Italy – Proud Genoa and her harbor from the west

Coming thus by the gateway of the waters to this city, Howells exclaimed, ” Genoa is the most magnificent city I ever saw!” and certainly its prevailing renaissance architecture gives it a proud and stately appearance ; while the broad amphitheater of the mountains encircling its harbor and covered with innumerable marble palaces and churches, presents a vision of splendor to the eye. Petrarch called it ” the city of kings.”

One of the chief charms of Italian cities lies in the fact that no two are alike, each has a distinctive character of its own. Genoa is cold and haughty, Venice tender and beautiful, Naples brilliant and joyous. The Italians call Genoa ” La Superba,” and it justly deserves that name.

From ancient times Genoa has been renowned as a sea-port, and it is said to have derived its name from the fact that the shape of its coast resembles a knee (genu).

This deep and extensive harbor is protected by two moles which cost twelve and a half million dollars, two-thirds of which was contributed as a legacy of the late Duke of Galliera. At the entrance of the harbor is a lighthouse three hundred and eighty-five feet above the sea. Genoa is now one of the finest ports on the Mediterranean, and rivals Marseilles in importance.

It is quite a manufacturing city, its chief productions being silk, velvet and soap. It has a population of two hundred and twenty-five thousand, and it is without question the chief commercial seaport in Italy.

The fortifications about the city are very formidable and extensive. While the present garrison consists of only seven thousand men, in case of war it would require twenty-one thousand to properly man these works.

For a long time it was a rival of Pisa, but in a terrible naval engagement, in 1284, the Genoese captured twenty-nine Pisan galleys and sank a number of others, since which time Pisa has never regained her old supremacy. Here also the bitter feud between the great families of the Doria and the Spinola against the Grimaldi and Tieschi (Guelphs and Ghibellines) raged furiously, and the city suffered accordingly. Peace was not established until 1528, when Andrea Doria established the new oligarchic constitution, and even after that time its history was characterized by storm and struggle until it was made a part of the kingdom of Sardinia in 1815.

A grander sight, or one more calculated to thrill the emotions of the beholders, can hardly be imagined than this queenly city with its domed and palaced front, as seen over the sparkling waters of the harbor. We want to take up in detail now the chief objects of interest in the scene before us. Beginning at the right, directly over the middle and over the bow of that black coal barge that lies some distance from us, are seen on the top of the hill, and outlined clearly against the sky, two large, square buildings. They belong to the Hospital of St. Andrew, which was established in 1888 by Genoa’s benefactor, the Duke of Galliera. To the right of these buildings on the water front, and seen over the stern of the coal barge, is one of the fine steamships of the Hamburg-American line, plying between Genoa and New York. To the left of these buildings are seen the dome and picturesque campaniles of the magnificent church of S. Maria di Carignano, occupying the most commanding position in the city, being one hundred and seventy-four feet above the sea. It was constructed on the plan that Michelangelo and Bramante adopted for St. Peter’s at Rome, only it is much smaller, and in-stead of the Greek cross it has a square ground plan. The view from the gallery of that dome, which is three hundred and seventy feet above the sea, is one of the finest in Italy. The bold beauty and vivid coloring of the panorama there spread out before one, as well as its vast extent, render this view almost unrivaled in all the world, including, as it does, the city, its harbor and fortifications, the Riviera di Ponente and the Riviera di Levante, and far away to the south the vast, mysterious expense of the blue Mediterranean, whose shores, famous in song and story, may be seen spreading and vanishing on either side,

Seen over the bow of that boat in front of us and a little to the right is a lighthouse whose symmetrical proportions are pleasing to the eye. Back, and to the left of the lantern of the lighthouse, is seen the upper part of the front wall and roof of the Theater Apollo. The tower to the left of the lantern of the lighthouse belongs to the Church of S. Donato, and the one to the left of this and farther away, to the Church of S. Stefano ; while the tower still to the left and nearer, is the Church of S. Ambrozio, a beautiful structure belonging to the Jesuits.

Over the stern of the distant steamer, to the left of the one just referred to, you will see standing out against the sky line a square and lofty tower. That is the water tower connected with the reservoir, and it supplies the highest buildings with water. The docks to the right of that steamer are included in what is known as the ” Porto Franco.” From the Porto Franco a pier, ” Embriaco,” projects out into the harbor, and against the end of this pier the steamer is moored. This port grew up as an attempt to evade the tithe levied on all ship cargoes by the archbishop. It is surrounded by three hundred and fifty-five bonded warehouses, which, in turn, are surrounded by lofty walls and gates toward the city and sea. There has always been attached to this port a curious colony of porters called the Company of the Caravans, which, in former times, had their distinctive dress, their own consuls and a jurisdiction of their own. No one could be employed as porter who was not born within the precincts of the Porto Franco, or in the village of Piazza Lugno, from which they originally came.

So well ordered and upright were these porters that a case of theft, dishonesty or disorderly conduct was never known among them. They were called ” caravans ” because of their mode of traveling in primitive style. A porter could sell his position, but only to a compatriot, and so great were the privileges and so highly did they esteem their occupation, that they often received as much as ten thousand francs for their place. But now their privileges, as well as their superior integrity, have gone, and most of them are Genoese. Paganini, the famous violinist, was a son of a porter of Porto Franco.

Over the front mast of this steamer lying before the Porto Franco you will observe a lofty dome, which belongs to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, styled Duomo on the map, founded in 985. The entrances to this magnificent church are richly adorned with sculptures and its interior decorations and valuable works of art render it one of the stateliest structures in Italy.

In this cathedral, in addition to some remarkable relics of St. John the Baptist (whose remains are said to repose here), is the precious and wonderful vase, the Sacro Catino, the vessel out of which the Saviour and his disciples are supposed to have eaten the paschal lamb, and in which Joseph of Arimathea is said to have caught the blood drops of the Crucified. This is a fine glass vessel which was captured by the Genoese in 1110, at Caesarea in Palestine, and was long thought to be made out of a single emerald. During the Middle Ages twelve knights were appointed to guard it, and as there were some skeptical persons who insisted upon examining it, a law was passed punishing with death any who attempted to test it in any way by touching it with gold, stones, coral, metal, or any other substance. It was carried to Paris, in 1809, by the first Napoleon and broken on the way, when the illusion concerning it was dispelled, it being discovered that it was not an emerald at all. It was of this vase, before it was broken, however, that Lord Russell writes to his friend, Tom Moore:

“In Genoa, ’tis said, that a jewel of yore,

Clear, large and resplendent ennobled the shrine; Where the faithful in multitudes flocked to adore,

And the emerald was pure, and the saint was divine.”

Just back of the docks of the Porto Franco is the building in which was once the famous Bank of S. Giorgio, which, during the Middle Ages, acquired extensive possessions chiefly in Corsica, and, with its enormously increasing financial power, it threatened to absorb the entire republic and transform it into a commercial aristocracy. To the student of Genoese history the silent halls of that now neglected building are full of interesting memories. After the overthrow of the bank the building was used for law courts, and an inscription marks the room where criminal cases were tried. In an upper chamber is shown the ancient ballot-box, by means of which elections were decided, and also the pigeon-holes where the letters for the different judges were placed four hundred years ago. Until recently, the structure was occupied by the Dogana, or custom house. The large hall is embellished with twenty-one marble statues of celebrated Genoese, set in niches placed in the wall.

” We loved that hall, though white and cold, Those niched shapes of noble mould. A princely people’s awful princes, The grave, severe Genoese of old.”

A short distance to the left of St. George is the Borsa, or Exchange, which presents a very noisy and animated scene in business hours, from eleven to three. That exchange is on the spot where, in the fifteenth century, one Lucca Pinelli was dragged and crucified in the night simply because he had the courage to stand up in the senate and oppose the sale of Leghorn to the Florentines. The next morning the citizens found his dead body hanging on a cross, and over his head was written, ” Because he has uttered words which men may not utter.”

I will call your attention to but one more building in this scene before us ; but first fix your eyes on that vessel, only part of which is seen to our left – the steamer whose hulk is painted dark near the water and lighter above. Now if you will look over the bow of that steamer you will see a grand and massive structure that disputes with S. Maria di Carignano the distinction of having the most superb and commanding position in the entire city. This is the Ducal Palace, the grand old residence of the doges which was erected in the thirteenth century, and remodeled in the sixteenth. It is a majestic structure, as solid and enduring as though it had been chiseled out of the mountain you see back of it. It is now used as the Government Telegraph and Police Headquarters, and the law courts are held there as well.

If we were not necessarily limited in our sight-seeing it would be interesting to stroll through the streets of the city, especially the Via Nuova, the Street of Palaces, which Dickens describes as ” A building phantasmagoria, with all the inconsistency of a dream, and all the pain and all the pleasure of an extravagant reality.” And even in other streets, one is struck by the immensity and splendor of old villas and palaces with which the city seems filled. They show you the ” pink jail ” in which Dickens lived while at Genoa, and the hillside villa, Il Paradiso, which was the home of Byron, and the Genoese are fond of saying that ” the Devil entered Paradise when Byron took possession of the villa.” Rubens and Van Dyck both lived here for a time, and the city is greatly enriched by their paintings.

The street scenes in Genoa are quite as fascinating as its buildings ; for, in addition to its picturesque and varied life which one meets on all sides, there is always to be encountered a long train of mules with their jangling bells and curious trappings, and the principal thoroughfares are thronged with well-dressed people – a Genoese crowd is a stylish company – dressed in the latest French fashion, for people here will dress well even if they have to deprive themselves of the necessities of life in order to do it. Out of doors in Genoa it is all up hill and down; and within doors it is precisely the same thing. It would be a dream of delight to visit the palaces were it not for the interminable stairs, which are of marble and are as smooth and treacherous as glass.

When in Genoa I visited the office of the American Consul twice, but was unfortunate both times in finding the gentleman out, and I could not but recall the incident of the old Yankee sea captain who had urgent business with his consul and called here again and again, but without finding him in his office. Over the door was the legend then, as now, ” In from 10 to 1.” Finally, having to sail without seeing him, and exasperated beyond measure, the gruff old sea-dog took out his pencil and wrote across the door beneath the legend in the terms of a wager, ” Ten to one, you’re out.”

But we must leave this harbor, where twelve thousand ships, both sailing vessels and steamers, enter and clear every year, and where the annual value of the exports and imports are considerably over one hundred million dollars ; and, from a different standpoint, get an altogether different view of the. city. We will take our stand some distance to the left of our present point of view. The map of Genoa shows what part of the city we are to see.