Jaillan Yehia

Can You Name These 5 Famous Things From Genoa?

Written by Jaillan Yehia

Post Categories: Continents | Europe | Italy

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Genoa, Genova, Genes  – whatever you call the city you may not realise it gave the world these 5 super-famous things. How many have you heard of?…

1. Renzo Piano

Genoa's Aquarium

Genoa’s Aquarium

World -renowned architect Renzo Piano may be best known for his work on Paris’ Pompidou Centre and now on London’s Shard building, but the Genoese designer’s work on his hometown between 1985-1992 completely renovated the city’s run-down docks area making it the focal point of a new modern Genoa. He has also redesigned some of Genoa’s subway stations using his signature glazed panels.

Renzo Piano's Genoa biosphere

Renzo Piano’s Genoa biosphere

Cotton warehouses and no-go areas were transformed into an entertainment complex of museums, shopping centres and unique structures including what was at the time Europe’s – but is now simply Italy’s  – largest aquarium. The Bigo hoists you up to get a bird’s eye view of the port and out to sea, while the pièce de résistance is the Biosphere, unveiled at the G8 Summit in 2001 – using his trademark daring glass work Piano produced a floating glass ball housing a tropical garden and the world’s largest fern collection, which sits on the water. As well as offices in New York and London, Piano’s ‘Buildings Workshop’ has its base on Genoa’s Via Rubens.

2. Focaccia

Genoa's traditional focaccia

Genoa’s traditional focaccia

Another edible legacy of Genoa which mas made it’s way around the world is focaccia. Much copied but never bettered the focaccia is at its absolute best in the town’s bakeries which sell variations of the buttery, melt-in-the-mouth and authentic focaccia by the slice at every turn. Whether it’s simply seasoned with salt and olive oil, topped with cheese or used as a base for a more complex snack with added vegetables, Ligurian focaccia has to be tasted to be believed.

3. Jeans

Boat in Genoa's Porto Antico

A boat in Genoa’s old port

Most people think jeans originated in France – the word itself is French and most have heard the story about denim being traced back to ‘de Nîmes’ where the fabric was manufactured. However the truth is that the Genoese invented the modern-day garment we call jeans.

It was Genoa’s heyday and the Genoese Navy needed a new variation on corduroy to create a hard-wearing, multi-purpose uniform for their sailors. They designed trousers which could be worn wet or dry, be easily rolled up at the ankles when mopping the decks and were so durable they would survive being dragged along behind the ship in a net as means of mass laundering while at sea. This garment was transported around the world, and the French adapted it first – the fabric made in Nîmes and the product called Bleu de Gênes – after the French name for Genoa and the colour of the fabric  – giving us the worldwide phenomena that is blue jeans.

4. Pesto

Pesto made with Genovese basil

Pesto made with Genovese basil

Ligurian cuisine has given many wonerful things to the world but arguably none more famous than Pesto. Genoa’s most well-known culinary export is a sauce that originates with returning sailors who would come home yearning for fresh food and herbs rather than the seafood or dried herbs they’d been restricted to on their voyages. Ligurian basil has a very specific and refined taste and forms a big part of the city’s cuisine to this day. The word Pesto itself comes from ‘pestâ’  – to pound, to crush, and th sauce is often made in a marble pestle and mortar, with the ingredients’ ground, before being used as a sauce for the city’s signature trofie pasta.

5. Christopher Colombus

Columbus' House in Genoa's Centro Storico

Columbus’ House in Genoa’s Centro Storico

He may have sailed for Spain, and his life story may have more twists and turns than the most complex soap opera plot, but Colombus remains Genoa’s most famous son.  The seafaring shady character is honoured with a small museum at his birthplace on Piazza Dante on the edges of the Centro Storico and Genoa’s Cristoforo Colombo Airport stands as a lasting testiment to the esteem which the complex figure of Colombus is held in his hometown.

Want to know more about the Ligurian capital? Read this feature on spending a weekend in Genoa.

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