Read CHAPTER VII of Fair Italy‚ the Riviera and Monte Carlo, free online book, by W. Cope Devereux, on ReadCentral.com.

Scenery en route--Bordighera--Pegli--Genoa--Its magnificent situation --The grandeur of its past--The harbour--Streets--Palaces--Churches-- Cathedral of San Lorenzo--Sacred Catina--Chapel of St. John the Baptist --Italian Beggars--Sudden change in the atmosphere--The Campo Santo-- Shops of Genoa--Marble promenade--City of precipices--Climate of Genoa.

After our visit to Monte Carlo, we returned to our hotel at Mentone, which we left early on the following day for Genoa, our next halting-place.

The country around Ventimiglia, Bordighera, and San Remo, is in many parts grand and beautiful, affording varied and interesting excursions. These three places are filled with visitors. The climate is somewhat more relaxing than at Nice or even Mentone. The date-palm seems to flourish at Bordighera, which is said to have the monopoly of supplying these graceful branches to Rome, for the Church ceremonies at Easter-time.

Savona was the largest town passed on our route. It has a very fine Cathedral, and was at one time a considerable port. A little further eastward on the coast is Pegli, a pretty little seaside place, fast growing into favour. The Imperial Princess of Germany stayed here with her children some time since.

After a very pleasant journey by rail we reached Genoa at 10 p.m.

Genoa, Gênes, Genova, as it is called in English, French, and Italian, derives its name from the Latin word genu, the knee, supposed to be the shape of the large inlet of the sea around which the land lies in a vast semicircle. It is also called “La Superba,” from its magnificent situation; indeed, few cities equal its imposing grandeur as seen from the sea. Handsome buildings line the shore for about the length of two miles; splendid palaces, churches, and convents rise tier upon tier on the steep sides of the hills, whose barren summits are crowned by formidable-looking forts and ramparts. Immediately behind are the Apennines, and upon these mountain heights are again several strong forts commanding the town, which is also enclosed by a double line of fortifications on the land side. The stern aspect of these works is relieved by gardens, whose foliage gives the one touch needed to soften the beauty of the whole. The harbour has a pier at each end, and upon one of these is a very fine lighthouse.

From time immemorial Genoa has been famous as a seaport, and as the contemporary and rival of fair Venice, and, like her, has had a proud and eventful history. How sadly are these splendid cities of the past, these great and wealthy republics of ancient times, sunk at the present day to a shadow of their former magnificence and grandeur! Their ruined splendour alone remains to show us what they were. But it is like gazing on the beauty of death; the soul, the spirit, is wanting, and we are continually haunted by the hollow mockery of the empty house which was once its dwelling. Doubtless the Genoese are proud of their city, yet it reminds one of the last descendant of a long and ancient pedigree, whose ancestors were once lords of many a fair manor, but who now has nothing but his name left, to recall the recollections of bygone days, and points on this side and on that, with the words “These lands once belonged to my illustrious family, of which I am the sole representative.”

Baedeker says, “The beauty of its situation, and the interesting reminiscence of its ancient magnificence, render a visit to Genoa very attractive, especially to the traveller who is visiting Italy for the first time.... The Renaissance palaces are objects of extreme interest, surpassing in number and magnificence those of any other city in Italy. Many of the smaller churches are of very ancient origin, though usually altered in the Gothic period.”

The many splendid palaces of the old nobility, with all their art treasures and galleries of fine paintings by the great masters, have been left to the city as a free gift, with the stipulation of their being open to visitors. Rubens and Vandyke both resided here, and there are a number of their greatest works to be seen. As an example of the wealth of the nobles even at the present day, and their patriotic pride in their city, the Duke of Galliera, who died in 1876, presented twenty million francs for the improvement of the harbour, on condition that the Government would advance the remainder of the sum required, and the work is now in progress.

This semicircular harbour is crowded with shipping, while all around are large warehouses, and stretching along the edge is a superb promenade of white marble on raised arches. The Gulf of Genoa is very stormy, and there are but few fish to be found in it.

The streets are paved with stone which tires one to walk on. Many of them are dark and crooked, particularly in the interior of the town and near the sea, and so steep and narrow that in some of them a carriage cannot pass through. Most people will remember Dickens’ amusing remarks on this subject in his “Pictures of Italy.”

Some of the streets, however, are very fine. The Via Roma stretches up the hill, and descends in an almost unbroken line to the valleys beneath the mountains, and is remarkably clean and pleasant. On either side are houses of stone, with overhanging roofs. In the Via Carlo Felice is the Via Carlo Felice Theatre, the third largest in Italy. The Via Garibaldi has no less than eighteen splendid marble palaces in succession, while the fine streets, Nuovissima, Balbi, and Carlo Alberto, are also lined with these grand old palaces of the Genoese nobility. Many of them contain rare and magnificent works of art, and their furniture and decorations are rich and beautiful in the extreme. They are usually on view from ten till three, on payment of a small fee to the keeper. In each saloon you find catalogues of the pictures, amongst which the works of Rubens, Titian, Correggio, and Vandyke are conspicuous.

Palace after palace, gallery after gallery; it is really embarras de richesse, and one gets quite bewildered with the wealth of artistic genius.

The churches are also very fine, but many of them are left in a very unfinished condition. The Capuchin church of St. Annunziata, in the Piazza del Annunziata, erected in 1587, has a portal upborne by marble columns, while the brick façade is left quite unfinished, with great holes between the brick and mortar, where seemingly the scaffold-poles had been inserted, and in which the birds have built their nests. The interior presents a striking contrast in its splendid and almost over-gorgeous decorations. It is in the form of a cross, with a dome, the vaulting supported by twelve fluted and inlaid columns, richly gilded and painted. But a far more interesting church is the old Cathedral of San Lorenzo, in the Piazza of the same name, and close to the Via Carlo Felice. It is in the Gothic style, or rather represents three different periods, the Romanique, the French Gothic, and the Renaissance. It was mostly built about the year 1100, and restored in 1300. It has a triple portal, with deep-recessed, pointed arches. Above these are several rows of arcades, a small rose window, and a tower with a little dome at the top, two hundred feet high. At the south corner above the central door is a bas-relief of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, its patron saint, and many quaint carvings of monsters. The beautiful and curiously twisted columns, triple portals, arches, and arcades, as well as the whole façade and front exterior, are of black and white marbles; and there is some very fine bronze-work, painting, and statuary. In the sacristy they show the Sacred Catina (basin), a six-sided piece of glass brought from Caesarea in 1101, and reported to be that which held the Paschal lamb at the Last Supper of our Lord. It was given out to be a pure emerald, till the mistake was detected by a scientific judge. It may be seen for five francs a large fee, evidently charged in the hope of some day making up for its deceptive intrinsic worth. Like Westminster Abbey, the interior of this church has the impress of antiquity, especially in its worn columns. I was invited by the old verger to view the Sacred Chapel of St. John the Baptist, but my wife was mysteriously prohibited, as women had been concerned in the saint’s martyrdom. I believe this stern order is waived once a year, probably by payment of a pretty large fee for conciliation. There are other chapels, paintings, and relics that are well worthy the trouble and time of study, making this ancient cathedral the most interesting duomo in Genoa.

St. Ambrogio, in the Via del Sellag, is rich in pictures: Ruben’s “Circumcision,” and his “St. Ignatius,” healing a man possessed of an evil spirit, and also Guido’s “Assumption.” It is splendid in colouring and wonderful in the elaboration of detail. These to some may appear too extravagant. The Santa Maria di Carignano, or Church of the Assumption, in the same street, is one of the finest in Genoa. The walk from here, along the walls and ramparts of St. Chiara, gives a splendid view.

Many other churches, some sixty in number, are well worth a visit; but, like the palaces, they require considerable time to properly appreciate them.

One scarcely likes to see all these gorgeous buildings, with so lavish a display of the money laid out on their profuse decoration, when the mendicant poor, the halt, maimed, and blind are crowding the porches, piteously begging alms; it spoils your pleasure and study of these beautiful edifices. We ought, however, to recollect that at home we have our crossing-sweepers, match and flower sellers, and many wretched objects of suffering and poverty, who perhaps make a similar impression on foreigners visiting our great and prosperous London, but who will perhaps marvel also at our lukewarmness and niggardliness in beautifying our St Paul’s and other churches.

At the commencement of our stay here the weather was warm and bright, but on the day following our arrival a most sudden change occurred, and it was very wet, and on Sunday bitterly cold. We went to the English church, and afterwards walked to the top of the fine street leading from the Carlo Felice, right up the valley at the foot of the mountains, and there we had a most glorious view. The Campo Santo in the distance; the harbour on the right; and the great hills, with their strong forts perched on every projecting point and pinnacle, all covered with snow; quite a white world since the day before. We saw ice in the streets, and were glad to return to the Hotel Isotta. The poor fasting Priests seemed quite nipped up; and the Genoese ladies, who under more favourable circumstances would have been graceful and good-looking, appeared unaccustomed to this severity of weather, and hurried along with red noses and pinched faces.

Of all our visits to interesting places in this ancient city our excursion to the Campo Santo gave us the most pleasure. It is some three or four miles from the city: the weather continuing cold, we preferred walking. We went up the main street, through the valley at the foot of the snow-clad hills we had seen before, and in little more than an hour we arrived at the gates of the Cemetery. This Campo Santo is indeed most eloquently illustrative of loving reverence and remembrance of the dead, and is quite a museum of beautiful monumental statuary.

This burial-ground is a system of sheltered colonnades, where the dead are deposited in sarcophagi, resting on shelves on the inner walls, tier upon tier. Only the very poor people seem to be buried in the common earth, in the open spaces which lie before the colonnades, and these are crowded. It rather shocked us to see the gravedigger remove some bones from the ground and throw them into a kind of bin, which was there for the purpose, in order to make room for a new corpse. I thought, with Hamlet

“Did these bones cost no more the breeding, but to play at loggats
with them? Mine ache to think on’t.”

The colonnades are paved with marble, and are scrupulously clean. Some have exquisite monuments and statuary, the figures most eloquently expressive of tender feelings of both joy and sorrow. The draperies and lacework are wonderfully real. One we thought especially beautiful. The bereaved mourners are reluctant to part with their beloved relative and endeavour to detain him, but an angel gently leads him away; and he, though expressing love and sympathy for his friends, gladly follows his winged guide to a happier world above. Another portrays a little girl, tripping joyfully out from the tomb, over roses and other blossoming flowers. There are hundreds of others, full of deep pathos, works of Italy’s greatest sculptors.

One tomb is said to have cost some L5000. The patriot Mazzini is buried here. At the highest point of the cemetery is a rotunda chapel, with very fine statuary of Moses and the prophets, Adam and Eve, and many other subjects.

There is an echo in this chapel that is wonderfully and unusually clear and distinct.

The shops at Genoa are small but handsomely furnished. The Genoese jewellery is very beautiful, particularly the gold and silver filagree work. We were surprised to learn that the gold so-called is only silver twice gilt.

The postal arrangements here are very convenient. By leaving your address at the poste restante, you have all your letters sent to you at the hotel without delay. There is a nice sheltered colonnade, a kind of Burlington Arcade, running half-way up at the back of the Via Roma, where the Hotel Isotta is situated, and close to the post-office; but on a rainy day, the noise made by those talking and promenading there is somewhat of a nuisance to visitors in the hotel. A very favourite promenade indeed, the best in Genoa is that before mentioned, in front of the harbour, but only when shaded from the heat of the sun, as the glare of its rays on the white marble is scarcely to be borne. Here in the evenings, when fine, the ladies of Genoa are seen to advantage, with their charming dress at once so elegant, modest, and becoming. English women might well take a few hints from its simplicity. These ladies are mostly handsome, and their movements are exceedingly graceful.

Here and there among the houses you sometimes see between two windows a painting simulating a third window half open, with perhaps a lady looking out into the street below, and this is so natural, that for the moment you fancy it is real. The houses are mostly six stories high, and the shops and lower apartments are consequently extremely gloomy. The upper rooms are the most suitable to dwell in, but visitors frequently find it exceedingly fatiguing to toil up and down the stairs; and some of the stone-paved passages, miscalled streets, are almost perpendicular. Altogether, one needs extraordinary strength in this city of precipices. It is thus very unsuitable to invalids, apart from its variable climate. It is subject to very rapid changes of temperature, warm winds from the south alternating constantly with dry cold winds from the north, which render it very trying to delicate people.

The weather was so very cold during our visit, that, despite the great interest with which Genoa inspired us, we were glad to leave it for Pisa, which we understood would be milder. We had intended going hence to Milan, Florence, and Venice, but the cold warned us not to go further north; and we therefore altered our plans, and left Genoa on the 9th of January for Pisa, en route for Rome.