Genoa Things to Do
monuments and museums
Built by the Balbi family in the 17th century, Palazzo Reale is an important example of an aristocratic home. Enormous in size and splendor the palace, once the Royal Palace of the Savoy family (1825), maintains its simple but elegant façade and peaceful hanging gardens where one can quietly enjoy the elegant baroque architecture. A monumental staircase leads to the aristocratic floor where rooms are richly filled with frescoes, paintings, original furniture and picture galleries and where the magnificent ballroom can be seen. Today, the building is the regional seat of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, selected for its beauty and private access to the sea.
Originally built to house the first city council, the building was a symbol of power. Its imposing neo-classical façade designed by Tagliafichi, was a first of its kind in Italy and though it has been through several fires and destructions that changed its original shape and proportions to what is seen today, it remains an imposign building. Closed for years the palazzo was reopened in 1992 for the Columbus celebrations and today is a dynamic multi-purpose cultural center with antique shops bars, restaurants, book stores, and the place where important international exhibits are held.
palazzo del principe
The Palazzo del Principe is the only ”royal palace“ in the long history of the Republic of Genoa. Built between 1529 and 1533 by Andrea Doria, the final structure is the result of works commissioned by the heir and admiral Giovanni Andrea I. One of the several frescoes painted to celebrate the life and the triumphs of the Doria family is here, portreying Doria as Neptune, god of sea. Here, too, is the Galleria Aurea with its decoration made up of precious 16th-century laces.
Built in 1543 in the harbor of Genoa, it is the symbol of the city and one of the oldest lighthouses still in use with its light seen as far as 40 miles away. The tower’s exterior consists of two towers with a staircase of 375 steps inside leading to the top. Damaged and restored a number of times, visitors may climb to the first tower’s terrace where a stunning scenic view of the city can be viewed. A promenade has recently been completed.
the old port
The old port has once again has become the focus of the city’s interests. No longer a naval and trade center, it is now the used as a multifunctional tourist and cultural center. It’s modern appearance blends both modern, functional elements with older ones. At times these older elements are interpreted in a modern key, as is the case with the futuristic outline of the “Bigo” scenic elevator, whose design was inspired by the mast of a sailboat. Visitors can take a large, rotating elevator up forty meters from where they can take in the magnificent and charming view of ancient Genoa and the port. Also in this area are the Aquarium, the National Antarctic Museum, the City of Children, and the De Amicis Library.
Housed in a building on the Spinola Bridge, The Aquarium, one of the biggest and most up-to-date sea parks in Europe, reproduces the Mediterranean sea, oceans, pole, and tropic habitats in fifty nine tanks, allowing more than five hundred sea species to thrive and breed. One of Italy’s main attractions, with over a half million visitors each year, the special tanks allow visitors to observe the habits of sharks, penguins, jelly-fish and the others inhabitants of the sea. Two large tanks allow visitors to “pet” the skates and stingrays.
the city of children
An amazing playground for children 3 to 14 years old, the City of Children is both a place to have fun and get educated, where children learn through interactive play. Located in the old port of Genoa, children participate in experiences like contributing to the construction of a house or discovering how the human body works and what genetics is about.
the galata, museo del mare (museum of the sea)
Part of the restoration of the old industrial port area, the Galata building is home to the Sea and Navigation Museum. Designed by architect Guillermo Vàzquez Consuegra it preserves the integrity of this oldest surviving building on the dock by maintaining the original overlapping arches that meet the sea, necessary for receiving boats to be repaired. The Museum follows the evolution of the port and the city starting from the late medieval period, demonstrating the importance of the sea to the city of Genoa.
the commenda di pré
Built in 1000AD as a hospital and a refuge for the crusaders who had been sent to the Holy land and a shelter for pilgrims going to Jerusalem, this imposing structure with its three levels of open galleries has kept some of its interesting medieval features. There are spherocubical headbands on the ground floor, 15th century wooden flooring decorated with prints on the middle floor, and beautiful frescoes with battle insignia and coats of arms from the nobility on the top level. At one time a part of the building served as the apartment for the Knight commander. Attached to the Church of Giovanni di Pre, it is interesting to note that up until 1731 people could only enter the church through the Commenda, though under what criteria certain people were given entrance was never clearly defined.
the strada nuova (new street)
Once known as the Strada Nuova and then as the Via Aurea, this is considered one of the most monumental roads of Italy and was used as a model for subsequent expansions throughout the city. Thirteen important buildings look onto this road, built between the mid-sixteenth century and the first twenty years of the eighteenth century for the aristocratic families of the time. The buildings reflect the extraordinary wealth of the Genoese nobility and are a masterpiece of Genoese architecture. Today, some of these buildings are private property or banking headquarters, others are public buildings, and some have been converted into museums. In true Genoese style, the buildings are richly decorated and open up to beautiful and unexpected gardens of water ponds, frescoed walls and terraces.
the church of saint stefano
One of the most important examples of Romanic architecture in Genoa, the church, founded in the 5th century, stands on ancient ruins. Its shape is unique in its rectangular plan with only one nave, the octagonal dome made of bricks and the bell tower which probably was used as a guard post before the church was built. Throughout the centuries stucco work, marble, mosaics, courtyards and three great arches were added. A series of frescoes depicting the martyrdom of many saints decorate the walls, originally used to let novices leaving for the missions that they, too, could experience the same fate.
the church of san lorenzo
This church, dedicated to S. Lorenzo became the city's cathedral in the 10th century after it was deemed to be safer in its location inside the fortified walls built in 864 AD. Used first by the Christians, it was the main stage of the political and civil life of the city in medieval times. In the 12th century the holy building was rebuilt with Romanesque style and in 1133 the church was made the seat of the archbishop. During the centuries many renovations and addition were made, though the original Romanesque style remained predominant.
Of note are the three black and white striped marble portals on the front that are sculpted with stories of the Virgin Mary and similar to those on the Cathedrals in Chartres and Rouen. The sculptures can be traced back to 13th century Franco Norman cratsmanship and provide the most interesting example of the French gothic style in Italy.
In February 1941, caught in the terror of WWII, a bomb hit the cathedral destroying part of the casing, but remained miraculously unexploded. Many treasures are kept in the Cathedral.
the museum of the treasures of saint lorenzo cathedral
Holding treasures from as far back as the twelfth century, the museum has been the recipient through the centuries of official and private donations, contributions from the state and church, and the spoils of war. Located inside the Duomo, and includes a series of underground rooms covered with Promontorio Stone, a typical material of the medieval Genoa. Today, it is considered one of the best examples of a modern museum. It is a treasury of silver and jewel works of art from the 9th century to today, reliquaries, processional arks, crucifixes, vestments, jewels, and other sacred objects. Of particular interest are the Sacro Catino from the 9th century made of green glass (once believed to be emerald), the Ark of the Ashes of John the Baptist (15th century) made of gold covered silver, and the Piatto di San Giovanni (1st century), believed to have held the head of the Saint (patron of Genoa) after he was beheaded. The museum is not only rich in history, art and cultural value, but is also a beautiful representation of fine architecture.
the diocesan museum in the st. lorenzo cloister
Inside the Cloister of San Lorenzo's Canons, next to the Cathedral, is the Diocesan Museum. Erected in the 12th century, it contains altarpieces, wooden pieces of furniture, silver objects and ornaments collected all over the territory of the Diocese of Genoa.
the church and convent of st agostino and the ligurian museum
Dating back to the 8th century, the Augustinian convent complex, includes two cloisters, a late medieval triangular one and a 17th century quadrangular one, and a gothic church that is the only one among large Genoese churches from the 1200s to have been entirely preserved and where important medieval and seventeenth-century frescoes can be admired. The cloisters house the Ligurian Museum, an exhibition of Genoese sculpture from the High Middle Ages to the modern age, several frescoes and an introduction to Genoa’s ancient origins.
the monumental cemetery of staglieno
A cemetery that is as famous for the people whose rest there as it is for its eclectic mix of art styles. Built between 1844 and 1851, here lie famous figures like Mazzini, Bixio, Constance Lloyd (Oscar Wilde'wife), the actor Gilberto Govi and Caterina Campodonico, a peanut monger who saved money over her lifetime to have a statue built alongside those of the city’s illustrious figures. The cemetery is a work of art whose paths, galleries, staircases and chapels are exquisite examples of Neoclassicism, bourgeois Realism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco.
the colombus home and saint andrea cloister
The home where the famous seaman spent part of his youth dates back to the to the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century and was built on the remains of the house of the seaman, which was destroyed in the naval bombing of 1684 by the French fleet. The church of the elegant Saint Andrea Cloister, also destroyed, is close to Columbus’home.
the museum of palazzo reale
Inside Palazzo Reale, the Genoa residence of the Savoy royal family, visitors can admire works of the most important Genoese painters and of Guercino, Luca Giordano, Van Dyck, and Jan Roos. Excellent examples of baroque and rococo furnishing, and the Throne and Hearing Room with 19th-century Savoy furniture can also be seen here.
the risorgimental museum mazzini
Once the home of Giuseppe Mazzini, the important historical and prominent political figure for the Italian Risorgimento (unification), it is today a museum displaying finds and objects from that period.
the palazzo bianco and its gallery
A splendid white facade marks this town palace as you walk down Via Garibaldi, once one of Genoa's most important streets. Completely restored in 2003-2004, the palazzo houses a fine collection of 17th-century art that includes Italian, Flemish and Spanish masterpieces that includes the works of Rubens, Van Dyck and Caravaggio. There is also a collection of Genoese painting.
the palazzo rosso and its gallery
Palazzo Rosso, which owes its name (The Red Palace) to the color of the outside plaster, is one of the biggest and most important ancient aristocratic residences of the city and one of the last built in the Strada Nuova, now Via Garibaldi. Built in the seventeenth century for the Ridolfo brothers and Gio Francesco Brignole Sale, it was donated in 1874 to the city by Duchess of Galliera, the last of the line in her family, with the stipulation that the art collections and official noble apartment be used as a museum. Beautiful rooms are lavishly decorated with frescoes by Ligurian artists from the seventeenth century and with sculptures, mirrors, porcelain and paintings from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Among the masterpieces are paintings organized by school of art. There is also an important photographic archive with more than 200,000 photographs. The museum is a splendid representation of the history of Genoa and Liguria from the middle of the nineteenth century until today. The Ligurian republic's annexation to Napoleo's empire was signed in this building.
the loggia of banchi or loggia of the merchants
Built between 1589 and 1595, Saint Peter's Loggia in the trade center of the old city, it became the seat of the Italian Goods Stock Exchange until it was bombed and the almost destroyed in 1942. In 1950, after it was renovated, the Loggia was reopened and dedicated to cultural activities.
the teatro stabile of genoa at corte and duse theaters
Considered one of the most important and technologically advanced Italian public theaters, the Teatro Stabile of Genoa, founded 1951, holds productions of its own shows and independent productions. The theater houses its own smaller theater, the Teatro Duse, as well as an adaptable stage, the Piccolo Teatro della Corte. An Actor’s School, Museum and Library of Acting are also part of the complex. Genoa is also home to other theaters like the historic Carlo Felice Theatre and the independent Teatro della Tosse.
the feast of san giovanni battista
In June the procession from the Cathedral of Saint Lorenzo to the Porto Antico with the participation of the Casacce, the ancient Genoese confraternities is held.
the international poetry festival at palazzo ducale
Eighteen days of poetry, music, exhibitions, and tours of the old center.
the genova film festival
An International film review in the Old Porto area is held the first week of July.
the nervi international ballet festival
Ballets with artists from all over the world perform at this festival the first week of July.
the international boat show, october
Held in the convention center of the Fiera Internazionale di Genova this international event attracts boat lovers from all over the world to a display of new and second-hand boats and equipment.
the regata delle antiche repubbliche marinare
Genoa hosts this antique boat race once every four years in June, when the 4 ancient maritime republics, Venice, Pisa, Amalfi, Genoa, battle against one another for civic pride. Brightly colored standards fly high, as sailors clad in traditional costumes man the decks of decorated boats, themed for a proud historical moment from each city..