Since its very birth it has always been a sea port. Prior to being a city "by" the sea, Genoa has formed its destiny "on" the sea. It is also a matter of space: closed to the north by an amphitheatre of hills, Genoa can but look forward. The harbour has always been a centre of international commerce. The port of Genoa leads all other Italian ports in volume of passengers and freight traffic and is the main source of city income. It handles imports chiefly of coal, crude oil, and grain and the export of cotton and silk textiles, olive oil, and wine.
It is an outlet for the Po Valley and for central Europe and handles extensive passenger and freight traffic. Genoa's harbour facilities, badly damaged in World War II and by storms in 1954-55, have been rebuilt and greatly modernized. The city is also a commercial and industrial centre; manufactures include iron and steel, cement, chemicals, fertilizers, petroleum, airplanes, ships, locomotives, motor vehicles, paper, sugar and textiles. The industrial region, which was mainly developed on the coast outside the beginning of the century western town boundary, has successively merged into the expanding densely populated urban area. With the growth of the service sector, Genoa is also a major centre for finance and commerce, industry has slowly and steadily declined.
The city was actually founded around the natural harbour and continued to grow as a port, from a merchant emporium to a Maritime Republic that reached its peak in the 13th and 14th centuries when Genoa controlled trade throughout the entire Mediterranean. Today the Port has been built as far as Voltri, where the new container terminals symbolize an economy that goes well beyond regional boundaries. Overlooking the cranes and mastheads is the century old "Lanterna" Genoa's lighthouse and emblem, visible to all those who put in at the port, from whatever direction.
A city with two souls, Genoa offers both unsuspected art treasure and one of Europe's most advanced, complex and comprehensive service structure.
Urban structure and land use
Genoa was built, as the poet Paul Valery observed, "in a continual struggle with the mountain". The centuries of work that produced today's city began in pre-historic times on the Castello hill. Genoa as we would recognize it, first appeared in the 13th century. In the 19th century, radical urban development gave Genoa a new centre and extended the city beyond the outer walls. Industrialization favoured a process of amalgamation, with the various suburbs ("delegazioni") of its Western side (Voltri, Prà, Pegli, Sestri, Cornigliano, Sampierdarena), of the Polcevera Valley (Rivarolo, Bolzaneto, Pontedecimo), of the Bisagno Valley (namely Marassi, Staglieno, Molassana, Struppa) and of the East (that is to say San Fruttuoso, San Martino, Albaro, Sturla, Quarto, Quinto, Nervi and the towns in the Sturla Valley) being administrative joined in 1926 to form a Greater Genoa.
On seeing Genoa, Montesquieu, Dumas and Flaubert all described as a "city of marble": black and white the town houses of the aristocracy and merchants, coloured and veined the various monuments. The distribution of marble works throughout Genoa reflects the strange mixture of parsimony, reserve and adventurous spirit in the make-up of the Genoese character.
Genoa spreads outwards from its old town around the port in a confusion of tiny alleyways and squares suddenly opening out the narrow spaces across old palaces. It is impressing not only the ensemble of narrow streets and minute squares in itself, but also the effect due to medieval-Renaissance architecture co-existing with younger structures of an urban fabric in development over the centuries.
To feel the presence of history in Genoa it is sufficient to take a stroll through the streets - from the "Soprana" and "dei Vacca" gates, vestiges of the city walls built in the 12th century, to the cathedral, which preserve the basin into which, it is said, fell the head of John the Baptist, to the ancient churches of Santi Cosima e Damiano, Santo Stefano (where Christopher Columbus was baptized) and San Matteo; from Palazzo San Giorgio (where Marco Polo dictated "Il Milione") to the Home of Columbus, to the Sant'Andrea cloister, the Loggia di Banchi, the Embriaci Tower, the palace of the doges. A clear perception of what Genoa was like in the past can be had simply by walking along Via Garibaldi, where Genoese families raised their town houses to princely elevation. The golden age of painting in Genoa was the 17th century, when the Genoese school was prominent in both Italy and the rest of Europe. This phenomenon was largely due to the influence of Flemish painters working in Genoa, as Rubens and Van Dyck.
Down to the waterfront, the sea once came up to the vaulted arcades of Piazza Caricamento, a hive of activity, fringed by café-restaurants and the stalls of its market. Genoa's modern commercial nucleus, with big departments stores and pavement cafés in the arcade extends mainly along Via XX Settembre, with natural extensions to the east (Corso Buenos Aires), uphill (the elegant Via Roma e Galleria mazzini) and two pedestrian areas, Quadrilatero and San Vincenzo. A second shopping area is in the heart of the historical centre.
The city is surrounded by old walls and forts.
Genoa is linked with the major cities of Italy, France, and Switzerland by railway and highways. Its port serves as the chief outlet for the agricultural and industrial products of northern Italy and much of central Europe. Cristoforo Colombo International Airport, situated 6 km west of the city, provides domestic and international flights.
The transport system is strongly influenced by: the complex orography, the overcrowded and congested structure, the presence of an heavy industrial area within the city limits and an extended historical centre (considered to be the widest in Europe) that practically separates the town into two parts.
Access to traffic is practically impossible in the historical centre, thereby strongly affecting the town transportation system. The traffic is forced to flow through limited routes across densely populated areas.
Private transportation consisting of 392,000 cars - 32,000 small trucks - 67,000 motor bikes is characterized by one of the slowest average speed in Italy (12.6 km/h). The main urban roads show fluxes above 30,000 vehicles in the interval 7 a.m. - 8 p.m.
The urban public transportation system relies on buses (over 600 vehicles circulating during daytime/working day - 31,000 km travelled/year for a total of 150,000,000 passengers/year) and trains (4,300,000 passengers/year). Underground (3 stops), taxis and "mountain elevator" bring only a marginal contribution.
People are encouraged to use public transport through the creation of "Park and Ride" (10 car parks / 1000 vehicles), public transport reserved traffic lanes, and the integration of buses and trains: with the same ticket (0,45 Euros / 90 minutes), one can travel within the town limits having access to both buses and trains (coastal trains every 20 minutes during rush hours).
More than other, the cuisine of Liguria has deep roots in the past and close ties to its environment: scarcely-available land, tiny allotments perched on hills and olive groves. Aromatic herbs and wild varieties are used to flavour many dishes. Traces of Genoa's links with the Far East can be seen in the use of pistachios, sultanas, candied fruit and orange flower water in pandolce, the traditional cake. Between the traditional dishes: focaccia (a bread-like product, tasty, soft and crisp at the same time, with good Ligurian Riviera olive oil and the right amount of salt sprinkled over the surface), farinata (cickpea fritters), stuffed vegetables, savoury pies, stockfish fritters, several types of (filled) pasta with different kind of sauces (walnut sauce and, of course, pesto). Vermentino, Rossese and Pigato are some of the local wines to accompany a meal.
In recent years urban development has redrawn the architectural geometry and managed to create a spectacular effect without in the least compromising Genoa's historic heritage. Genoa's Old Port was first refurbished in 1992 to mark the Columbus anniversary celebration: the idea was to create a seamless, open-ended link between the city and the sea. Just as the "Bigo" (Genoa's panoramic lift) rises out of the water, the Port's other features look out onto the sea. The Aquarium is unique in Europe for the size of its tank, which hold over 5 million litres of water and authentic Mediterranean and ocean environments, including the coral reefs of the Caribbean and the Red Sea. The Expo gave back the city her old harbour, now completely renovated, with the new convention centre (8,500 squared meters, 18 conference rooms) in the Cotton Warehouses forming a splendid centre-piece.
The University of Genoa (founded 1471) is an important centre of higher learning in northern Italy. The city always has several commercial colleges and a school of navigation.
With respect to the main developments in the transportation system, the underground (presently 3 stops) is extended to connect the harbour and the main train stations and the possibility of connecting the most densely populated valleys with the centre by shuttle train lines is under analysis. More radical long term scenarios are related to strengthen the east/west connection by improving the inland motorway system and/or by the constructions of a new coastal fast route using reclaimed industrial areas in combination with one or two bridges (total length more than 500 m, and 75 m high to allow the passage of the main cruising ships) or a tunnel (about 1,500 m long). First estimations suggest a cost about 350 million Euros for the bridge solutions, and about 200 million Euros for the tunnel one.