The glory that was Genoa

Genoa had extraordinary power in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Its port and trade connections made for some very rich families.

After hometown boy Chris Columbus found the new world, an active slave trade run from Genoa helped to explore and exploit it. And much that money went toward the arts, home improvements and the church, of course. So what we see today is a very cleaned up city, with the remains of its golden age on full display.

There are palazzi by the score, and we were able to wander through a few of them.

The Musei di Strada Nuova is really three palaces put together. They are filled with great views, old masters and lovely rooms, one of which holds the effects of Genoa’s other local legend – violinist Niccolò Paganini. Those include two 18th century violins he owned and played, one made in Cremona.

And then there was the Palazzo Reale – which stole a few ideas from Versailles. The chandeliers alone must be worth a fortune.

Let us not forget the churches. We made a special trip to the Duomo, the the Cattedrale of San Lorenzo. This one is so striped that even its steps are black and white. During the bombings in WWII, a British bomb failed to explode, and it has a place of honor inside. The church was consecrated in 1118 and got progressively more ornamented as time went on.

The treasury of this church shows just how much money was floating around in the Renaissance. It was hard to add more gold to some of these chalices and reliquaries. But what treasures! How about the plate that John the Baptist’s head was placed on? And pieces of the True Cross in a very bejeweled crucifix. Nothing shabby about this collection.

We also saw the Basilica of the Annunciation. Extremely plain on the outside, it is a riot of gilding and patterned marble inside.

But what kind of day was it? It was one of those Italian days that could wear down the weak. We started bright and early at the Palazzo Reale, but couldn’t get in because some of the guards hadn’t shown up. “Yes, we are open every Tuesday morning. Just not today.”

Those last three words always strike a chill in our hearts. We went to the waterfront for the harbor boat ride. “Open every day of the year with hourly cruises. Just not today. Come back at 2:30 and maybe we will go.” The Treasury of the Duomo supposedly had the supposed Holy Grail. “Not today. Is on loan to another church.” We search high and low for a restaurant a friend recommended. It wasn’t just closed today – it was closed for good. Wanted to buy bus tickets at the only Tabac around. (For some reason, tobacco stores are the only place one can buy them.) “Of course we sell them, but today we are all out.”

In case you wonder why we drink at lunch….

Otherwise, it’s quite a lovely city.

Don’s Food Corner

The photos (or perhaps the clear plates and coral tablecloth) don’t seem to do justice to the meal we had today.  We found our way to this restaurant from a local merchant who told us that the original restaurant we were looking for had gone out of business.  The place we ended up was a small family-owned affair down a narrow alley of the old Medieval section of Genoa

Searching out local specialties, we started with testaroli della Lunigiana in salsa di noci.  This translates into testaroli (a local form of pasta dating to ancient Rome made like a flat pancake and then cut into diamond shape) with a local sauce featuring walnuts.  (We could have had it with regular pesto, but went for the walnut sauce because it’s a real local treat.)  The sauce was creamy with a pronounced garlic presence, which we have not encountered very often in all of our weeks in Italy.  The pasta texture was heartier than anything we had tasted before.  A very fine dish.

Jo moved on to a chicken scallopine in lemon sauce.  An excellent version.

I went with the fish of the day prepared in Ligurian style, Genoa being the principal city of the Liguria region.  Although the waiter and I tried to come to some agreement as to what kind of fish it was we ended up not figuring it out except to say that it was a “big fish.”  It wasn’t swordfish and it wasn’t halibut.  Whatever.  It was a large piece of meaty fish, certainly not a white fish, braised in a mixture of tomatoes, olives, pine nuts and basil.  It reminded me of the way fish is prepared in Nice, which, if you look at the map, isn’t too far away.  But who influenced who?  Genoa to Nice or Nice to Genoa.  However, in Nice they would have served the olives in a dish of this sort with the pits still in them whereas here the pits had been removed.  I thought it was a great combination — a hearty piece of fish with a strong sauce.

Two great meals in two days, leaving us with good thoughts of Genoa.

4 thoughts on “The glory that was Genoa

  1. So, of course, reveling in GoKnow, one would think that Italy continues to live in the Middle Ages and Renaissance — except, of course, for its restaurants (and the hired help that doesn’t show up). Is there an active modern commercial side to things as you’re wandering around? Government offices? Banks? Radio Shack? The Italian department store? Or are you in a kind of Italian Williamsburg — places preserved just for tourists? Every once in a while I wonder what life outside the bubble is like….

  2. Will try to satisfy your curiosity. Yes, in the cities tourists visit, the historic center is usually quite well-preserved, with modern life working around it. There seems to be only one department store chain in Italy, and it shows up only in the larger cities – on the ground and first floors of the older buildings. Actually, I think there are a fair number of shots I use that would show commercial enterprises like Sephora tucked into a medieval building. (And that is one of the very few chain stores we see.) But I promise to do better.

    As for government offices, they have a habit of taking over palaces. I had a picture yesterday of the Strada Nuova palace door, with politizia in front of it – as it doubles as town hall where you go to get a marriage licence, bribe public officials, etc.

    Yes, there are modern areas outside the centers – ugly apartment blocks and sky-rise office buildings. My camera has trouble focusing on that stuff, as it seems so incongruous and ugly in its own right.

    But, hey – maybe next time!

  3. No, no. I was not lobbying for pictures of these things. You have satisfied my curiosity with the above! Avanti. Poi al passato!

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