The Italian Job: Day 27 – Geeking

Like many of the streets in the old town, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo is also under scaffolding. The black marble has been bleached blue-grey by the sun so restoration is under way to return the exterior to the same shade as the interior.

The Jim Bowen School of Travel Photography

Exploration by the Genovese and invasion of the city by everyone else resulted in the Cathedral being decorated in carvings from around the world. There are Persian flowers and Viking dragons on the building – it really isn’t a traditional Italian cathedral.

A bomb was dropped on the cathedral during World War II, destroying the roof but not actually exploding so the cathedral remained largely intact.  And what do you do with an unexploded bomb? Turn it into part of the display.

Today was going to be a museum day. Yesterday’s food tour had given me quite the appetite to find out more about the city and Genova offers a its own Museum Card (available online, rather than at Tourist Information and at some but not all museums) – for €16, you’ve got 24 hours to get around quite a lengthy list of exhibitions, though you’ve got at least 12 hours where nothing is open.

Why not just call it a day pass? It does allow flexibility to start your epic culture trek in the afternoon and continue through to following day (and it also includes public transport). And because Genoa is quite compact most of the venues are within a short walking distance of eachother.

There is a variety of offerings (history, science, art, to name but a few) so there should be something for most people. It’s a good idea to plan your route as quite a few of the palazzos, galleries and museums don’t open until 1.30pm, so work out what you’re going to see if you buy a ticket in the morning.

First stop, Palazzos Tursi (now the council offices and a police station) and Bianco – neighbouring houses. Bianco, so called because it’s clad in white marble, is home to a fairly sizeable art collection. I was a little unnerved by one of the members of staff who was keen to ensure I had looked at every painting properly. I usually wander until sonething really catches my eye.

It was like having your homework marked.

And if he was unimpressed by how quickly (in his opinion) I strolled through the paintings… he’d have been appalled by how quickly I marched past the crockery in Tursi.

However, the room dedicated to Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) was a different matter altogether. The violinist and composer from Genova bequeathed his favourite instrument – the one he referred to as his “cannon violin” because of its full sound – to his hometown, where it was to be “preserved for eternity”.

It’s on display here and you can also listen to recordings of his music. It’s a fabulous little room.

The Palazzos are just two that line the streets of Via Garibaldi. Approved in 1550, it was built between 1558 and1583. Originally named Strada Maggiore or Strada Nuova, in 1882 it was dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi (hero of the creation of Italy and the resulting biscuit). The street is 250m long and, after wandering the old town, a luxurious 7.5m wide.

The concept of urban design arrived after the 1550s and Via Garibaldi was the first example of the nobility’s plans to transform the existing medieval city and initiate a sizeable urban expansion to the North. The move to expand the antique palaces and to build new sumptuous ones was driven by the extraordinary wealth that came into the city through prosperous financing activities towards several European powers.

From here, I headed to Christopher Columbus’s house.

Actually, it isn’t… it’s a reconstruction.

Before he did a bit of sailing

Columbus was born in 1451, and historical documents indicated that Columbus lived here between approximately 1455 and 1470. At this time, the house had two or maybe three stories, with a shop on the ground floor, and the front door to the left of the shop.

According to historians, the original house was most likely destroyed in the French Bombardment of Genova in 1684. It was rebuilt in the early 18th century on the basis of the original ruins. The rebuilt structure had a height of five stories. The upper stories were built by placing their beams on the neighboring buildings. When the neighboring buildings were demolished around 1900, as part of the construction of Via XX Settembre, the upper stories of this building were removed, and it was reduced to its current height of two stories.

It’s currently closed because of a power cut. The poor woman on the door told me that she had no idea how long it would take for the problem to be fixed: One hour? Two? Seven? …A day? Today is going to be a long day for me.”

With not many museums open until early afternoon I headed for Genova’s small museum focused on the creation of Italy.

For several hundred years, Genova had been struggling to be an independent state but in the 1850s became part of the movement to create an independent Italy.

In 1860, Garibaldi left Genova with the Mille (the thousand volunteers, that most towns in Northern Italy appear to have contributed to) and set sail for battle in Sicily which he would win. This would bolster his reputation for prowess and be a contributing factor in the success of the establishment of a new kingdom.

The museum also features an artwork, by Ian Berry, of Garibaldi in jeans.

Blue Jeans

The significance? Blue jeans fabric emerged from the cities of Genova and Nîmes, in France. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, may be the origin of the word “jeans”. In Nîmes, weavers tried to reproduce jean fabric but instead developed a similar twill fabric that became known as denim, “de Nîmes” , i.e. “from Nîmes”. Genova’s jean fabric was a textile of “medium quality and of reasonable cost” and was “used for work clothes in general”. The Genovese navy equipped its sailors with jeans, as they needed a fabric which could be worn wet or dry.

Garibaldi, renowned as the Father of Italy, is often pictured wearing an early form of denim trousers (along with a red shirt). This was his uniform for battle and his men wore similar.

From revolutionary to royalty, I headed for Palazzo Reale, just down the road from my hostel. Construction of the structure began in 1618 for the Balbi family, for whom the street is named for. Originally silk merchants, they were bankers and financiers and apared no expense in the decoration of the house. In 1823, following the annexation of Genova, the palace was sold to the Royal House of Savoy (whom readers with a memory may remember from my blogs about Turin) and they turned it into a royal palace. Since 1919, the palace has belonged to the state and is now a museum. Much of the wealth and opulent furniture and decoration has been preserved.

Unlike the palazzos on Via Garibaldi, this is an actual palace though not that much bigger than the ones on the next street.

The motorway, separating the city from the sea was built in the 1960s. The harbour/marina extension was created in the 1980s to give the residents open space.

Another of the 42 palazzos that form Genova’s UNESCO Heritage List is the National Gallery of Palazzo Spinola, once belonging to the Grimaldi family but donated to the state in 1958, the Spinola brothers conscious that the city was lacking a high quality art gallery.

They had one requirement: that the floors where the decoration was intact should have art presented as it would be in an 18th Century palazzo – none of the gallery standard lighting. This request has been adhered to. However, the top two floors (previously the servants’ quarters) were heavily damaged during World War II bombing and the paintings displayed here are treated to a more usual museum style of presentation.

It’s a fascinating city to spend a few days in. It might be small but there is so much packed in to the space.

Categories: Genova, Italy, The Italian Job, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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