AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Two marble-carved lions crouch flanking the stairs leading to the entrance of Genoa's monumental cathedral of San Lorenzo. Their proud features are marred by graffiti--cartoonish scribbles rendering their expression more pathetic than fierce. They're an apt metaphor for the city of Genoa itself, which can be a challenging one for tourists. During two millennia of tumultuous history, Genoa has seen its fortunes rise and fall. At its pinnacle, the city--center of the Genoese Republic--had unparalleled wealth and economic and political power. French historiographer Fernand Braudel wrote of the city, "If ever a diabolically capitalist city can be said to have existed before the capitalist age in Europe and the world, then it is Genoa, opulent and sordid at the same time."
From these heights Genoa would plunge over successive centuries, losing hegemony, then autonomy, and finally prosperity. Today, in a region fabled for pristine beauty and the authenticity and persistence of old-world ambiance, Genoa stands apart as gritty and modern. But it is a city in the grip of evolution. There is much that is decrepit and shabby, and much that exemplifies the worst attributes of modernity. But there are also the heralds of a renaissance both economic and cultural. The lion that is Genoa may be blemished and humbled, but there is every evidence that with attention and caretaking it is regaining--if not its former brilliant grandeur--at least its dignity and relevance on the world stage.
Perhaps that's why Genoa is particularly poignant, and important for travelers who hope to leave Liguria with a greater understanding of the region--both what it was, and what it is becoming. Some will leave dispirited; others hopeful. It is impossible to leave Genoa unimpressed and without an opinion.
Ascendance of a Port Town
Genoa is--and has been for millennia--a port town, and the nature of a port is to facilitate trade via access to both sea and land routes. The geography of Liguria is characterized by mountains that plunge steeply into the sea, and that are criss-crossed by deep valleys. Genoa--which sits at the near middle of Liguria's great land crescent--is not only at the epicenter of what, from above, appears as one giant harbor. It is also at the crossroads of land routes that made use of these deep valleys to cut across the Apennines to northern Italy and the rest of Europe.
Trade involves both goods and services and the trade of ideas and influences, so port towns are natural melting pots. Genoa percolated over several centuries, absorbing and incorporating into its indigenous culture influences from the Etruscans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Celts, and Romans that passed through. Roman influence was particularly strong, as the city allied itself with Rome during the Second Punic War, was …