Where to begin on my Genoese meanderings?
Just like Barcelona, Genoa exists because it possess a natural harbour, and for much of its’ history the city was nothing more than the collection of buildings around this arc of shoreline. It gave rise to the development of one of the Mediterranean’s maritime republics (see Venice and Dubrovnik posts) and so in time Genoa expanded (it now sprawls along some 30km of the coast. Trade was so important that the Genoese went to war with rival ports from nearby Savona to the nautically more distant Venice. (They defeated the Venetians in the 13th century capturing both the Doge and an explorer by the name of Marco Polo, about whom more in a later post).
For most visitors to the city, once they escape the man-made peninsula of the airport or the cruise and ferry terminal at Ponte dei Mille, any reference to the port usually refers to the Porto Antico (the old port). Though geographically accurate the term is a little misleading. In the late 20th century redevelopment began.
The sometimes controversial architect Renzo Piano, known in the UK for designing The Shard, is a native of Genoa and in 1992 the old port was redeveloped under his supervision. He has subsequently gone on to share a vision for the redevelopment of the whole waterfront.
Piano’s interventions in the port are those which have now become the icons in materials produced by the Genoa tourist office. Il Bigo, L’Acquario, and La Bolla feature heavily, though a former warehouse that has been converted into commercial units was also part of the scheme.
The first of these, Il Bigo (The Derrick) reflects the mechanisms once used to load and unload from shipping here, but its white colour echoes the myriad masts that now populate the old harbour, which in a way is part of the problem. You can’t see the wood for the trees. The largest of its branches hoists a viewing cabin to give a “seagull’s” view of the harbour. I passed. There are better vantage points in this city.
La Bolla (The Bubble) is a small ecosphere which in less crowded surroundings might impress, but even my home town of Sunderland can claim something similar; The Winter Gardens. L’Aquario is the structure behind it. See what I mean?
If I sound a little underwhelmed it probably goes back to that comparison with Barcelona. Where is the grand customs house? Why is there no Arsenal like Venice?
If you look carefully there are traces of the old still to be found at the water’s edge, almost as an afterthought.
Great redevelopment schemes build on existing strengths (Barcelona again) but the Porto Antico either had none when Piano began, or worse still he dismissed them. If that is the case I fear for the outcome of his future planning. Genoa was the last sight of Italy that many emigrants to the US had. Perhaps they might have provided a better reason to stay.