The city of Genoa in Italy is a sprawling port with many treasures to uncover. There are palaces of splendor, museums with impressive works of art and narrow, twisting lanes that can lead you back into history. The Old Town is most interesting with lots to explore. Genoa is home to the largest aquarium in Europe and has one of the best maritime museums.
The incredible Palazzo Reale is well worth a visit with its terraced gardens, exquisite furnishings and a fine Renaissance art collection. Don’t pass by the gilded Hall of Mirrors. There are many frescoes, stuccoes and other artifacts to admire as well.
At the northern edge of what was once the city limits you’ll find the pedestrian street known as Via Garibaldi. It was planned by Galeazzo Alessi in the 16th century. At one time this was the city’s best area and its wealthy citizens built their castles here. Well worth the trip is to see the Strada Nuova Museum which is housed in three palazzi or castles – Rosso, Bianco and Doria Tursi. Here is the best collection of art works by the old masters. Tickets must be purchased at the bookshop in Palazzo Doria-Tursi. This palace’s highlight is the Sala Paganiniana showcasing a collection of the personal effects of legendary violinist Niccolo Paganini. There are also collections of ceramics and coins.
In Palazzo Rosso you’ll find portraits by Van Dyck of the local Brignole-Sale family. As well as the impressive San Sebastiano by Guido Reni and La Morte di Cleopatra or The Death of Cleopatra by Guercino. Other art works by Veronese, Durer and Bernardo Strozzi.
In Palazzo Bianco are featured art works by Flemish, Spanish and Italian artists. Among the highlights are Venus and Mars by Ruben and Vertumna e Pomona by Van Dyck. Other featured artists are Hans Memling, Filippino Lippi and Spanish masters Murillo and Zurbaran.
The zebra-striped Gothic-Romanesque San Lorenzo Cathedral was saved when a bomb set by the British during WWII didn’t ignite here. This bomb can still be seen sitting on the right side of the nave. At the front of the cathedral are three arched portals, twisting columns and crouching lions. It was first consecrated in 1118. In the 16th century two bell towers and a cupola were added. Above the central doorway you can see the huge painting of the Last Judgment the art work of an anonymous Byzantine painter in the early 14th century. You’ll find the Museo del Tesoro in the sacristy and it has various holy relics among them the medieval Sacro Catino, a glass vessel thought to be the Holy Grail. Other artifacts are the polished quartz platter upon which the head of John the Baptist was presented to Salome and a fragment of the True Cross.
At the Museum of the Sea the history of seafaring from Genoa’s reign as Europe’s greatest dockyard to the sail and steam age is traced. On the ground floor is an exhibition dedicated to Christopher Columbus. On the second floor you’ll find valuable collections of globes and old maps and on the third floor has an expose of Italian emigration. Head up to the top floor to get a fantastic view of Genoa.
The Old City was the heart of medieval Genoa and its surrounded by Porta dei Vacca, the streets of Via Cairoli, Via Garibaldi and Via XXV Aprile and Porta Soprana which is well known for its narrow lanes. It is fascinating to explore these lanes and alleyways which are mostly residential but there are some shops, cafes and bars. Beware of the dangerous areas in the zone west of Via San Luca and south to Piazza Banchi where the lowlife of the Old City hangs out. Market stalls are located east of the piazza in Via Orefici.
Palazzo Lomellino has a most elaborate facade. The building dates back to 1563 and has a grey blue exterior with stucco adornments. In the inner courtyard is an 18th century monument to the nymphs. Upstairs you can see 17th century frescoes by Bernardo Strozzi. These depict allegories of the New World, in homage to the one-time owners of the palace, the Centurione family, who financed the voyages of Columbus.
La Laterna is the world’s tallest and oldest lighthouse and it still works beaming out a light for more than 50km. You can get to it along a special 800m walking trail. Then there is a 172 step climb for a fantastic bird’s eye view. Don’t forget to stop at the museum where you can see lamps, lenses and related history. The lighthouse is surrounded by a lovely park.
Genoa’s bright-blue aquarium is one of the largest in Europe. It is home to over 5000 creatures of the sea among them sharks that swim in six million liters of water. At the end of a walkway you’ll find the ship Nave Blue which was refurbished in July of 2013 and it is a most unusual floating display. The ship offers 2,700 square meters of exposition space and specializes in coral reef exhibits and a reconstruction of a Madagascan rain forest.
After you have wandered through the narrow lanes of the Old City you come upon the wide space of Ferrari Square surrounded by magnificent buildings and a marvelous fountain in the center. There is the art nouveau of Palazzo della Borsa, now housing offices to admire and the hybrid Neoclassical-modernist Teatro Carlo Felice that was bombed in WWII and then rebuilt in 1991.
Both residents and visitors enjoy evening strolls at Porto Antico. Here you can get great views of the sea and this is the place where you’ll find the futuristic Bigo (lookout) and a pirate ship – II Galeone Neptune.
Genoa has many wide, open green spaces for people to stroll in, relax and even picnic. At one time some of these green spaces were attached to the estates of the wealthiest families and are now open to the public.
Parchi Di Nervi – This is a public park that is a combination of three Genovese villas. Today it is the largest green space in Genoa offering English lawns, palm trees, fountains and a rose garden. In the summertime the park hosts Genoa’s highly acclaimed International Ballet Festival.
Parco Dell’Acquasola a lovely 19th century park created upon Genoa’s ancient fortifications and atop of thousands of plague victims that were buried on this spot in the 1600s. There are tree-lined pathways and a lake, a children’s playground, areas for skaters, cyclists, football pitches, bowling greens and an athletic track.
Orto Botanico – Genoa’s famed Botanical Gardens which were established in the 19th century by the University of Genoa. In the gardens you can see around 300 species of exotic plants and trees, among them aquatic plants, tropical plants and other succulents.
Parco Della Villetta Di Negro – this park was built on the land that once belonged to the city’s grandest villas. Today this is a wonderful park with exotic plants and trees, lakes and fountains, a waterfall and manmade grottoes and bird aviaries. At the park’s highest point you can get a breathtaking view of Genoa.
Monumentale Distaglieno Cemetery – is Genoa’s main cemetery and was created from the mid-19th century. The cemetery is dominated by the Chapel of the Intercession that is also known as The Pantheon. There are wonderful tree-lined avenues that have fascinating sculptures and monuments well worth taking a look at.