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Genoa is often just a quick stop-over for those travelling to the Italian Riviera or Cinque Terre, but the city itself has much to offer. For centuries, this former merchant republic was as wealthy as Venice and still boasts a historic city centre packed with charming alleyways, marble palaces and Baroque churches.
Genoa is perfect for a lazy stroll as you peruse the shops or enjoy a cup of Italian coffee in one of the many espresso bars. Sip a cappuccino with a view of the black and white striped San Lorenzo Cathedral. Or enjoy a ristretto by the harbour, where a Spanish galleon from the film Pirates by Roman Polanski has become a popular attraction. You will find Genoa’s vibrant heart in the maze of streets in the centro storico, the historic city centre, which exudes both a medieval and a 17th-century Baroque atmosphere.
The city centre boasts a wealth of 16th- and 17th-century palaces, a reminder of Genoa’s affluent trade history. The Via Garibaldi (once known as the Strada Nuova, or the new street) in particular is lined with palazzi built for rich merchants, bankers and ship owners. Various palaces boast lovely courtyards, decorated with frescos and ornate plaster work that are open to the public. Other palazzi now house museums that display large collections of paintings by famous Italian, Spanish and Flemish artists. This includes the Palazzo Rossi, Palazzo Doria Tursi and the Palazzo Reale.
A maritime power, Genoa received many important international guests; the city’s wealthiest families took turns hosting these guests. All palaces that were part of this system were on an official list, the so-called rollo. Hence the term Palazzi dei Rolli. In 2006, 42 of these city palaces were placed on the World Heritage list.
Built right against the hills by the ocean, Genoa is known as the vertical city. Narrow lanes with steps offer beautiful views of the lower part of the city. Cable cars transport visitors to higher viewpoints. The square bell tower of the San Lorenzo Cathedral is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the centre of town. Parts of the church date back to 1118. Similar to other famous churches in Liguria and Tuscany, the cathedral is made from white and black marble, which gives the duomo a very majestic appearance. Near the duomo lies the only large square in the city centre, the Piazza De Ferrari. This square with its large fountain is a popular meeting place.
Genoa is a lovely shopping destination; the small streets in the historic centre are lined with beautiful old shops, delicatessens and speciality stores selling perfumes and leather goods. You will find modern boutiques in the 19th-century streets of the Via Roma, the wide Via XX Settembre and also in the Galleria Mazzini shopping arcade. For a unique experience visit the Mercato Orientale, an indoor market. Market stalls displaying exotic wares evoke the days when Genoa was an important transit point for the spice trade. Vendors also sell plenty of Italian products, such as mushrooms, zucchinis, fresh pasta, Parmesan cheese and sundried tomatoes.