History of Genoa

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The name Genoa is believed to derive from 'Genua', founded by the two headed Giano, protector of ships and coins. This was a city of two faces, which looks both inland and towards the sea. Genoa, as well as being full of mythical origins, has always been a crossroads of traffic and culture, between continental Europe and the Mediterranean, thanks to it natural position and the initiative of its inhabitants. After the conquest of the Padana plain in 569, Genoa became the main, Byzantine stronghold with its own fleet, uniting the commercial and seafaring sides of the city. Conquered and plundered by the Rotari from 641 to 643 and then by Saracen pirates, the city only began to develop again after the tenth century, thanks to help from the monasteries and abbey and the first wall that finally surrounded the city. The great, powerful and prosperous, sea commerce of Genoa started in the eleventh century and, the city rivalled Pisa and Venice. Genoa's participation in the Eastern Crusades, as well as responding to religious needs and the aspirations of the Genoan soldiers, made the city a valued importer of riches and new products. In 1098, the merchants took over the commercial district of Antiochia, and the 'Compagna' was set up the next year, as the first communal associative instituition, giving life to a mixed, ruling class of aristocratic, feudal and mercantile origin. The historic centre was divided into eight districts and the houses had to have porticoes to show the limits of each area. These are still visible in Via di Sottoripa and were opened in 1125. Churches in roman style were built here, including the Chiesa di S.M. di Castello, Chiesa di S.Donato and the A href=http://www.wcities.com/55/2/36/160/102519/detail.html>Cathedral of S.Lorenzo, , which was built in 1118. The 'del Barbarossa' walls were built from 1155 to 1160, of which there are still some remains including Porta Soprana or di S.Andrea and Porta dei Vacca (o di S.Fede).

Genoa increased its business in the east, and in 1284, in the naval battle of Meloria, it defeated Pisa, which was also an important port, and so gained control of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Contrary to its naval victories, it had a bitter fight on land for supremacy and power, led by the Doria and Spinola families who were Ghibellines and the Fieschi and Grimaldi families who were Guelfs. Even the election in 1339 of the first doge, Simon Boccanegra, did nothing to placate the struggles. In this atmosphere of conflict and tension, the population got together in 'alberghi', organised around the most prestigious families. Those who followed them, gave up their own name and political rank to assume that of the house they had chosen on the basis of geographical vicinity or family ties. This period produced gothic architecture, characterised by the use of black and white marble to decorate facades. Popular with the religious orders from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, this led to the construction of around ten churches including, the churches of S.Agostino and S.Domenico, the fa├žade of S.Lorenzo, and also the civil palaces and towers. The Doria district, facing onto Piazza S.Matteo, is a magnificent example of this and is still relatively untouched, as is the Palace of the Capitano del Popolo and the Grimaldi houses in Piazza S.Luca. As there was a large population increase because of the economic success of the city, it almost tripled in size, and in the first half of the fourteenth century, a new city wall was built.

At the end of the next century, which was characterised by a profound artistic transformation, with the intervention of Lombardian and Tuscan painters and sculptors, the Genoan Christopher Columbus discovered America. There followed a period in which Genoa, defeated by Venice, was dominated by Charles VII of France, by Francesco Sforza, the Visconti of Milano and then by the French again. In 1522, the Republic was set up and in 1528, the Admiral Andrea Doria seized power and the city came under the rule of Spain. A number of pirate attacks occurred along the Ligurian coast in the second half of the sixteenth century, when barbarians destroyed, plundered and kidnapped in Rapallo, Recco, Lavagna, Moneglia and Sori. Watch out towers were built after this from Arenzano to Moneglia. Despite the loss of the Mediterranean colonies, the next thirty years of the dictatorship of Andrea Doria gave stability and a new constitution to the Republic with a radical renewal of building carried out by the mot famous, renaissance masters, from Rome, Tuscany, Venice and abroad, including Rubens and Van Dyck. The end of internal fighting and foreign domination led to an extraordinary blossoming of art and a period of great ecomomic prosperity. The noble families competed to commission masterpieces by the most famous artists of the time. The Genoan baroque, which was very elegant and sophisticated, was innovated mainly by P. Puget and F. Parodi, followed later by A. Maragliano and the sculpture of F. Schiaffino. Outstanding eighteenth century painters include A. Magnasco. In 1746 Genoa was occupied by the Austrians but managed to overcome them led by Balilla. In 1797, the Democatic Ligurian Republic was set up on the French model. Besieged by the Austrians again and defended by the French General Massena, in 1805 Genoa became part of the French Empire, and in 1815, the new Duchy of Genoa was united with the Kingdom of Sardinia. In the nineteenth century, Genoa went through another phase of urban renewal led by Carlo Barabino and the Cantone brothers with the opening of large roads and some important public works, such as the Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno (Cemetery of Staglieno) and the Carlo Felice Theatre. Some famous figures from the Risorgimento have Ligurian origins such as Mazzini, Bixio and Mameli. Garibaldi's expedition left from the Quarto rock, at the east of the city, which led to the unification of Italy. Genoa was the first merchant port at the end of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the entire region contributed both men and means to the two world wars and the fight for liberation. After the industrial boom of the 1960's and the successive economic stagnation, the port and the iron and steel industry was faced with crisis, and Genoa became a cultural centre, a new tourist destination and a city of art. It now faces the G8 in 2001 and will be European Cultural Capital in 2004.