Many of Italy's medieval city centres have turned into sanitised, geranium-filled, picture-postcard tourist trails but there's still a roughness to parts of Genoa which remind you that you're in a real city. Wandering at night around the caruggi, the tight knot of streets and alleys in the oldest part of the city, it's as if the ghosts of the feuding Genoese nobles who once settled their scores in these dark corners are still present.
Indeed, that branch of psycho-geography which holds that a place has a soul if it survives social and physical transformations should make Genoa its headquarters. Known to Italians as Genova, the city has had more facelifts than Cher but has never lost its essential character as a tough, cosmopolitan seaport.
Historically, the city – on the Mediterranean up in Italy's north-west corner – owed its wealth and power to its role as one of Italy's maritime republics, making it an important trading base for the whole Mediterranean from the 13th to the 18th century. The port went into a steep decline in the 1960s and the city suffered a depression which lasted until its first big makeover in 1992, for the Christopher Columbus celebrations (marking 500 years since the local lad done good by crossing the Atlantic).
The waterfront was spruced up and now houses Europe's largest aquarium and a massive maritime museum as well as lots of bars and restaurants, making it the focal point of the city in the summer. Genoa was tarted up again in 2001 for the G8 summit and again as European Capital of Culture in 2004, with an even more ambitious regeneration of the port area thereafter.
Given its size and the complexity of its layout, the best way to see the city is to book a guided, English-language tour through the tourist office at the main train station. If that sounds too much like a fifth-form field trip, you could just seek out one or two of the key sights, like the zebra-striped cathedral of San Lorenzo or the impressive 14th-century Palazzo Ducale. There is also a good selection of art galleries and museums to dip into.
One thing that is sadly missing from the city is a proper football museum to explain Genoa's vital role in popularising the game in Italy. It was here in 1893 that a group of English immigrants founded the first Italian football club. Initially operating as Genoa Athletic and Cricket Club, the club quickly became Genoa Cricket and Football Club, a name which it still proudly bears to this day.
Yet Genoa CFC were long ago eclipsed by the city's other football club, UC Sampdoria, who were fired to the Serie A title in 1991 by the legendary strike partnership of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini. It wasn't all roses for the club in the subsequent decade, but Samp now seem firmly established in Serie A, playing attractive football and frequently threatening European qualification.
CITY GUIDE: ARRIVAL
The Aeroporto Cristoforo Colombo (www.airport.genova.it)
is west of the city centre. Genoa has two main stations: Stazione
Principe, on Piazza Acquaverde, just north of the port to the west of
the centre, and the Stazione Brignole on Piazzi Verdi, to the east side
of the centre. Volabus 100 runs from the airport to Stazione Principe
and Stazione Brignole every 25-30 minutes.
At Stazione Principe. Tel: 010 246 2633 www.apt.genova.it
There is an expanding metro
system and local trains run regularly. A day ticket valid on all buses is available from the driver, although exploring on foot is a more rewarding
way to see the city.
Louisiana Jazz Club c/Via San Sebastiano. Live jazz.
Quaalude c/Piazza Sarzano 14. Underground club that features live bands and dance parties.
Fitzcarraldo c/Piazza Cavour. Alternative rock.
The Cattedral di San Lorenzo. Built
in the early 12th century, the cathedral is awash with history and
offers free entry for all. Also worth a peep is the Acquario de Genova, Europe's largest aquarium, down in the ancient port.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Alimar offer romantic 45-minute boat tours round the port by night. Booking required (telephone: 010 256 775, www.alimar.ge.it)
The waters off the Ligurian coast
comprise of an International Whale Sanctuary, home to 12 species of
whale as well as dolphins and plenty of other marine life. A day trip
includes a full day on board, with a light lunch and commentary from
local World Wildlife Fund experts. Bookings required in advance. Telephone:
010 265 712 or visit www.battellierigenova.it
Explore Geno(v)a with the interactive map below. Click a club badge for a club guide.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Italian football, see our blog Serie Aaaaargh!
FourFourTwo.com: News • Features • Interviews • Videos • Forums
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010