Genovese Palazzi, Pirates and Sharks

Adventure Day this week saw us venture out of Piemonte and down the Ligurian Coast to Genova (Genoa in English) – the land of pesto, focaccia, pirates and the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

Genova was one of Italy’s four powerful maritime republics in the 13th Century and at various points over the following four centuries controlled all of the sea trade in the Mediterranean.

It was the launching point for the Crusades and became the financial centre of Europe – it has one of the World’s oldest Banks and controlled much of the Spanish Silver trade.

As a result, during the 16th and 17th Centuries artists like Rubens, Caravaggio and Van Dyck lived and worked in the city and great palaces were built for the ruling families.

Counting to Dieci Historical Aside #17: the Genovese Flag is the cross of St George on a white background – the same as the flag of England. It is rumored that Richard the Lionheart was so impressed with the bravery of the Genovese during the 3rd Crusade that he adopted the flag.

Another theory is that during the 12th Century, England was looking for trade protection from Genova and took their flag – but we think that adopting a flag for practical trade reasons is not nearly as interesting!

Unlike the other three maritime republics (Pisa, Venice and Amalfi), Genova remains a working city and it has that port-town edge to it – sailors and travelers of various nationalities, slightly seedy neighborhoods and ships coming and going.

This tends to deter people from visiting the town but Genova’s dynamic history has meant that there is a fantastic (and eclectic) mix of churches, museums, palaces and galleries scattered through the old town.

Travelling with two little ones means all of this is interesting but in order to properly see the museums and galleries, Jo and I will have to do an ‘adult’ visit at another time.

However, a big plus for those in our party under the age of six, was that Renzo Piano’s fantastic facelift of the old port has given Genova the second largest Aquarium in Europe and a “real life” pirate ship (a life-size prop from a Roman Polanski movie…).

That being the case, our day’s itinerary was pretty much laid out for us – Sharks, fish and seals; followed by lunch in the dockside piazza; then a search through Genova’s little alleyways (caruggi) for a gelato; before finally heading back to the port with our cutlasses, peg-legs and parrots to plunder and explore.

Somewhere in between lunch and the gelato, we did manage to convince our younger navigators to explore the old town with us. The highlights included the zebra striped Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, the magnificent Piazza Ferarri and Via Garibaldi – generally regarded as Italy’s most beautiful street with some thirteen palaces along its 250 metres!

While we only scratched the surface of an intriguing italian city, we all had a fantastic day!

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