One of the things I like about the Italian language is its economy. Why create new words when you can find something similar and get your point across? Consequently macchina is most commonly used to denote a car, but in reality it could also refer to an engine or motor, of with a little more detail any sort of machine, so we have macchina da scrivere (typewriter), macchina fotographica (I’m sure you can work that one out), or with a little adjustment macinapepe (pepper mill).
I share this to give some context to a magnificent piece of Italian understatement, and one which having disparaged the Porto Antico in my previous post needs to be highlighted to redress the balance as soon as possible.
Some distance away from Piano’s redevelopments, at the furthest extreme of the original harbour area stands La Lanterna; literally the lantern. A lantern might not seem too impressive, yet before the arrival of Il Bigo et al, this one was the iconic symbol of the city. More accurately we’re talking about the structure which supports that lantern.
La Lanterna is the city’s medieval lighthouse, and though a little too distant from the area that I covered during my short trip to include for a visit, it managed to impose itself on some of my images.
The first tower here was built in the 12th century and in itself was nothing remarkable, after all one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pharos of Alexandria, was a lighthouse built almost 1500 years previously. When the present tower was built in 1543, the Pharos had been abandoned for over two hundred years and its ruins picked clean by masonry scavengers so the field was clear for a new leadership contender. Yes, there were plenty of other lighthouses in the world, but at 76m tall (117m if you include the rocks on which it is built), this was to be the tallest lighthouse in the world, a title held until 1902.
Today it is still in use, though automated and better equipped that when it was originally a platform for a large fire, and is the third oldest in the world. It still ranks among the tallest too, ranking 5th overall and 2nd in a field comprising only stone built towers. Surrounded by the functional steel of a modern port it looks a little out-of-place, in the way that Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio would if reconstructed in a scrapyard. I hope that any future plans Signor Piano has for this part of town will treat it sympathetically.
Finally, and appropriately enough for this symbol of maritime history, one of the keepers of the flame atop an earlier incarnation of the tower was one Antonio Colombo. His nephew will be making an appearance in this series of Genoese blogs a little later.