October 13


Celebrating Columbus Day in Genova

By Rick

October 13, 2019

Christopher ColumbusImagine celebrating Columbus Day IN Genova, the hometown of Christopher Columbus. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that when I passed through the area a few years ago. In fact, I was about two weeks too early, and I only saw the train station, disappointed that I didn’t have an opportunity to explore this important port town in Northwest Italy. But it did get me thinking about Ol’ Chris and the controversy surrounding his special day in recent years. More on that in a minute…

Historically, Genova (Genoa in English) was one of the four major Maritime Republics of Italy (Venezia, Pisa, and Amalfi being the other three). During the Middle Ages, they had an extremely powerful naval force. If you study the flag of the Maritime Republics, you’ll notice that Genova (upper right quadrant) is represented by the Cross of Saint George, which bears a striking resemblance to the flag of England.

This is no coincidence. As Prince Edward, DuMaritime Republics of Italyke of Kent said, “The St. George’s flag, a red cross on a white field, was adopted by England and the City of London in 1190 for their ships entering the Mediterranean to benefit from the protection of the Genovese fleet. The English Monarch paid an annual tribute to the Doge of Genoa for this privilege.”

(*There has been some dispute of this statement, but there you have it.)

Celebrating Columbus Day in the U.S.

Celebrating Columbus Day
Italian Heritage Parade

Much is made of Columbus Day in the US, both for good and bad reasons. Of course, for many of us Italian-Americans this is a huge deal, and it’s often celebrated with feasts, parades, and much pride in their heritage. Never mind that most Italian-Americans trace their roots to the South of Italy, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and their ancestors would have had little, if anything, in common with the Republic of Genova. Different cultures, different languages, and two completely separate countries before the unification of Italy in 1851 (in other words 350+ years after Columbus discovered America). But that’s a conversation for another day…

Meanwhile there’s the dark side of Columbus Day, as many people now lament the fate of the native Indian tribes, blaming poor Cristopher (Christoffa in Ligurian dialect) for opening the door to slavery and genocide.  This argument is equally disconnected, as you can hardly blame one man for the choices of all of Europe, years and centuries after his death. Indeed, just like humans in the rest of the world, the Indians were slaughtering each other in violent wars centuries before Columbus showed up.

Poor Chris didn’t even know that he had discovered a new continent. Until his dying breath, he refused to admit that he had reached a landmass previously unknown to Europeans. He still thought (hoped) that he had found the Western route to India, hence he incorrectly named the people “Indians” which has stuck until today.

Then there is the word “America” taken from another Italian explorer and map maker, Amerigo Vespucci. His contributions are less well-known, but it was he who first demonstrated that Brazil and the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern borders as claimed by Columbus, but instead made up an entirely separate continent.

As a side note to my fellow citizens of the United States, be aware of calling yourself “American” in Europe. Not a huge deal, but some people are quick to point out that “America” encompasses two continents and many countries, and so therefore it does NOT refer to only the United States. Once in a while, someone from one of the other American countries is slightly offended by the presumptuousness.

Sites to See in Genova

Genova-Porto_anticoGenova doesn’t make its way onto anyone’s “Top Ten List” for places to see in Italy. Indeed, the Rick Steves guidebook omits it completely, steering people further south along the Ligurian Coast to the Cinque Terre.

For myself, I am planning to go back there when I have chance to stay long enough to see something other than the train station—which is quite beautiful, by the way.

Some of the Genova highlights on my list:

Porto Antico – This is Genoa’s historical port zone where none other than Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World. Love him or hate him, you can channel his spirit here and imagine what he must have been thinking as he set off into the unknown.

Aquarium – The “Acquario di Genova” is the largest in Europe and boasts thousands of sea creatures from all over the world. They even have West Indian Manatees, native to my home state of Florida, and found in the very waters of the Caribbean where Columbus first arrived.

Pesto – Yes, that iconic green glaze that graces piles of pasta all over Italy these days originally came from this area. Exact recipes vary slightly from town to town (even from family to family), but the essential ingredients are basil, olive oil, pine nuts, salt, and parmigiano reggiano.

For a more complete discussion of Genova, visit my friends’ websites.

Silvia Moggia, who hosted me in nearby Levanto. She is a native of the area and knows all of Liguria very well: Genoa has to be seen looking up!

Sarah Dowling, who moved from Bologna to Genova and has been blogging about all her discoveries in her adopted hometown: What you don’t know about Genoa

As for me, my in-depth explorations will have to wait for another time. But I WILL be back! Hopefully sometime in mid-October.

And Happy Columbus Day, dammit! (There, I said it, don’t judge.)

"And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home." Christopher #Columbus

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*All photos in this post are from WikiCommons

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About the author

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • Hi Rick, thanks for the shout out! Genoa is definitely worth a visit beyond the train station 🙂 Next time you’re in town shoot me a message and we’ll go have a pesto/focaccia feast! 😉

  • My late husband, Eneo, had friends in Genoa and we visited there many times. Always came home with packages of Genoa basil seeds to plant in our flower boxes to make pesto.

  • And happy Columbus Day to you too. Indeed, Genova is worth a stay. I had hoped to go back this fall especially after teaching a class about four Italian cities that included Genova. However, finances stand in the way, and I will be most thankful for my month in Rome;
    As long as we are talking about Columbus, did you notice the huge statue outside the train station? Or were you stuck inside? Don’t miss the big hill park that features plantings to pictures his three ships. Can’t remember the name right now. Also the three museums next to each other on one of the main streets are worth time as is the Royal Palace. If I got out my book, I could go on, but enough!
    A presto,
    PS The Aquarium is marveloso! (Is that word even Italian?)

    • Thanks for the great info, Joan! I will definitely be going back to Liguria, as it meets many of my criteria in searching for my “sweet spot” in Italy; a combination of charm (found in abundance in the south) and liveability (found in the north). In any case, I’d love to play the tourist in Genova one day soon…ciao!!

  • Nice historical tidbits, Rick. It sounds like Columbus was a bit of a moron. (Sorry Italiani.) Also, readers, be warned about Genoa’s port. The twisty side streets just off the port are teeming with prostitutes — all day. It’s a bit embarrassing to walk through them with a girlfriend. But it is way cool to stand on the same port that Columbus left from to discover the U.S.

    John Henderson
    Dog-Eared Passport: http://www.Johnhendersontravel.com
    [email protected]

    • Yeah, I’ve read about Genova’s seedy side from other bloggers, as well. As for Columbus, well, we must take it all with a grain of salt…history writers were no less biased in his day than in ours. 😉

  • Great post Rick, looks like Genova should be on my list for a future trip to Italy. Kudos for addressing the elephant in the room though, Columbus and his holiday in the US, it is definitely one of those tricky and somewhat touchy subjects to say the least.

    • Yeah, I think the discussion just requires some honesty and a good measure of skepticism when history is re-edited throughout the ages for popular consumption. Still, it’s a fascinating yarn!

  • I love Genova. I can see why for some….or many…American tourists it might not appeal. Its grit and landscape wowed me. The small alleys, gorgeous Piazza dei Ferrari, tasting the best fried calamari from a hole in the wall place….inhaling the delicious and fattening farinata and focaccias galore….so many immigrants just doing their thing….aperitivo a gogo….prostitutes mid day….to me Genova is the ‘realest’ (sic) Italian city.

    • Great input! Yes, maybe that’s the problem… too many tourists are expecting the Hollywood backdrop instead of the “real” Italy, and in that, Genova might disappoint. But of course, I want it all… the good, the bad, and the gritty. Can’t wait to check it out!

  • Thanks for this post, Rick. I once had a Canadian colleague tell me how others feel about US citizens calling themselves “Americans”. It was a good lesson, one I wish more of us were aware of.

    • Very true. It’s something that we take for granted in the US, even if we don’t really mean to offend by simply calling ourselves “Americans.”

  • I am fascinated with Genoa since the time I came from Liguria. There is always so much to see in Italy that there time falls short. anyway..maybe next time. great post, Rick…as always..I definitely want to see Palazzo Reale and I am thinking of fresh pesto now

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