Genoa (or Genova), situated in northern Italy and capital of the Liguria region, was once Europe's most influential port, vying only with Venice for its powerful commercial status. Nowadays, it is frequently referred to as the Capital of the Italian Riviera. Whilst it may not compete with Italy's more popular tourist destinations, Genoa is an ancient city with a fascinating history and has much to offer its visitors.
Whilst Genoa was known to have been inhabited by the Ligures, an ancient Italian tribe; it is thought that Etruscans and possibly the Phoenicians resided there. There is also evidence of early Greek occupation dating back to the 6th and 5th century BC. However Genoa has always had a violent history and it was destroyed in the Carthaginian Wars in 209 BC. It rebuilt itself and arose phoenix-like to enjoy new prosperity until the fall of the Roman Empire. Following this, Genoa was successively occupied by the Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards and French.
What all this bestowed on Genoa was a rich cultural and artistic heritage, which makes it one of the most intriguing cities of Italy. The old town is dense with medieval back streets and a tangle of caruggia (tiny alleyways) waiting to reveal a myriad of shops, restaurants, Romanesque churches and baroque buildings.
The city is built into the surrounding hills whose towering walls can be ascended by funiculars, enabling travellers to escape the heat and bustle of the city and take advantage of the views out across the tranquil Mediterranean. Another popular way of exploring this ancient maritime city is by boat, with a leisurely harbour cruise.
Genoa was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and the city has several landmarks dedicated to him. The Genoa Aquarium built in 1992 honours the city's famous exploring son. It resembles a large ship about to set sail and its tanks, which hold a million gallons of water, exhibit a multitude of marine life, including dolphins, octopi and squid.
The Strada Nuova, a street of beautiful mansions and museums, forms the cultural heart of Genoa and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. Genoa also earned the European Capital of Culture award in 2004, which is simply one more proof that Genoa has a great deal to offer to its visitors.