Genoa, Italy

Reference work entry


Genoa is located in northwestern Italy about 120 km south of Milan on the Gulf of Genoa. The city has been an important Mediterranean seaport for centuries. It is the capital of Genova province and of the Liguria region and is the centre of the Italian Riviera.


Genoa was founded in the fourth century BC and was a key Roman port. The city expanded rapidly into a powerful mercantile centre under the rule of several foreign powers. Genoa was occupied by the Franks in 774 and by the Saracens in the tenth century. A longstanding rivalry began with Venice, the other great Italian maritime power, over the control of the valuable Mediterranean trading routes.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century Genoa was a very prosperous city-state with colonies as far afield as the Black Sea. However its prosperity was marred by years of internal feuding between four powerful noble families (Fieschi, Grimaldi, Doria and Spinola) which culminated in an attempt to restore civic order through the election of a doge in 1339. The political problem was not resolved, and the city was captured by the French (1394) and the Milanese (1421). Genoa emerged from these occupations having lost a great deal of its wealth and control of its colonies in Sardinia and Corsica. The city’s fortunes were restored in the sixteenth century by Admiral Andrea Doria who ushered in a new constitution that gave Genoa the status of a mercantile republic. Doria led the new republic into a military, political and artistic golden age that lasted well into the seventeenth century. Magnificent palaces were built, and artists like Rubens, Caravaggio and van Dyck worked in the city. The famous architect Galezeo Alessi designed and built many of the city’s most important buildings.

In the eighteenth century, the decline in the importance of the Mediterranean as a trading route affected Genoa, but by the middle of the nineteenth century, under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini, Genoa was at the forefront of the campaign for the unification of Italy. A century later, at the end of World War II, the people of Genoa led the rise against the Germans and the Italian Fascists and liberated their own city before the arrival of the Allied troops. After a period of prosperity in the 1960s, port activity declined and with it the fortunes of the city. The port and the waterfront fell into disrepair and the city centre showed signs of neglect. In 1992, however, the Columbus Festival attracted huge investment and the new privatized port operations are handling increasingly large amounts of container business.

Modern City

Genoa is now Italy’s chief port and handles passenger and freight traffic. It is the main source of the city’s income. Shipbuilding is the major industry; other significant industries include petroleum, textiles, iron, steel, paper, sugar, cement and chemicals as well as the manufacture of electrical, railway, and marine equipment. The city is also a major centre for finance and commerce. Genoa is well served by roads and railways which connect it to major destinations in Italy, France and Switzerland. There is an international airport 6 km to the west of the city. Genoa was one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2004.

Places of Interest

Religious buildings include the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, a twelfth century Gothic cathedral which allegedly once held the relics of St John the Baptist, the Ducal Palace and the Chiesa di San Matteo which houses the preserved sword of Andrea Doria. The Palazzo Doria Tursi, which functions as the town hall, contains some remnants of Christopher Columbus who was born in Genoa. The Palazzo Bianco and the Palazzo Rosso both house fine art collections, the former placing an emphasis on the works of Flemish and Dutch masters, and the latter boasting works by Van Dyck. The Museo d’Arte Orientale has one of Europe’s most extensive collections of Eastern artwork.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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