama lives in Genoa and like most Italian
Mamas, the woman can COOK. We were invited to do something that
we do well, eat! How’s that for synergy?

restaurants in Italy are almost universally fantastic — but
home cooked meals generally open up a whole new universe.
Unmatched care and hospitality are given to every aspect of
the dining experience and the taste buds benefit bountifully.

Genoa is known
as the home of pesto, it was invented here. And guess what we
were having for dinner? This

was not to be a typical Italian meal
but more a traditional Ligurian dinner. Handmade gnocchi with
the classic basil and garlic pesto was the centerpiece while focaccia,
cheeses, vegetable pastry, salad, gianchetti and various vinos
rounded out the scrumptious spread.

of the many advantages of visiting an Italian home is the
opportunity to try dishes not available or that we would never
order in a restaurant.

Gianchetti is a fine example,
since we can’t recall thinking “I wish we could find
some tiny blanched anchovies.” Yup, little bitty boiled
baby anchovies —
complete with their little bitty boiled eyes — not bad actually,
just odd. Mainly we just

wondered why they didn’t wait to let them
grow up because a full grown anchovy can certainly rock on a pizza

Guess we’ll
have to head down to Naples for that — not that we need any excuse
to eat our way across Italy.

David & Veronica,

See also:
Genoa’s Ancient City in Pictures
More Photos of Cathedral San Lorenzo

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14 thoughts on “Genoa, Italy’s Largest Little-Known City”

  1. Hi!
    I went to Genoa for a particular reason – I’m writing a book about Andrea Crestadoro who was born there (1808-1879)- inventor, indexer and last part of his life, Chief Librarian of Manchester.Totally obscure character but fascinates me. I loved Genoa -I could only spend a few days there but what a place to explore. Sadly I could not track down the model of one of the inventions – the Impulsoria – which is supposed to be in one of the museums. If anyone saw it please let me know! (If you search on Crestadoro/Impulsoria, you’ll find more information).
    Anyway your site is brilliant – came across it because I was looking for info on Ovada,

    Best wishes


  2. For some reason I’ve always managed to skip right past Genoa, too. You do make it sound interesting, though. Think I’ll stop and have a look next time.

  3. Of all of the time I have spent in Italy, Genoa has always escaped my attention. I would love to visit though. I remember reading somewhere about the bomb not going off and sparing the church. What a miracle story!

  4. Ah, it looks amazing. We've been to Rome, but there are so many other places we want to see, including this one.

    The Amalfi Coast looks breathtaking, Milan, Florence, Naples, Venice, Sicily… I could go on. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your write-up and beautiful pictures.

  5. D & V; I just watched the video of your visit with the folks in Genoa. Loved watching your experience in the kitchen with your hostess; it reminded me of our visit with cousins in Umbria last summer. I speak about as much Italian as you do, so now I don't feel so awkward! ;-D Haha.

    Most special to me, though, is the recipe for Buneta!! My grandmother used to make this delicious custard, and I've been looking for it for years! Thank you, thank you for sharing the recipe, I can't wait to try it. BTW; my Nonnie's special touch was to add powdered instant coffee in with the cocoa powder–oh, it was unforgettable!

    You guys are the best! Keep on travelin'.

  6. "little bitty boiled anchovies" Who would have thought they could be tasty after boiling – only the Italians. I enjoy Italy so much, thanks for the article and great photos!

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