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The Carruggi of Genova

Genova

The carruggio, a defense tool for Genova

The name Carruggio, (translatable in English as "alley"), probably comes from "quadrivium" in Latin, an intersection of four roads as the many mazes of the city streets, or it comes from "charriage" in French.

To others, the name Carruggio may refer to the Arabic word "kharuj" meaning "exit", as the carruggi that lead down to the port of Genova.

Whatever the origin of the word, these narrow streets represent the heart of the city. In their complexity, they constitute the historical center, since they are one hundred and thirteen hectares of roads that make Genova one of the most interesting medieval cities in Europe.

Its shape was defined between 1300, when a group of families that had found their fortune in the maritime trade, built high walls and an internal arsenal to protect the city.

Genova's entire historic center matches with the medieval citadel, for this reason, it worths a visit. The streets are narrow, intersecting continuously and opening unexpectedly like a deep cut onto smaller squares from which other alleys unfold, all the views need a photo for their uniqueness.

Many squares host the ancient churches that over the centuries have represented the heart of a city from which the faithful left for the Holy Land.

The complex of San Giovanni di Prè, also known as the Commenda di Prè, was built in 1180 by the will of the Knights of Jerusalem and it rises on the original Church of the Holy Sepulcher. These are two Romanesque style churches which structure had a double function: a maritime station for the departure of the faithful who went to the Holy Land for the crusades and hospital for pilgrims.

One can find many incredible places in the carruggi. However, to fascinate is mainly their structure that had a defensive duty in the past. The maze of narrow streets, in fact, made difficult the passage of enemy armies and the Genoese could better defend themselves by building barricades and preparing ambushes where it was easy to get lost without a profound knowledge of the city. Genova owes a lot to its Carruggi.

These, like the great lighthouse of the port, built shortly after the year one thousand, constituted an insurmountable defense. The greatest dangers for the city, in fact, came from the sea and from enemies that could steal the riches of a city that built its fortune over the maritime trade for centuries.

Genova's lighthouse, called La Lanterna, has undergone several changes over the centuries, and its current shape dates back to the mid-1500s when Doge Andrea Centurione Pietrasanta turned it into one of the most famous symbols of the city.

The carruggi of Genova and its ancient inhabitants

The essence of Genova resides in its alleys where different cultures, fragrances, and languages coexist.

In the past, in these alleys lived ancient noble families that embellished their magnificence palaces with rare beauty artworks. These Renaissance buildings today, have become museums, foundations, clubs, banks, public and private offices that still preserve their ancient fortunes.

In the carruggi, alongside powerful merchant families who enriched the city making it a loved and feared power, lived the commoners. These lived in unhealthy houses where entire families occupied very small spaces and where sunlight could never penetrate because of the narrow streets.

Genova has always been the expression of a cultural and social layering, and its alleys are the expression of its multiculturalism, with foreigners finding the cheapest accommodation in the city. The house windows of the alleys almost touch each other giving life to a unique construction; in fact, one of the medieval walls has become part of a Gothic architecture where today a trendy restaurant, one of the many places nightlife, exist.

Even the unique architecture of Genova is a mixture of styles and layers. The past and the present coexist giving birth to something only possible to find here.

The artisan shops of the city have always belonged to this ancient place; some are home to activities that have lasted for over a hundred years and are the Genoeses’ pride. The names of the alleys are often the reminder of the ancient crafts that existed there. Via degli Orefici (jeweler street) and Vico del Ferro (iron alley) are good examples. During the Middle Ages, the artisans found their strength gathering in unions that found room between these same roads. Now, many of these activities are no longer artisanal and have been replaced or disappeared; however, the toponymy of the city recalls its ancient economic activities and its path over the centuries.

To see all of this, we must be carried away by the alleys, following their path to experience the history of Genova.

The songwriters of the alleys

The carruggi are home to many stores such as artisan workshops, bakeries and typical restaurants that blend with the scent of international cuisines, modern kebabs, and worldwide music. Some alleys are, therefore, socially and economically active bringing new life to the city.

Today, walking along Via del Campo, which connects Piazza Fossatello to the street and district of Pré, you still can find traces of the city sung by Fabrizio De André. The melancholy of the famous singer-songwriter is still among the alleys where the sun does not pass through and where one can still meet many women like Marinella, the protagonist of one of his famous songs.

The Genoeses songwriters have made the image of an almost private city public. They sang of their love for Genova, also revealing its limits and flaws, without ever forgetting the debt of gratitude, even artistically, towards the city.

The same is for Gino Paoli, who sings of carruggi in "La Gatta”, a song where a cat with a black spot could see the sea from its attic. "La Gatta" nourishes a nostalgia for the city and its places, which the songwriter keeps in other songs; for example, in "Quattro amici al bar", it is a bar in a carruggio the place from where to start to talk about discussions, ideas and dreams of four young Genoese boys, one of them is the singer-songwriter.

The Genoeses have a strong link with the carruggi, and it is clear that here lies the soul of the city from where one should start to understand it, not just visiting it.

The carruggi workshops

In Genova, the street number of the shops is marked in red, while in black for houses, making the only Italian city with this feature.

This use dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Before that, the numbers were assigned based on the chronology of the construction of the buildings but, then, it was decided to use the numbering in black for the main entrances for houses and the one in red for the secondary entrances for commercial establishments. Since then the distinction has remained, even if, several times, they have tried to abolish it and standardize the city to the rest of Italy. Among the red numbers in the alleys, you can find very interesting ancient commercial activities. The arcades of Sottoripa are among the most famous in the city. Enea Silva Piccolomini, future Pope Pius II, already in 1432, believed that this was the right place for finding all kinds of goods and probably after so many centuries it is still so.

The Friggitoria Carega (fry shop), is located since 1942 at number 113 red of Via di Sottoripa, the scent will be enough to guide you and let you reach the shop for a tasting of farinata, a batter made with chickpea flour, water, oil, and salt, which can also be seasoned with rosemary and baked in the oven.

According to a legend, its origin dates back to 1284 when, after a battle between the Pisans and the Genoeses, a violent storm broke into the sea taking much water into the Genoese galleys. The chickpea flour which was kept in the sacks, mixed with sea water and the mush was cooked in the sun.

At number 3 red of Via al Ponte Reale, you will find Busellato Incisioni, here since 1896. The shop has accompanied the history of the city, which can be traced through the plates, seals, stamps, and engravings jealously stored in the shop. There is the Genova of the steamers and transatlantic liners of the twenties and thirties, besides the political institutions of the city, there are also traces of the post-war and heavy industry clients as Ansaldo, Costa Crociere, Consorzio del Porto, and Cantieri Navali Uniti. At number 98 red of Piazza Soziglia, the past reconnects to the present. The Pasticceria Fratelli Kalinguti was Giuseppe Verdi's favorite. He left a note for the excellent craftsmanship of a croissant made by the ancient owners, two brothers from a small village near Saint Moritz. The ticket is still in the shop and it is worth going there inside to see this little piece of history.

Among tripe shops, cod shops and ancient groceries, Confetteria Pietro Romanengo exists located at 74 red of Piazza di Soziglia. The shop changed location, but since its opening in 1780, the rest has not changed. The scent of candied fruit, chocolate, and sugared almonds still surround those who enter to buy these ancient delicacies. After eight generations the customer is still treated with due regard. The gift boxes are a real treat, as its business card they reveal the ancient Genova.

These are some of the shops that made the history of the city and going through the Genoese alleyways and looking beyond appearances, you will discover a world hidden in these narrow alleys, where the sun does not pass through.

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