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Genoa Takes the Spotlight

After years of suffering from industrial decline and the aftermath of violent demonstrations during world trade talks in 2001, this Italian port city is focusing on plans for its year as Cultural Capital of Europe.


Architect Renzo Piano is behind some of the city's new buildings.

Italians call Genoa "la Superba," their pride in the port city stretching back through the centuries. It is the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. And a mecca for pesto-lovers: so deep is the city’s love of its native dish that plans for a Basil Park are being discussed.

More recently, though, Genoa has struggled to reinvigorate an economy suffering from the decline of manufacturing. Add to this the violent demonstrations over globalization that accompanied the July 2001 Group of Eight summit meeting that lead to the death of one protester, and it is clear that Genoa is a city that needs help with public relations.

So many residents of this northern Italian city have high hopes for the coming year, as Genoa takes the stage as Culture Capital of Europe, an honor it shares with the French city of Lille. “This is the opportunity to let people know how the city has changed, how interesting it is,” Enrico da Mola, head of the Ge-Nova promotion agency told Deutsche Welle. “This is our challenge for 2004.”

Working for change

From its palaces to its back alleys, Genoa has been polishing its facades in anticipation of this year, when a plethora of music, dance, art and literary events are planned and thousands of international tourists are expected.

“Everything is changing here,” said one resident. “We Genoans suddenly have a completely different feel for our city. We want to make everything really beautiful.”

In fact, the city has been focusing on several major renovation projects for more than a decade. World-class architect Renzo Piano, who lives in Genoa, completely redesigned the city’s old port in 1992, turning it into a multi-functional leisure center. With this renovation, walls were removed that blocked off the city’s medieval center from the sea.

Museum of the Sea to open in March

One of the major projects planned for 2004 is the inauguration of the Museum of the Sea and Navigation in March. It was created out of several existing museums that were redesigned by Spanish architect Guillermo Vazquez Consuegra. Museum visitors will be able to take a voyage through time and the culture of the sea.

Another attraction is a 42-meter-long boat reconstructed after three years of historical research. The military ship, known as a galley, stems from the 17th century and was much more than just a boat: it was a way of life for the sailors, officials and passengers on board. The various environments that will be shown include a cabin, pantry, sail room, ropes store and surgeon’s room.

The construction of the boat began in September 2002 at a Belgian shipyard and it was delivered in four pieces to Genoa last fall. It was built after an in-depth historical and architectural investigation by Giorgio Carosio, researcher at the Marine and Navigation Pavilion, and architect Franco Giorgetti.

Several other new museums will open during the course of the year. Among them will be the Jewish Museum of Genoa, which will open in September with an exhibition called “Chagall and the Bible.” The museum, located in the upper floor of a synagogue, will tell the story of Genoa’s Jewish community.

Homage to Rubens

The city will also pay homage to Pieter Paul Rubens, the 17th century Flemish painter who spent time in the region in 1607. “The Age of Rubens: Genovese Homes, Patrons and Collectors” opens March 20 and runs through July 11 in the Doge’s Apartment in Palazzo Ducale.

Works made for Ruben’s volume of etchings, “The Palaces of Genoa,” will be also included. And the rooms in which the pictures will be displayed will be set up to recreate the atmosphere -- complete with aristocratic furnishings and tapestries -- that once housed the art. In all, nearly 120 cultural exhibitions are planned throughout the year. “We can be happy if we somehow succeed in creating a new image for Genoa internationally,” said Stefano Zara, president of an industry trade group in the city.

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