Genoa is a working port city that exudes an authentic Italian feel. The city is famous for being the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and was a major port town for the Romans in Liguria. During the Renaissance it became a trading stronghold for international goods. Throughout the ages, the city was built “up” rather than out. Houses are lodged on top of each other in the hills rising above the water, resembling a wedding cake. Although the modern city can come off as gritty, the historical center reminded me of Venice with its narrow alleyways, but with more local appeal.
We entered through the Porta Soprana, a gate into the 12th century walls that separates the historic from the modern city. We walked past the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino in the Piazza di Sarzano, which is so long it was used for jousting and rope making. Another narrow street led us to the Romanesque Chiesa di San Donato and Piazza delle Erbe. The streets were lined with Genovese eateries serving up fresh focaccia, farinata (a chickpea pancake), and pizza to locals. The streets were pleasantly uncrowded at this time of day, allowing us to enjoy the rustic city without distraction.
We had lunch at a pizzeria ristorante near the Palazza Ducale. My dad had a phenomenal pizza, but I was less than thrilled with my Genovese fish soup. Although the broth had good flavor, the fish did not seem fresh (surprising for a port city!) and there were too many potatoes. Despite this, I fulfilled my craving with a fat slice of local farinata. It was crisp on the outside, with a creamy interior bursting with flavor.
After lunch, we walked briefly to the Cathedrale di San Lorenzo and then down to the narrow alleyways home to the major shopping area of the city. This area was significantly more crowded and bustling with Genovese running their afternoon errands. Every alley we turned down surprised us with a new beautiful palazzo or architectural gem.
We headed to the current exhibit at the magnificent Palazzo Ducale on Alfons Mucha. He was a famous artist from the early 20th century who created the image of the “femme fatale” for advertisements. The exhibit was thoughtfully laid out by themes in Mucha’s works. The audio guide tour and wall descriptions also provided context to help understand Mucha’s inspiration and the cultural impact of his work.
We ended our visit at the Piazza dei Ferrari, flanked by grandiose palazzos and a large fountain. I wish we had another day to explore Genoa. I would have spent another few getting lost in its alleyways, visiting the interiors of its other palazzos, and taking a funicular to the other Genovese neighborhoods to enjoy the view of the sea. Regardless, I recommend Genoa for visitors looking for a break from the tourist circuit of the Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera.