hidden europe 28

The city of St George: Genoa

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The Bigo is an architectural installation that now dominates the Porto Antico area of Genoa’s waterfront (photo © hidden europe).


The port city of Genoa commanded huge influence on account of its mercantile acumen and its early schemes for the management of public debt, which paved the way for modern banking. Today the city of St George still has the face of business.

There is nothing especially romantic about waiting at dawn at the pier at Pegli. The small town on the coast of Liguria was once very grand, a place where the well heeled and well connected came to enjoy summer sunshine, gentle walks and the quiet conviviality that is born of wealth and status. Poets and writers came to Pegli too, among them George Perkins Marsh, America’s nineteenth-century prophet of conservation. It was in Pegli that Marsh framed his apocalyptic vision of a planet made uninhabitable by the greedy excesses of humankind.

Pegli at dawn. And the first ferry of the day bumps alongside the concrete quay. The regulars climb aboard the Onda Azzurra for the half hour morning commute to Genoa. No luxury service on this no-frills run along the coast to the Porto Antico. Past the airport and the docks. Mountains of containers dominating the view. GP Marsh’s worst fears realised in the industrial sprawl. Memory and meadows trashed, dogs and their handlers patrolling this no man’s land. Edge city. A whiff of jet fuel as an Alitalia plane lifts off from Cristoforo Colombo airport. What would Columbus make of modern travel?

Genoa is at once Europe’s most engaging and most frustrating port city. And the regular local ferry in from Pegli is a good way to get a handle on Christopher Columbus’ alleged birthplace. Pegli has long since succumbed to its mighty neighbour. Like other nearby Ligurian fishing villages and resorts — picturesque Boccadasse, sedate Nervi and ostentatious Albaro — Pegli has been absorbed into Genoa’s urban sprawl.

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