I read in my guide that Genova’s Porto Antico (the Old Port) was a dark, seedy place before it was genially revamped by the local boy turned world famous architect, Renzo Piano in 1992, just in time to celebrate the anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Seeing the area for the first time this summer, I couldn’t imagine that there was time when walking around the port was a dangerous endeavor. On the contrary: for me, the city port was the experience that made me fall hopelessly in love with Genova, its sun, its sea, the light breeze and palms…
True, I am quite biased when it comes to Mediterranean ports: Barcelona, Marseille, Genova, even my small home town of Rijeka, being in such port cities overwhelm me with great joy and the feel of connection to the world. Because of the view of the open sea that stretches in front of you while you stand at the edge of the city, you feel like the entire world is within your reach. At the same time, you feel safe and comfortable because whoever you are, and whatever your story is, the multicultural and open atmosphere of port cities help you realize that it doesn’t even matter. You are truly the citizen of the world, and the distances and the unknowns are just within your reach.
Genova’s port is very different from the Old Town. It is lighter and much less mysterious: it has absolutely nothing to hide. And you could spend hours there, visiting different tourist attractions, such as Il Bigo (a structure designed by Piano, featuring a revolving panoramic lift that offers great views of the port and the city), Biosfera (a circular glasshouse that contains different tropical plants and animals) and Galata (a sea museum dedicated to sailing in the Mediterranean). Longest lines of tourists can be seen in front of the Genova Aquarium, the second largest in Europe, but we decided to skip the lines and visit something completely different instead. The Neptune is a ship replica of a Spanish galleon from the 17th century, built in the 1980s as a part of the set for Roman Polanski’s movie Pirates and afterwards docked in Genova where it stands today, as a popular and fun tourist attraction for the whole family. On a sunny, hot day, it was a great and very entertaining experience that brought us all back to our childhood. We climbed up and down the decks, pulled ropes, sounded bells and discovered what the inside of such a ship look like. Running around the ship, taking goofy photos and acting like children made the tour very fun and completely worth our time and the symbolic ticket price of 5 euros.
Genova is also a major cruise and ferry port. Large, imposing cruise ships – floating cities – are a usual sight in the port. Parts of the port are completely dedicated to cruise ships, as well as large, multi-storeyed parking lots (that appear as if they are from post-apocalyptic worlds, especially at night when they are dark and empty and, for a tourist in a car who is not sure which way to go, quite scary), large seaside shopping malls, wide streets, overpasses and underpasses.
After visiting any of the port’s attractions, you should definitely take the chance to rest in one of the seaside cafes. Or you can immediately choose the best of the options: sit under one of many palm trees, enjoy the shade and soak up the atmosphere.
I have just recently realized how wonderful palm trees are. Their appearance and shape carry wonderful associations: of the sun, sea and carefreeness, of fun, light and positive times. This is probably why Genova’s port left such a wonderful impression, and why my camera is full of photos of palms and fun patterns that their shadows leave on the pavement.
Although Genova is full of attractions of great cultural and historical heritage, it is its port that I will remember most vividly every time I think of our visit to the magnificent city. I will remember how welcome I felt there, how free and optimistic it felt to stroll down the waterfront. How everything felt strange and new, and in some ways, so familiar and natural.
And of course, I will remember the palms: palms, palms, palms everywhere!