Columbus isn’t Genoa’s only notable sailor. Fifteen years after his birth an arguably greater man was born in the city. Greater because his reputation hasn’t been tarnished in the same way as his predecessor, but also because not only was he the Republic of Genoa’s admiral, Andrea Doria was also the leader of their land based forces and liberated the city from French occupation which enabled him to establish a new constitution. Based on his success he was offered the role of Doge, an honour he declined in favour of becoming “censor” which was seemingly just as influential. He was immensely wealthy and left his riches to his great nephew as we saw at the Palazzo Doria Tursi.
Unsurprisingly he has given his name to a number of vessels over the years, just as the UK has had a number of HMS Nelsons and America its USS John Paul Jones. In Doria’s case they haven’t all been warships (remember this?) and there was a very notable exception.
With huge losses to her merchant fleet in the war, Italy sought to restore her reputation in the early 50’s by commissioning the construction of two luxury ocean liners; SS Cristoforo Colombo and SS Andrea Doria, both built in Genoa of course. A far cry from the oar-powered galleys commanded by the medieval admiral.
The Andrea Doria was the first to be built, with an emphasis on Italian style. Writing in The New York Times in 1953, Aline Bernstein referred to American ships as “minimal and sparse”, English ships as “provincial” but praised the partnership between architects, designers and artists that produced the Andrea Doria’s look, from mural covered walls to the details of stationery, crockery etc.
This picture of 50’s glamour came to an abrupt end on the night of the 25th July 1956 when in heavy fog off Nantucket, the Andrea Doria was struck by another liner, the MS Stockholm, in a way that almost mirrored the ramming tactics of Admiral Doria’s galleys.
One of America’s worst shipping disasters saw 46 passengers and crew killed, though thankfully the calm actions of captain and crew aided an effective evacuation that saved the lives of 1660 others from a vessel listing so badly as to render half of the lifeboats useless. A row of testimonials from the official inquiry lines a wall in Genoa’s Maritime Museum in memorial to the casualties.
On the morning of the 26th July, about 11 hours after the collision, the Andrea Doria sank and was lost forever. That has not deterred divers seeking mementos from the wreck, though the currents, depth and deterioration of the vessel make it a dangerous prospect. Sixteen divers have lost their lives here.
The sister ship Cristoforo Colombo was scrapped in 1982 but the MS Stockholm, now renamed Astoria is still in service. È proprio ingiusto!