The Maritime Center of the Italian Riviera
By: Yvonne Yorke
At first glance the coordinates of 44° 25’ north latitude and 8° 56’ 60 east longitude don’t indicate much. However on closer inspection, they reveal a millenia-old seafaring port centrally situated between the Riviera di Ponente and the Riviera di Levant – in the heart of Italy’s Ligurian coast. The port of Genoa is the oldest in Italy, and the city’s position as an important maritime center was established in the Middle Ages.
Nicknamed “Genova La Superba” (Genoa the Proud) by the Italian scholar and poet Petrarch, Genoa’s commercial
wealth and power was fostered by its aristocratic merchant families during the “Genoese Golden Age” in the 16th and 17th centuries: the Grimaldis, the Spinolas, the Balbis, and of course the Dorias, whose famous progeny is the great Genoese naval hero, Andrea Doria. These families’ prominent wealth is displayed in the magnificent Renaissance palazzi and commissioned artworks along the Via Garibaldi and the Via Balbi, in the city’s Le Strade Nuove district up in the hills. Today, these palatial private residences house insurance
firms, banks, and in the case of the Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Bianco – the city’s preeminent art galleries.
was named a European Capital of Culture in 2004 by the European Union, and many special events
were staged around the city’s old port (Porto Antico), including art exhibitions and a retrospective of the work of Genoese architect Renzo Piano – known for his conceptual modern buildings, such as the Pompidou Center in Paris. Genoa’s city fathers had chosen Piano to revitalize the Porto Antico prior to 1992, which marked the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America. With Piano at the helm
, the harbor was radically transformed and features the largest aquarium in Europe
, a naval museum, two marinas
, a children’s entertainment center, and “The Sphere,” a glasshouse ecosystem containing rare tropical plants. Undoubtedly, the Gran Bigo (Great Crane) is the most striking structure along the waterfront, and has increasingly become the landmark Genoa is recognized for, alongside La Lanterna – the oldest working lighthouse in the world, and the symbol of the city. Fittingly inspired by the masts of a ship, the Bigo offers panoramic views of the port from its revolving glass elevator.
Every October, the International Nautical Festival (Salone Nautico) takes place in the Fiera di Genova complex with thousands of buyers and seafarers from around the world. More than 1,500 boats are on show, of which about 200 are docked in the port’s two marinas
. The international fair pavilions exhibit the full gamut of nautical offerings: open and covered motor
boats, sailboats, motor
yachts with cabins, catamarans, canoes and kayaks, inflatable
boats, technical and sporting gear
, as well as sailing accessories and furnishings. There are also naval repair workshops and a special area in the bay for fishing
demonstrations and other attractions. The International Nautical Festival runs from October 7 to 15, 2006.
After taking in the urban rejuvenation of the Porto Antico, the heady scents of the Ligurian cuisine beckon from the myriad cafes and restaurants that line the waterfront. At Ristorante I Tre Merli, the foccacia con formaggio di Recco is filled with the regional stracchino cheese, which resembles mozzarella but has the consistency and taste similar to ricotta salata when it is cooked. Other Genovese specialties that hit the right note are the farinata made with chickpea flour, and the fagiolini pasta bathe in a sublime pesto sauce. Owner Paolo Secondo, who also has sister restaurant I Tre Merli and Barolo in New York
City, is chairman of the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI), an association of leading Italian restaurateurs, chefs, and olive oil
and wine producers and importers. GRI’s role is to increase the awareness of fine, authentic Italian cuisine in the United States among its member
In Genoa’s Centro Storico, the oldest medieval city center in Europe
, is the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano, a centuries-old confectionary shop and secret address for in-the-know gourmets. The Genovese family-run business has been crafting fine chocolates, candied fruits, and confectionary concoctions for royalty and connoisseurs since 1814. Every piece is handmade according to ancient recipes
passed down through the generations, using only natural and often exotic ingredients. Some of the unusual offerings include orange flower-flavored marron glaces, pine-nut pralines, candied violet petals, and rose petal syrup. My personal favorite is the fondant filled with a chestnut paste and maraschino cherry liquor. Orders can be placed at www.romanengo.com
Part of the Genovese nonchalance in promoting their city is that they know they have won big in the geographic lottery. The Italian Riviera starts where the city boundaries end – a short drive towards the west is the Riviera di Ponente with glamorous beach resorts such as San Remo and Bordighera. To the east is the Riviera di Levante, with the fabled resort towns of Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Sestri Levante.
However, you don’t need to venture that far to get a glimpse of picturesque Ligurian village life. Just east on the outskirts of the city’s waterfront promenade lies Boccadasse, a story-book fishing
village seemingly frozen in time from the modern age but whose appeal is timeless. Multicolored houses are set against the azure sky with small fishing boats strewn casually across the sand on the water’s edge, and children
play along the seawall while their mothers shop in the local markets. With the successful juxtaposition of the old way of life with the modern revamping of the city’s port and image in the last decade, it’s clear that Genoa is once again living up to its name: Genova, La Superba.