I took the Flixbus from Barcelona to Genoa (14 hours, ~22€). Arriving at 21:30, I believed that the hostel was closed at 22:00 and had a mad walk from the bus depot to the hostel, but it stayed open later.
GENOA (pop 585,000)
Genoa is Italy’s largest seaport. The extensive old city is a tightly twisting maze of narrow lanes. Since hosting Expo 1992 and as the 2004 European City of Culture, the city has had a radical makeover, with its once tatty port hosting Europe’s largest aquarium and a good maritime museum. The old town, too, had a revitalization with new shops, restaurants and bars.
The metro is just one line, one of the shortest in Europe.
History. Founded in the 4th century BC, it was an important Roman port. The first ring of defensive walls was constructed in the 12th century, but only one part remains, the Porta Soprana. A victory over Venice in 1298 led to a period of growth, but then internal chaos led to one dynasty, the Grimaldis leaving to establish Monaco.
In the 16th century, Genoa benefited from Spanish exploration. Its coffers swelled further in the 17th century and an outer ring of walls was added. Its newly built palaces filled with art, attracting masters such as Rubens and celebrated architect Alessi (1512-72) designed many of the city’s splendid buildings. The end of the Age of Exploration came as a blow with its mercantile importance declining.
Christopher Columbus is Genoa’s most famous son.
Genoa was the first northern city to liberate itself from Nazi and Italia fascists in WWII, even before Allied troops arrived. It then developed rapidly with southern Italians manning its docks and factories.
Sights. I took the Free Walking Tours that explored much of the old city.
Palazzi dei Rolli. These are Genoa’s tour de force. 42 of these lodging palaces were built between 1576 and 1664 to host visiting European gentry. A lottery was held to determine in which one you would stay. They were placed on the Unesco World Heritage list in 2006 and are mostly around Via Garibaldi and Via Balbi.
Palazzo Reale, the former residence of the Savoy dynasty is the one not to miss. It has gardens, furnishings, 17th century art and a gilded Hall of Mirrors.
Via Garibaldi. This pedestrianized street was planned by Alessi in the 16th century and is lined with palaces of Genoa’s wealthiest citizens. Three of these hold the Musei de Strada Nuova with the city’s finest collection of masters – Canone violin made in Cremona in 1743, Van Dyck portraits and Ruben’s Venus and Mars.
Cathedral di San Lorenzo (1118 and 16th century). This zebra-stripped cathedral owes its existence to the poor quality of a British WWII bomb that failed to ignite in 1941 and still sits in the nave. Relics include the quartz platter that received John the Baptist’s head and a fragment of the True Cross.
Plazza de Ferrari. Genoa’s fountain-embellished man plaza is ringed by magnificent buildings.
Old City. The heart of medieval Genoa, it is bounded by the ancient city gates Porta dei Vacca and Porta Soprana and the streets Via Garibaldi, Via Cairoli and Via XXV. Our Free Walking Tours guide talked a lot about the street prostitution west of Via San Luca. It is famed for its narrow lanes. Walk up to a great square at the top of the Old Town for panoramic views. In the Old City is the Museo d’Arte Orientale (one of Europe’s largest collections of Japanese art) and Galleria Nazionale (Italian and Flemish Rennaissance art.
The Port. The Aquarium is the largest in Europe. Gelato Museo del Mare: because of its importance as a maritime power, the ‘museum of the sea’ is a large exhibit on Christopher Columbus. La Laterna, the lighthouse, dates from 1543 and is one of the world’s oldest and biggest with a lantern that can beam 50kms.
SIENA (pop 54,000)
There is a strong rivalry between Florence (Renaissance) and Siena (Gothic).
History. Originally an Etruscan town, it didn’t start to grow until the 1st century BC when the Romans established a military colony called Sena Julia. In the 12th century, wealth and power grew from commerce and wars with Florence forced it to rival with it in 1270. In 1348, plague kill ⅔ of its 100,000 inhabitants, caused a decline and the Medicis of Florence barred banks, severely curtailing its power. This resulted in little development and the historic centre’s inclusion on Unesco World Heritage List the living embodiment of a medieval city.
Plazza del Campo. This huge sloping plaza has been the civic and social centre since the mid-12th century. Since 1346, its Fonte Gala (Happy Fountain) with its sculpted panels has been the highlight. The Palazzo Communale has a bell tower with 500 steps to the top and grand views.
Duomo. Siena’s cathedral (from 1215) is one of Italy’s most awe-inspiring churches. The white, green and red marble façade is matched by its interior with sculptures, marvelous floor frescoes and art. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo hourse art that formerly adorned the cathedral (12 statues of the prophets and philosophers and the striking Maestra). The Baptistery is lined with frescoes and a hexagonal marble font decorated with bronze panels. The Cripta has 180 sq. m of dry mural paintings. Climb the 131 steps to the Panorama del Facciatone for the best views of Siena’s unique cityscape.
Chiesa di San Domenico. Dedicated to St Catherine, the church has her in a 15th century tabernacle.
I arrived on the Flixbus (9€ from Florence). A series of several escalators accessed in the shopping near the bus stop take you to the top of the hill and the old center. It took about 30 minutes to walk to my BnB in the centre.
I saw all the above in the morning and then caught the Flixbus to Rome (10€) in the late afternoon.