Get Lost - Finding Yourself In Genoa!
Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
In a quiet corner of what is probably one of the most spectacular cemeteries in the world – a veritable outdoor sculpture gallery – there is a statue that has been there since 1881.
It is one of the most famous in Italy and if the man who carved it had known then what the world knows now, he might have placed a gentle smirk onto the facial features of Caterina Campodonico.
Listen to Phil Hopkins tell Caterino Campodonico’s amazing story
She was a humble street trader who spent most of her life selling nuts and pastries, so that she could squirrel away half of her fortune to buy the beautiful memorial statue that now stands in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, surrounded by equally majestic memorials to the city’s wealthy and powerful merchant families.
The city’s Director of Marketing and Tourism, Cesare Torre, smiles and laughs as we sit down to enjoy lunch. “Ina that story you ‘av summed up the Genoese people. Concerned about life but so much more concerned about death and being remembered by eternity!”
Caterina’s story is well known across the world and even the American Friends of Italian Monumental Sculpture paid to have her statue restored in 2016. Sometimes, actors give performances next to her final resting place and she remains a tourist talking point. Almost a century and a half on from her passing we’re still chatting about her; Caterina’s plan came to perfect fruition, the impoverished interloper who wheedled her way into Aristocratic society, albeit in death!
Staglieno leaves you speechless. Ernest Hemingway called it ‘One of the wonders of the world’ and the 1970’s post-punk band, Joy Division, even featured one of its sculptures on their ‘Closer’ album cover in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death. It is a profound experience and only a fool would say, ‘I’m not going to a cemetery, I’m on holiday.’ Had he still been around, Staglieno would have sent Henry Moore into apoplexy.
Listen To The Story of Staglieno Monumental Cemetery, Genoa
“I am ashamed to say that I have never been to Rome or Florence,” I confess to Mr Torre’s colleague, Paola Mosca as she dips her bread into a tiny bowl of virgin olive oil. “Bravo,” interjects the director, “Those places are for tourists. Genoa is for people who want to see the real Italy. We are so pleased this is your first real experience of our country.” For once cultural ignorance has worked to my advantage!
And Genoa really does feel so Italian with its dark, criss-crossing streets and tall buildings, the historical equivalent of a three-layer Battenberg cake; medieval structures surrounded by 15th and 16th century palaces from Genoa’s Golden Age, which eye, uneasily, the plethora of 20th century art deco architectural styling and funiculars, built to open up Genoa’s tightly woven streets to those less inspired to regular exercise!
“This is the city where the sunshine never touches the streets,” my guide Barbara Cudia tells me later as she takes me on a walking tour of Genoa, starting at the UNESCO heritage site, Strada Nuova and its Palazzi Dei Rolli.
The area is made up of late-Renaissance and Baroque streets and squares lined by more than 100 palaces belonging to the city’s noble families.
Once upon a time the grand residences, each with its own architectural style and individual character, were on official lists (Rolli) and lots were drawn to decide which palace would have the privilege of playing host to visiting state dignitaries.
They all boast richly decorated interiors, including the very accessible Palazzo Tobia Pallavicino, now home to the city’s Chamber of Commerce which probably boasts one of the most ornate meeting rooms in the world!
Twice a year a number of palaces open their doors to the public as part of the Rolli Days. “It can be chaotic,” laughs Barbara, “but we love it.” And, in the aftermath of tourist oblivion she relaxes by engaging in another passion, knitting. But there is little time to discuss the joys of cable sweaters in a city where there is so much to see.
“People say that the best way to find Genoa is to get lost there,” says Barbara. Her comments appear contradictory but are easy to understand once you start pounding its pavements. Sat navs work intermittently and many of the streets are so narrow and twisting that it can be hard to even decipher tourist maps.
“Just walk,” says Barbara, “and you will discover the city. It will reveal itself.”
She is right of course. Turn one corner and there is the San Lorenzo Cathedral, a stone’s throw from the main Piazza De Ferrari with its monumental fountain built in 1936, and the Carlo Felice Theatre. The list of beautiful buildings is seemingly endless.
Thankfully Genoa’s old town is so tightly compact, and its retail units so small, that it has been almost impossible for supermarkets to penetrate its protective streets, allowing for the continuation of a wonderfully vibrant retail scene where shop owners still know their customers! There is the tripe shop, the barber in his art deco establishment and Cacio & Pepe's Delicatessen, as well as one of the oldest confectioners in the world, Pietro Romanengo, dispensing their wares since 1780.
Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, travellers cheques were invented here and in Piazzi Banchi, the historic merchant money quarter, you can learn about the origin of the word ‘bankrupt’.
It is a derivative of the word Bancarotta. Banca was the money changer’s bench and rotta, meaning broken, was when the bench was physically smashed to represent the end of a merchant’s commercial life.
These days it is just a beautiful little square and home to a wonderful bookshop and flower seller which continue to serve Italy’s sixth biggest city and its population of 585,000, a fraction of whom lives in the old town. It is also a short walk from the old harbour area, home to Europe’s largest Aquarium and the amazing Galata Museo de Mare with its walk-on, walk-off submarine!
A short bus or train journey out of the main city brings you to some lovely spots including the ancient fishing village of Boccadasse with its charming backdrop.
Today Boccadasse is best known for its ice cream parlours (gelaterie) and fish restaurants and, from the scenic viewpoint, you can walk down along the narrow alleyways, or ‘creuz’, to the small beach and carry on to Capo di Santa Chiara for lovely views of the coastline.
Not far away is Nervi, the so-called ‘Riviera in the City’.
It was a favourite destination of the European aristocracy between the late 19th and 20th centuries, and much of its charm is in its seaside promenade walk which runs across the top of the rocky seashore, and its park, which encompasses the gardens of three villas: Villas Gropallo, Serra and Grimaldi Fassio, now home to prominent museums.
Genoa is a fickle mistress. She may have been around hundreds of years but she continues to have illicit affairs with the great and good of history. Columbus courted her when he needed money for one of his epic voyages, Van Dyck flattered her with some of his paintings and Caterina Campodonico made a promise to one of Italy’s ‘first ladies’: ‘you will never forget me.’
And so it is that I must join the queue of people paying homage to Lady Genoa, her curves, her beauty and the secrets of her bordellos, dark streets and political intrigues of yesteryear. I promise never to forget you Genoa. I think you are about to start another lifelong affair……with me!
Facebook: VisitGenoa / Genovamorethanthis
You Tube: Genova More Than This
Hotel / Flights
The lead-in price for double room based on two sharing and including breakfast at the Le Nuvole Hotel is 110Euros per night.
Return flights from Manchester to Genoa with easyJet start from £19.45 one way including all taxes and one cabin bag.
Remember, if flying out of Manchester Airport book the Escape Lounge…..well worth it if you experience a marginal delay. At the Escape Lounge you will always experience a warm and friendly welcome. Staff are on hand to make sure your journey gets off to the best possible start. Put your feet up, catch up on last minute business, or simply enjoy some peace and quiet. The Escape Lounge is available in all three terminals and prices start from £25 per person when booked in advance. Manchester Airport Escape Lounges
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Get Lost - Finding Yourself In Genoa!, 29th June 2018, 19:32 PM