Genoa

It then emerged as an independent city state, one of the 'maritime republics' with a powerful navy, flourished thanks to shipbuilding, banking and trade, played an important role in the Crusades and established colonies in Sicily, Northern Africa and the Middle East. In the 13th Century, Genoa was a leading naval power in the Mediterranean, having defeated its main rivals Pisa at Meloria (1284) and Venice at Curzola island (1298). A plague epidemic popularly known as the Black Death struck the city in the mid-14th Century.

Economic recovery was observed only in the 16th Century, at the time of Cristopher Columbus' expedition and Andrea Doria, and a number of renowned artists such as Caravaggio, Van Dyck and Rubens were attracted to the Superba. In newer times, Genoa was involved in the struggles of the Risorgimento, and its was from there that Giuseppe Garibaldi began his campaign against Sicily with his thousand volunteers in 1860.

Although it is hardly Italy's most popular tourist destination, Genoa attracts visitors as capital of the Ligurian coast, as well as with its interesting architecture reminding of the city's past glory as a leading power in navigation, trade and banking. The old town is a lively maze of small streets where you can best feel the heartbeat of everyday life. The Gothic Cathedral in San Lorenzo Square is an impressive building containing precious religious artifacts. Elegant residences of the wealthiest Genoese families in the 16th Century line Via Garibaldi, the imposing Renaissance street. Palazzo del Principe in Principe Square, built for Admiral Andrea Doria, features frescoed ceilings, tapestries and paintings.

The construction of the Palazzo Ducale (Palace of the Doge) began in the late 13th century, but owes much of its splendour to the 16th-century modernization by Vannone. It was partly destroyed by fire in 1777, and underwent major reconstruction in the late 19th - early 20th Century. Today is hosts exhibitions and events. Palazzo Spinola is a museum containing collections of silver, ceramics, furniture, books and artwork in a former aristocratic residence. Rubens included its façade in an album of etchings called The Mansions of Genoa.

The landmark of Genoa is its ancient brick lighthouse, the oldest working in the world. If you climb the 365 steps to its terrace, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view over the city and the harbour. The city's aquarium is among the biggest in Europe, exhibiting sharks, dolphins, seals, penguins, and coral reef inhabitants. The old port area has been restored and is also a tourist attraction. You can visit the Museum of Seafaring or take the elevator to the top of the Grande Bigo, an ingenious structure resembling a ship crane, for a panoramic view of the harbour.

Genoa was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, Niccolo Paganini, Admiral Andrea Doria, Italian unification champion Giuseppe Mazzini, Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti and architect Renzo Piano (who is responsible for the city's most daring building projects). It was named European Capital of Culture in 2004.

Genoa is considered the home of two emblematic items of Italian cuisine: pesto and focaccia. Pasta, seafood, fresh vegetables, olives and olive oil are the staples that make up an admirably healthy and delicious Mediterranean cooking. Another specialty is the pandolce - 'sweet' or 'Christmas' bread with nuts and raisins.