Leaving the flooded Var region of France behind on 17 June, I had to change three times on my way to Genoa for various reasons - at Nice Ville, at Cannes and finally at Ventimiglia. And the trains were very full. I talked to a number of travelers who’d changed their plans and headed east instead of west because the lines were down west of Fréjus.
I also met some lovely and very kind people. Because the handle on my big case had broken it was a very slow and difficult job for me to lift it. At Fréjus in particular, the escalators weren’t working and nor were the lifts – in fact the area in front of the lifts was underwater.
A very kind young man carried my case up two long flights of stairs – as if it was a feather! He was going to another platform so I had to take it down on the other side, but that was easy by comparison.
I managed the change at Nice and at Cannes because, fortunately, we got off the train at one side of a platform, turned round and got onto another train on the other side of the same platform. Weird?
But when I got off at Ventimiglia I had to change platforms and walk up and down long flights of stairs – and wait for 90 minutes. Imagine my surprise when a big Finnish man and his family took complete charge of me. He carried my case all the way to the right platform, which was fortunately in the same place as the restaurant. We just had time to exchange email addresses in case they ever come to New Zealand or I go to Finland!
And then, as suddenly as they’d appeared, they disappeared – going in another direction. And with such a long wait, I decided to have a serious lunch of fresh fish and lots of veggies (cooked to perfection), brioche and coffee, so that I wouldn’t have to eat another meal when I finally arrived in Genoa.
When I boarded the more local train at Ventimiglia, I found that we had to put our luggage up on the overhead racks! No chance! But again, two (not one but two!) men rushed to my aid and, between them managed to put the big one up high. And the small one!
Eventually at 5.30 – 6 hours after I’d left Fréjus – the local train arrived in Genoa.
When we arrived at Genova, help was again at hand. Aren’t people amazing? This time it was in the form of a couple of musicians. A lovely Brazilian called Rico from Sao Paolo (who gave me a DVD he’s put together called Quintao which is a documentary made from eleven interviews with professionals by way of a brief introduction to the Taoist philosophy). His girlfriend, called Talia, was a delightful Canadian from Toronto who plays the piano and sings. Their relationship is fairly new, they tell me, but they’ve managed to see each other twice in their first month! That’s dedication! Or it is desire?
Again we exchanged cards and I feel sure we’ll meet again somewhere in the world.
They helped me right out onto the street which meant that I had very nearly arrived!
Genova Piazza Principe is the nerve-centre of the city’s transport system. It’s located in Piazza Acquaverde, which is a very strategic position. About 300 trains pass through this station every day – that’s about 24 million people a year. I had no idea it was such a hub of activity. But Genoa is very much a gateway, situated where it is.
Right outside the station stands a very large and beautiful statue of Christopher Columbus with the inscription, A Cristofero Colombo, La Patria (the fatherland).
Nearly all authorities agree that Christopher Columbus spent his youth in Genoa, even though not all of them agree he was born there.
The statue is of Columbus with long, flowing hair, dressed in a short Spanish tabard and a large open cloak. His left hand rests on an anchor while his right is on the shoulder of a figure of America, typified by a kneeling Indian maiden, holding a cross in her right hand. At each of the four corners of the base, stands a smaller square pedestal, and on each of these is a seated statue representing Piety, Science, Constancy and Prudence.
On the back of the statue the inscription reads, ‘Having divined a world, he found it for the perennial benefit of the old one’.
After admiring the really lovely statue it was time to make my way to the hotel Julie had booked, fortunately only about 150m away. And what a lovely hotel it turned out to be – Hotel Continental at Via Arsenale di Terra, 16126 Genova – email@example.com It’s part of the Space Hotels chain and I’d recommend it highly to anyone coming to Genoa.
After spending a month in Fréjus with the only free internet access being 20 minutes away at McDonalds in St Raphaël, it was a real treat to find that the hotel offers free WiFi in every room. So once settled in my room and unpacked by about 6.00, I didn’t go out again. I just caught up!
On Friday I had been meaning to take the train to Pisa, but somehow it didn’t work out like that and I spent the day walking around Genoa and exploring.
The first thing I noticed was that between the larger streets there are heaps of tiny ‘streets’.
And I use the term 'tiny' advisedly!
The information centre was closed for lunch so I made my way down to Porto Antico.
The port of Genoa, once just a natural inlet, started to become active as early as the 5th century BC.
The history of Porto Antico and the trade that Genoa had with the entire Mediterranean coincides with the history of a landing place that followed the path of the innovations in the structure of ships and the means of loading and unloading goods. The coastline was constantly being modified, port structures adapted and new interventions introduced.
Genoa was at the centre of ancient traffic especially in the 4th century AD when Milan was elected capital of the Empire.
The leadership of the town and its port on the Mediterranean Sea intensified at the time of the crusades and later in the 16th century when the economic power of the city reached its peak.
However, the great Genoese families slowed down their commitment to trading in favour of financial activities and development of the port slowed.
During the 20th century, port traffic moved more and more to the western part of the city and Porto Antico remained practically unused until restructuring began in 1992 and it was given back to the community.
I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy some native American Indians playing beautiful music and dancing.
Looking back towards the city, I saw this beautiful building. The Loggia of Palazzo San Georgio used to be the home of the Bank of St George (established in 1407), one of the most powerful and oldest chartered banks in Europe. It is now home to the Port Authority.
This historical building incorporates a section of the original medieval structure built in 1260 by order of the people’s Captain, Guglielmo Boccanegra. It was designed by the famous Cistercian monk, Friar Oliverio.
If you look at the side view of the building in this photo, you can clearly see the medieval bit at the back.
According to tradition, Marco Polo dictated the account of his journey to China, known as Il Kilione, here, where he was imprisoned by the Genoese during the naval Battle of Curzola against the Republic of Venice in 1298.
In 1570 the building was extended to the south as a result of the growing fortune and functions of the Casa di San Giorgio. And in 1903 it became the headquarters of the Port Authority.
A kind official allowed me to go inside and stroll through the ground floor where I found all manner of paintings and statues, like this one.
Leaving the Port and strolling up into the heart of the city, I came across the magnificent Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. It sounds better in Italian doesn’t it? St Lawrence Cathedral doesn’t quite have the same magical sound!
The cathedral was probably founded in the 5th or 6th century AD and devoted to St Sirus, Bishop of Genoa.
Excavations under the pavement and in the area in front of today’s façade have revealed walls and pavements of Roman age, as well as pre-Christian sarcophagi, suggesting the existence of a cemetery on the site.
Later, a charge devoted to the twelve apostles was built, which was, in turn, flanked and replaced by a new cathedral, dedicated to St Lawrence the martyr, in Romanesque style. Money came from the successful enterprises of the Genoese fleet 12in the crusades.
And it got more beautiful the closer you got.
The cathedral became the heart of the city.
The piazza in front of the Cathedral was the city’s only public space for the whole of the middle ages. The cathedral was consecrated by Pope Gelasius II in 1118. From 1133 the church had archiepiscopal rank. After the fire of 1296, provoked by fights between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the building was partly restored and partly rebuilt. Between 1307 and 1312 the façade was completed, the inner colonnades rebuilt with capitals and matronei (women's gallery) added. The Romanesque structures remained pretty untouched and frescoes of religious subjects were also added.
I didn’t realise that churches in Italy closed for lunch between noon and 3.00 pm so I’ll have to go back again, hopefully with Julie and Suzi to explore the interior.
The construction of the cathedral ended in the 17th century. The dome and the medieval parts were restored from 1894-1900.
Again I was lucky with buskers. A young woman was playing the zylophone accompanied by a man on an accordion – and she was very good. Unfortunately I only took a video so can’t show the photo here.
And there were other lovely buildings to investigate from the outside.
On the north-east side of the Piazza De Ferrari is the Neo-Classical Teatro Carlo Felice (1828), one of the largest opera houses in Italy. It stands in a majestic position, looking out across the Piazza.
It was burned down during WWII and re-opened in 1991. In front of the Opera House stands an equestrian statue of Garibaldi (1807-82).
Giuseppe Garribaldi is considered an Italian national hero. He was dubbed the Hero of the Two Worlds, in recognition of his military expeditions in both South Americas and Europe. He was both a military and political figure. He joined the Carbonari Italian patriot revolutionaries in his twenties 19and fled Italy after a failed insurrection. But he returned to Italy as a commander in the conflicts of the Risorgimento, a political and social movement that united different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of Italy in the 19th century.
As I walked away alongside the Opera House, I realised how many wonderful performances were being produced there.
And then I found myself at the entrance to Via Garibaldi. I’d heard a lot about this very special street – which is pedestrianised. It is 250m long and 7.5m wide. Via Garibaldi is a street in the historical centre of Genoa, well known for its ancient palaces. The street dates back to the year 1550. It had other names – Strada Maggiore and Strada Nuova, but in 1882 it was dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi. Since July 2006 Via Garibaldi has featured in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli and Strade Nuove del Centro Storico of Genoa.
The English will be pleased to know that Charles Dickens gave a suggestive description of this street in his travelogue, Pictures from Italy.
‘When shall I forget the streets of Palaces, the Strada Nuova and the Strada Balbi or how the former looked one summer day, when I first saw it underneath the brightest and most intensely blue of summer skies: which its narrow perspective of immense mansions, reduced to a tapering and most precious strip of brightness, looking down upon the heavy shade below! The endless details of these rich Palaces, the walls of some of them, within, alive with masterpieces by Vandyke! The great, heavy, stone balconies, one above another, and tier over tier, with here and there, one larger than the rest, towering high up – a huge marble platform; the doorless vestibules, massively barred lower windows, immense public staircases, thick marble pillars, strong dungeon-like arches, and dreary, dreaming, echoing vaulted chambers: among which the eye wanders again, and again, and again, as every palace is succeeded by another – the terrace gardens between house and house, with green arches of the vine, and groves of orange-trees, and blushing oleander in full bloom, twenty, thirty, forty feet above the street – the painted halls, mouldering, and blotting, and rotting in the damp corners, and still shining out in beautiful colours and voluptuous designs …’
I couldn’t have said it better but I did feel a bit breathless when I read it! Perhaps full stops weren’t in vogue in the 19th century!
And so I wandered on and confess to getting lost and finding myself down at the Port again, only this time much further west, past my hotel in fact.
So I retraced my steps and came across a gem of a Palazzo, the Palazzo del Principe from the back (I’ve yet to see it from the front).
Clearly the inside is a visit waiting to happen, hopefully something I can do when Julie and Suzi arrive in Genoa.
By this time I’d walked for about five hours and could sense that some of the surroundings were beginning to l13ook familiar. I squeezed through yet another tiny street and came across the Church of San Giovanni di Pré.
This church is connected to the neighbouring Pré insignia building. Work was begun in 1180 with pre-Lamica masters, a fact which is commemorated by a plaque on the wall.
It has recently been restored by the Ministry for cultural heritage. There are two churches, one of which stands over the other but which are mutually independent from one another. The smaller church with three naves, occupies the central nave of the larger one. This has a splendid Romanesque bell tower with three levels of three pane windows and a pyramid-shaped spire.
There has been an entrance in the apse of the larger church since 1731 when the Knights of the Order of Malta allowed entry to the more civilised members of the public. The inner church is intimate and quiet and it was a peaceful place to sit quietly and take in the surroundings. It contains the remains of an important series of frescoes that have recently been brought to light.
After such a long day it was high time to return to the Hotel and rest.
The next day, Saturday, 19 June, it was really good to see Julie at the airport bus stop just outside the station in Genoa. As well as working full time she’d been studying hard for the previous six weeks. Her final two exams had been on Monday and the day before. She looked exhausted and in need of some serious chilling out. I was glad that she was going to spend some time in Italy with me, and with Suzi too when she arrived.
Hotel Continental had very kindly agreed to hold my big case as we were returning. This was a huge relief and meant that I only had to trundle my cabin bag.
We bought our tickets and caught the regional train to Monterosso. It stopped everywhere but the views from the window were of continuous blue seas, attractive rocks and occasional sandy beaches with quaint pink and yellow houses perched on the hills around.
Down the stairs from the platform, we arrived on the side of the road beside the sea. No cars, and not many people because it was spitting with rain. It was good to arrive but we had absolutely no idea where to go.
We asked at the information bureau and they marked a spot on the map and told us that it was ‘somewhere up that street’.
The beach was totally deserted in the drizzle.
We weren’t being very attentive to the signs as we trundled our bags up a steep hill until we found a man and asked the way. He told us to go nearly all the way back down again. Our hotel was near the bottom!
We walked into a somewhat unprepossessing place.
Some men were playing cards at a table near a reception desk. One of them got up rather reluctantly. We spoke no Italian. The man spoke no English! But he asked for our passports, found our name on his list and beckoned to us to follow him back onto the street.
Obediently trundling our bags, we set off back down to the bottom of the hill. Then we stood and waited with him in silence.
About five minutes later another man arrived and it was clear that we should now follow him. The first man’s parting gesture was to point back to his place and say ‘breakfast’.
Still trundling our cases, we did follow the second man, almost back to the station!
Suddenly he stopped outside a building, went through an open gate to a big door, unlocked it and beckoned us to come in.
Stone stairs stretched out ahead of us and at this point, he took our suitcases – thank goodness.
We followed him up two flights of wide concrete stairs. Julie said that my face was a picture. We had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next.
At the top of the stairs, he unlocked another door and led us into a passage. Then he unlocked a third door and we found ourselves in a very nice little bedroom with en suite bathroom and balcony right on the edge of the ocean. After the initial encounter, this was a huge, and very pleasant surprise.
Then he left us!
We presumed we’d arrived. Hardly a word had been spoken!
So we unpacked. It was about 6.00 by this time so we decided to grab a quick bite to eat and have an early night.
The street was deserted too.
We had a glass of wine and a plate of Monterosso anchovies, the speciality of the region.
Almost as soon as we finished our meal, the heavens opened. Fortunately we were only 50 yards from the apartment so we ducked under our trusty umbrellas and rushed home.
On Sunday morning we started pretty slowly and went back, as directed, for breakfast. It turned out to be surprisingly good.
And then it was decision time. What was the weather going to do? Should we walk the Cinque Terre or take the train?
Julie had been studying and working so hard that she’d let her exercise routines slip, so the choice was definitely a walk. We decided that we should at least walk the Cinque Terre track to the next village – Vernazza – and then see how we felt after that.
It was drizzling and a bit cold so we donned thermals and jackets and set off.
We went through a tunnel. This joins one half of Monterosso to the other and we found ourselves in what we supposed was the real town of Monterosso. It was very pretty.
The family, all of whom have ‘done’ the Cinque Terre, had told us that parts of the track were relatively easy but that there was one section – and they couldn’t remember which one – that I (with knee replacement and joint problems) shouldn’t attempt.
I think we discovered quite quickly that we’d found the one I shouldn’t attempt. The track between Monterosso and Vernazza purports to take one and a half hours. We took nearer to two hours! It’s almost vertical in parts and the steps are very deep in others. Added to that it’d been raining so lots of the paths were running with water. Sometimes we had to traverse very wide streams of fast running water.
We thought we’d passed a sign saying that the track was closed, but we weren’t sure and there were a few other people on the track, so we soldiered on.
Even Julie, fit though she normally is, found the going tough.
However, it was beautiful. We looked back to Monterosso and ahead in the direction we were going. The weather was improving fast.
Finally, we saw the beautiful village of Vernazza laid out below us – a very welcome sight. From this point, it still took us another half hour to reach it!
But it got closer. And closer.
The sun had come out with a vengeance while we were scaling the stone steps on the track. We’d put our thermals into our bags and taken our jackets off and tied them around our waists. Wherever tight clothes touched our bodies we were wringing wet from all the exertion! But the sun was hot so we hoped we’d dry off quite quickly.
We collapsed under one of the yellow umbrellas you can see here and had a wonderful glass of iced tea each. We’d survived the challenging walk, we felt good, and we were very proud of ourselves. Vernazza is a very pretty village and it was lovely to linger there.
A little refreshed, we explored the possibility of taking a boat along the coast. But we were told that the sea was too rough. So we decided to be wimps and bought train tickets to Riomaggiore, planning to get off and explore each village in turn.
But the guide books said that it was 238 steps up to the village of Corniglia, the next village. We flagged that, reluctantly. It’s not the going up that hurts me – it’s the coming down!
But we did stop off in Manarola and walked into another very pretty village. Overlooking the sea, we could understand why the boats weren’t running.
So we cut our losses and stopped there for some lunch. We lingered over it for quite some time.
Julie realised that she’d left her hat at the apartment so we explored the shops in the village, to get her another one. She obviously wanted to make quite sure I didn’t lose her!
The day went downhill a bit after that. We nearly walked the short distance up the via dell’Amore (the love Path) from Manarola to Riomaggiore, but common sense got the better of us. We wanted to be fit enough to walk again tomorrow.
So we got back on the train. We stopped for a little while in Riomaggiore but really only long enough to have a quick look around and stock up with cheese and fruit so that we could have dinner in the apartment. We didn’t think we’d be able to move again once we got home.
Having spent quite some time in the beautiful villages of Vernazza and Manarola, I think we were spoiled for the other villages. They were definitely our favourites.
We took the train straight back to Monterosso and reminded ourselves of how beautiful the vegetation is on the buildings, even if I had to lean against the fence in order to remain standing!
We just managed the climb up the stairs to our apartment, lay down on our beds and turned on the television. We were thrilled to find that New Zealand were in the middle of their soccer world cup game with Italy and that they’d scored the first goal. Almost falling asleep, we watched the second half and were delighted with a 1-1 draw. What an excellent result.
At this point, Julie decided that her calf muscles were so stiff that she needed another walk so she went out and walked right around the Monterosso township while I relaxed.
Our lovely evening snack was just what we needed – and another early night. We just had time to see the beautiful sunset before we fell asleep.
Our plan for the next day was to visit La Spezia and Porto Venere. Monday morning, 21 June, dawned much brighter and sunnier.
After another good breakfast, we set off for the station – with the bougainvillea looking wonderfully washed and refreshed.
Our first destination was La Spezia from where we were going to catch a bus to explore Porto Venere. We thought we do it that way round, coming back to explore La Spezia in the second half of the day, and it turned out to be a great decision.
We both fell in love with Porto Venere. It’s a delightful little town. The first impression is of colour and activity. And ancient ruins.
We walked up into the town through little streets. And peeped into shops brimming with colourful goods.
Then we came upon La Chiesa di San Pietro and Andrea Doria Castle.
La Chiesa of San Pietro is built on the ruins of the old temple to Venus, beside the square battlements which were built to protect the coastline from invaders. It was once a Roman maritime centre. The fall of the Roman Empire left Porto Venere to become the centre for the Byzantine fleet until 643.
This small port, one of the most significant in Liguria, has a very long history. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Some parts of The Count of Montecristo were filmed here.
It‘s a very beautiful spot. The views from the top were outstanding in all directions. Back towards the town and out to sea.
The door to the lovely church was wonderful with amazing detail.
And inside was peaceful and quiet. The windows behind the altar face out to sea.
A wedding had just taken place so the flowers were lovely.
And the bride and groom were sweet enough to pose for us!
We went down the stone steps to the road on the waterfront where we found a game of large chess pieces set beside a restaurant.
We walked along the front and enjoyed an iced tea as we gazed out to sea and immersed ourselves in the hustle and bustle on all sides.
We enjoyed the inevitable buskers who were making music.
The bus journey back to La Spezia enabled us to look down on all the bays laid out below us with colourful houses stretching up into the hills.
Back in La Spezia, we were determined to see as much of this city as our legs would allow after yesterday’s climb.
First we visited La Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta but it was a little disappointing. We couldn’t get inside and we were clearly on the wrong side of it so couldn’t take a photo that did it justice.
We’d found the Cathedral on the map so made our way there, passing yet another lovely statue of Garibaldi in a park on the way.
But when we finally reached the Cathedral it was a bit of a surprise. The Cattedrale Criso Re is completely round and very modern.
The cathedral, dedicated to Christ the King of Ages, was built in the twentieth century on the site of the ancient fifteenth century convent of the Capuchins. The Church is built in the shape of a large ring, forming a dome of almost two thousand tons supported by twelve columns, symbolizing the Apostles.
It was consecrated in 1975.
Inside it was very bare, stark and unprepossessing. It was so unlike our concept of what a cathedral normally looks like, that we didn’t linger either inside or out even though we were on a high point and the views of the Port from beside the Cathedral were great.
The road back to the Station is called Via XX Settembre and it’s a beautiful street with lovely mansions and glorious architecture.
And along this street, we found a view of the Castello san Giorgio.
Fortunately, there was a funicular right up to the Castle because I don’t think either of us could have climbed all those steps.
St George Castle is the monument that best represents the historical events of the city of La Spezia. It’s situated on a small hill called Poggio and dominates the neighbourhood comprising late mediaeval buildings.
The walls are equipped with slits for archers on the north side. The surviving wall on the urban side is interrupted by the development of Via XX Settembre.
The Castle underwent radical renovations with the addition of the structure that faces the valley and it was equipped for the use of firearms. In 1554 an important defensive support was built and these ruins have only recently surfaced. In 1607 more renovations took place which brought the Castle to its present form.
Alongside the Castle was the Convento dei Frati Minori Cappuccini.
This is a very majestic building and clearly of great spiritual importance to the city. The Church and Convent are of the order of Capuchin friars. Together they overlook the Bay of Silence and contain many valuable works of art.
At the end of all this sightseeing, we treated ourselves to a lovely drink in a beautiful square and made the final few hundred metres to the station, glad to be able to sit down and be transported back to Monterosso.
On Tuesday, 22 June, we had our breakfast earlier and took the 10.18 train north, all the way back to Genoa to leave our bags at the Hotel. Then we made our way south again to Santa Margherita. We didn’t want to spend the whole day trundling our cases and it was a good decision.
The train journeys were a bit long so we didn’t have as much time as we’d have liked, but once again we decided to take a bus out to Portofino and come back into Santa Margherita afterwards.
The view from Santa Margherita station was lovely.
The day was hot and sunny and when we reached Portofino on the bus, it was bathed in sunshine. And full of people. The buildings and the surroundings were very typically Italian and pretty.
But neither of us liked it at all. We feel sure that 20 years or more ago it would have been a most beautiful Italian fishing village and totally irresistible and very pretty. But it’s been developed to gear up for the rich and famous visitors, mostly, unfortunately, English and Americans.
We hardly heard any Italian being spoken, even in the shops (a lot of which were designer shops). The tiny area of water was jam-packed with enormous yachts and launches as well as small ones – goodness knows how one got out and another in.
Friends had asked us to check out Hotel Splendido, high above the town, so we walked up there and enjoyed both the walk and the views from the top.
We uplifted their brochure but I’m fairly certain that our friends may not be interested in staying here if they decide to visit Portofino. A suite overlooking the sea costs a cool Є4,500 a night!
We took the bus back to Santa Margherita. Julie went off for a little explore while I declared myself defeated and enjoyed an iced tea overlooking the ocean. Somewhat disenchanted with our day, we walked to the station and took the train back to Genoa.
On 23 June, Suzi joined us in Italy and we had just one day to explore together before Julie had to return to work in London We decided to spend the day in Turin. Suzi had been to Turin before and loved it. I’d always believed that it was a bit of an industrial city and that it might be unattractive, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We made the customary enquiries at the Tourist Bureau at the Station and set off on foot for the centre of the city.
After such a long train journey on a hot day it was important to begin with a coffee. We chose a very expensive café and were enchanted to be served with a café latte, Turin style. Hot frothy milk comes in a glass and is accompanied by a small jug of espresso coffee which you pour into the milk. Very classy – and, according to Julie and Suzi, very delicious! I stuck to my normal Americano.
The people in the Tourist Office explained to us that, as Turin was built by the Romans, everything was in straight lines. They said it would take us about 15 minutes to walk from the station in a straight line to the city centre and then about 15 minutes to walk north, east and west in straight lines to see most of the sights that Turin has to offer. That might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it was certainly very well laid out.
The Roman Emperor Augustus had Turin built two thousand years ago as a camp for the troops he sent to protect the Roman state’s northern borders.
As the tourist Bureau told us, it’s a classic Roman ‘castrum’ with square layout. Its layout has remained almost unchanged for centuries, complete with its ancient walls, both during the domination of the Lombards and later the Franks, as well as during the early middle ages.
The City has a long and complicated history which I can’t possibly do justice to here, but I’ll cover a few important bits of its history.
After the peace treaty, signed with Austria in 1850, Turin began to play a leading role in Italy’s cultural and political life, an eminence that culminated in 1861 when Turin briefly became the capital of the newly proclaimed United Italy. The new nation’s industrial and commercial requirements made it essential to update the distribution network for raw materials and finished goods.
The solution was the railway system, which accelerated both economic growth and the move to the cities.
The transfer of the capital to Florence caused a temporary halt in the city’s socio-economic, political and cultural development. It was not until the 1880s that the opening of its first great foundries, textile and steel factories, triggered a revival and an upsurge in new building. This, in fact, was Turin’s first real industrial boom in a variety of fields.
The outbreak of World War I was actually a great boon for Turin’s industry, especially its motor manufacturers. Fiat expanded so dramatically that its workforce numbers rose from 400 in 1914 to 40,000 in 1918. These were the years in which Fiat built its Lingotto factory complex, one of the greatest achievements of early twentieth century industrial architecture.
Once the Fascist dictatorship came to power it took action against its opponents, including ‘la Stampa’, the newspaper created by Alfredo Frassati, which was silenced for many years.
In fact, Turin was one of the most anti-fascist cities in Italy but it was not until war actually broke out that the Resistance movement became properly organised, continuing the struggle up to the moment of liberation.
The Second World War left the city in desperate straits, struggling against hunger, poverty, unemployment and the devastating effects of bombing. In the arduous task of reconstruction it was Fiat that directed the economy of the city and transformed it into the working capital of the nation.
From the Fifties on, Turin’s engineering industry went from strength to strength, both in the national and the international market. Industrial expansion brought massive immigration from the South and the city spread like an oil slick in an utterly unplanned fashion.
We’d struck Turin on its Saint’s birthday. From one point of view this was a disaster because many of the things we wanted to visit were closed. But from another point of view it made the visit electrifyingly exciting. Stuff was happening on all sides and there was a real party atmosphere. For a start, there was clearly a vintage car event happening somewhere because vintage cars kept passing by.
The Royal Palace of Turin or Palazzo Reale was open. This was the official residence of the Savoy royal family until 1865. It was formerly the Palazzo del Vescovo (Bishop’s Palace) until it became Palazzo Ducale (Duke’s Palace) under Carlo Emanuele II who commissioned Ascanio Vitozzi to transform it into the “Great new palace’ in 1584.
It was extended and renovated by the first Madama Reale, Marie Christine of France (1606-1663), in the seventeenth century and became the setting for some impressive works of art.
The Piazzetta Reale, the magnificent group of buildings that make up Palazzo Reale, is enclosed by very attractive 19th century railings designed by the sculptor Pelagio Palagi, with statues of Dioscuri.
We thought we’d come back to it after we visited the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, so we made our way there first. As it turned out, we were sidetracked.
Bishop Domenico Della Rovere was unique in calling in an architect, Meo del Caprina, from central Italy to build the Cathedral of San Giovanni in 1498. It’s one of Turin’s very few examples of Renaissance architecture.
The Cathedral of Turin is dedicated to the Patron Saint of the City, St John the Baptist. It’s the major church of Turin and was built between 1491 and 1498. It’s adjacent to an earlier bell tower (1470) which is actually not on a lean as the photo suggests.
To build the Cathedral, three mediaeval churches were pulled down. St John, St Mary and one dedicated to the Saviour. Even though St John’s Cathedral has been restructured many times during the centuries, it has never lost its original appearance.
In the 17th century the church was enlarged and a chapel was added in which to keep the Holy Shroud. The Chapel hosted the famous relic for a long time, the linen cloth which covered the body of Jesus Christ after the crucifixion and which reflects the image of the Christ.
Every year hundreds of pilgrims go to the Chapel to see this unbelievable relic.
In 1997 due to a fire, the chapel was seriously damaged and is still closed. The Holy Shroud is currently encased in a new glass shrine and kept in a controlled ambient temperature. Only a replica of the shroud can be viewed, as the Shroud itself is only brought out for special occasions. Unfortunately my photo of the replica isn’t clear enough to show here.
It is a herring-bone linen cloth, 4.42m long and 1.13m wide. After the restoration of 2002, the Shroud is now free of patches and darns. It is supported and sewn onto a new strengthening frame and kept in an inert gas environment in an airtight cask housed in Turin Cathedral.
9The cloth shows the double – front and back – impressed imagine of the naked corpse of a tall, well-proportioned adult male, with a beard and long hair. The numerous injuries show us that this man was crucified with nails after being beaten, whipped, crowned with thorns and, after death, pierced in the side. Just like Jesus.
Photographed from the side, and further away, it’s possible to see more of the cathedral’s beauty but also the rather unattractive bell tower. The architect who designed the Cathedral brought the stone from which it’s constructed into the city. Most buildings in Turin are built of brick, which is why the earlier bell tower is made of brick – and it doesn’t lean. That’s just my poor photography.
We planned to visit San Lorenzo Church after the cathedral. Looking at our map it appeared to be close by but we weren’t sure in which direction to walk.
Studying our maps intently we were surprised when a voice asked us in fairly good English whether we’d like some help. A man approached us and asked us where we wanted to go. We told him we wanted to see the Church and that we also wanted to go to the Egyptian Museum and would then catch a train back to Genoa. He said, ‘you can’t go to the Church at the moment – the priest is having his spaghetti!’ Come with me! And he walked away, beckoning for us to follow him.
The girls and I looked at each other. I think the same thought crossed all our minds. Is this a dangerous situation? Who is this person? Should we turn away? But I could see that this might be a possible adventure so I prevailed on the girls and we decided to follow him. They were, possibly quite rightly, more sceptical than I was.
He took us in through the back entrance of the Royal Palace and showed us the cupboards containing the silverware and dinner services from olden times. Then we exited out the front and found ourselves outside the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica e Palazzo Madama with its Baroque façade.
The beautiful Palazzo Madama is in the centre of the Castle Square and today it is the home of the Antique Art Museum. Palazzo Madama is a compendium of the entire history of Turin. Originally a Roman gate, it became a small fort in the Middle Ages and in the 15th Century the castle of the Princes of Acacia.
In the 17th and 18th centuries it was turned into the home of the royal dowagers of Savoy.
And in the 19th century, King Charles Albert made the Palazzo home to the Royal Painting collection and the first Senate of the new Kingdom. In 1934 it became the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica di Torino. The Museum, hosted in this exceptional building, houses many beautiful works.
In the basement there’s the Lapidario Medievale, which contains stone sculptures and goldsmith’s artworks.
On the first floor there are art works dating from the Middle Ages to Renaissance times. In the baroque style rooms of the first floor are masterpieces of the 17th and 18th centuries, paintings, furniture and ornaments. In the Ballroom there’s a selection of furnishings that illustrates the opulence of Baroque cabinet-making.
On the second floor, with a wonderful sweeping view of the city, there are works of decorative art, ivory, ceramics, gold, stained-glass and material.
In the Torre dei Tesori (litterally Treasure’s tower) is the beautiful portrait by Antonello da Messina entitled “Ritratto d’uomo”.
Michael, our new guide, explained that this had once been a mediaeval building but was given a baroque façade which was still in the process of being renovated. The façade of the Palace, a work made by Filippo Juvarra, gives onto via Garibaldi and is of extraordinary beauty. This is a model of what the finished building will look like from the front.
But it isn’t just a mixture of mediaeval and baroque. Although that mixture is weird when viewed from the outside.
Inside the entrance doors is a glass floor and below our feet we could see the excavated Roman remains of the building.
I’m a sucker for baroque architecture so the interior delighted me. The staircase is 12 metres wide and very splendid.
Michael was a great tour guide, full of information. We asked him why he was giving us so much of his time and he told us that he liked helping tourists who were lost. He mentioned coffee. He beckoned again with his now familiar, ‘come with me’, and we duly followed.
He took us to one of Turin’s most famous cafés, Caffé Mulassano, in Piazza Castello 15. Caffé Mulassano is full of atmosphere. It was apparently a favourite of opera singer Benedetto Gigli, who came here to refresh his mouth and throat when rehearsing at the nearby Teatro Regio, and apparently it hasn’t changed much since then.
Wooden panels and antique mirrors line the walls, and the chandeliers are magnificent.
We were told that when Piemonte was conquered by the French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte, the supply of cocoa became somewhat erratic as a result of the English hampering sea transport with their powerful fleet. The Turin chocolate makers added toasted ground hazelnuts to the scant supply of cocoa and, in so doing, developed a new flavour for chocolates to which they promptly gave the name ‘givo’ or ‘givu’. The chocolates were an immediate hit and continued to be manufactured even when the need to make up for the lack of available cocoa diminished. Hence the gianduiotto chocolae was born with its soft sweet cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter paste, the famous hazelnut flavour and its unmistakable clove shape.
The Mulassano espresso is arguably the best in town. Michael chose for us their bicerin, which ‘oozes a potent coffee kick through an embrace of chocolate’ and was served with whipped cream on the side which he spooned into our cups with instructions to stir and taste!
We’d hoped to reciprocate his kindness by treating him to coffee, but he wouldn’t hear of us paying. 'No', he said, 'you’re in Italy. You can pay in New Zealand'. ‘Will you ever come there?’' we asked him. ‘No’, he said!
Then he led us through the Galleria dell’Industria Subalpina, one of Turin’s shopping malls. This is an elegant arcade with an iron and glass roof (1873) with fittings and decorations typical of the Art Nouveau style from the beginning of the last century. It’s fifty metres long, about eighteen wide and fourteen high and inevitably houses cafés as well as lovely shops. Reminiscent of Parisian shopping arcades, it is home to some of Turin’s most famous antique bookshops.
We emerged on the other side close to the Palazzo dei Savoia, situated close to Via Garibaldi, the longest pedestrian area in Europe.
I asked Michael why there were two Japanese bonzai trees at its entrance and he told me that one never asks ‘why’ in Turin!
He also showed us the Palazzo Carignano, an histoical building in the centre of the city which currently houses the Museum of the Risorgimento. It was once a private residence of the Princes of Carignan,
It was fascinating to see how the renovations had spanned different centuries and how this had affected the construction of the window surrounds.
By this time we were close to the Egyptian Museum. He was just about to point us in the right direction when he said – ‘come with me, this is better than the Egyptian Museum. I’m going to show you the best ice cream in Turin’.
He beckoned and set off. He took us to a shop where the queue was out into the street and asked us which two flavours we’d like. We suggested that he choose for us – and he did. Again, there was no question of him allowing us to pay and it was a truly delicious treat.
And then it was out into the Piazza again and we walked across towards the Museum.
‘There’s the Museum’, he said. ‘Have a good day’.
And he was gone. It was very strange. One moment he was there and the next moment we were on our own again. I think we all felt bereft. It had been a very special few hours.
The Egyptian Museum, second only to the one in Cairo, has been in Turin for two hundred years. The Palace in which it’s hosted is the seat of the Science Academy and dates back to the 17th Century. It also hosts the Savoyard Gallery.
The best known archaeological finds that are preserved here are:
The Papyrus of Turin (or Royal Canon), a document which helps to reconstruct the sequence of kings which followed one other on the throne of Egypt;
The Papyrus of the Gold Mines, on which is represented a map of a mining site in Nubia;
The intact tombs of Kha and Merit. Kha was the chief architect of the works for King Amenhotep III tomb, and Merit was his wife.
Also here are statues of the goddess Isis and Sekhet and a statue of Ramesses II, which was found in the temple of the goddess Mut at Karnak.
The latest important acquisition, in the 1970s, was the small Temple of Ellesija, presented to Italy by Egypt, for its sustained technical and scientific support during the Nubian monument salvage campaign when the archaeological sites were threatened by the construction of the Aswan dam. Some six and a half thousand objects are on display and a further 26,500 objects are in storage.
The Museum was conferred on the Foundation in December 2005. The exhibits are impressive. This body caught my attention.
We spent quite some time inside the Museum and then it was time to find 1out if the priest had finished eating his spaghetti and re-opened San Lorenzo Church. The priest had indeed finished his lunch and the Church was open again. And it was lovely to wander around its cool interior.
When we’d passed the exterior with Michael, he’d pointed out the windows in the dome, specifically the small round ones at the very top, the oblong ones just below them and the twelve paned windows below that. He told us to look up at them from the inside and we’d see the face of the devil. And we did!
Apart from the windows, the rest of the interior was small and charming.
Cathedrals, churches, museums behind us, we just had time for one last café stop before we set off for the station. We chose Café Fiorio.
Where we had another sinful chocolate fix.
Yum! Almost too big, but we still had the walk to 6the station ahead of us so we hoped we could walk it off!
It was tempting to stay in Turin, have dinner there and catch a later train back to Genoa.
There was a big screen up high in one of the Piazzas and crowds were watching the World Cup football game between Italy and Slovenia. As we passed the square, Italy was one goal down and the atmosphere was electric. Everyone seemed to be having a real party but we weren’t sure whether the atmosphere would change if the Italian team lost (which they did, we found out later).
So we decided that we’d better leave them to it, so we walked briskly to the station.
The main railway station at Porta Nuova is a classic example of modern architecture that successfully blends form and function. The architecture of the period was oriented towards experimentation with new materials like glass and iron that allowed for the boldest structural innovations.
Beauty often combines with sorrow and there’s a plaque in the Station that remembers those who were transported in sealed trains to the Nazi concentration and extermination camps.
We sank gratefully into our reserved seats on the train back to Genoa. It had been a great and very happy day.
Our plan for the next day was to go to Milan but on Friday morning we were greeted with the news that there was a transport strike throughout the whole of Italy from 10-5. Fortunately, our train left before 10.00 so we hoped for the best. It changed platforms at the very last moment so that we nearly missed it but we were soon on our way to Milan, just under two hours away.
When we arrived, the station was in chaos.
Fortunately, we were able to take the tube to the Duomo and emerged with the amazing Gothic Cathedral in front of us – unfortunately shielded by hundreds of striking transport workers.
I was very glad to get a much better view of it before we left, later in the day. It is truly magnificent.
And to be able to see close up some of its amazing Gothic intricacies.
Its interior is equally impressive but unfortunately, it’s so vast that I couldn’t get enough light to make my photos worthwhile.
The Gothic Duomo Cathedral took five centuries to complete and is the fourth-largest church in the world. It is Italy’s most significant testimony of international gothic architecture. It is unique and incomparable due to its blend of Nordic features and Lombard elements.
Milan’s layout, with streets either radiating from the Duomo or circling it, reveals that the Duomo occupies 10what was the most central site in Roman times, that of the public basilica facing the forum.
The Cathedral of Milan is often described as one of the greatest churches in the world. It is the church that symbolises the entire city. The ground plan is of a nave with five aisles, crossed by a transept and then followed by choir and apses.
Built entirely in Candoglia marble, the works began in 1386. The height of the nave is about 45 meters, the highest Gothic vaults of a complete church (less than the 48 meters of Beauvais Cathedral, which was never completed).
On the outside, the grandiose mass of the building is crowned by the main spire with its famous statue of Our Lady (La Madonnina) which is made of gold-plated copper. It is 4m high and was created in 1774.
The roof is open to tourists (for a fee) but was unfortunately closed on the day we went. A roof view apparently allows a close-up view of some spectacular sculpture. The roof of the Cathedral is renowned for the forest of openwork pinnacles and spires, set upon delicate flying buttresses.
The American writer and journalist, Mark Twain, visited Milan in the summer of 1867. He dedicated chapter 18 of Innocents Abroad to the Milan Cathedral, including many physical and historical details, and a now uncommon visit to the roof. He describes the Duomo as follows:
What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems … a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!… The central one of its five great doors is bordered with a bas-relief of birds and fruits and beasts and insects, which have been so ingeniously carved out of the marble that they seem like living creatures– and the figures are so numerous and the design so complex, that one might study it a week without exhausting its interest…everywhere that a niche or a perch can be found about the enormous building, from summit to base, there is a marble statue, and every statue is a study in itself… Away above, on the lofty roof, rank on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. … (Up on) the roof…springing from its broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall close at hand, but diminishing in the distance…We could see, now, that the statue on the top of each was the size of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street… They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter’s at Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human hands.
After enjoying the Duomo and stopping for the inevitable coffee, we were early for the drop on, drop off bus that set off at 2.00. So we took a tube out to the west and walked about 2km (each way) from the tube station to visit Leonardo’s horse. It was something I really wanted to see and the girls were glad of the exercise.
The horse stands 7.20m high, is 8.66m long, 2.43m wide and, made of bronze, weighs 15 tons, making it the largest equestrian monument in the world. It dwarfed the girls.
It rests on just two of its four hooves, on a base of white Carrara marble, in the green, picturesque and peaceful surroundings of Milan’s San Siro park, where it can be seen every day, free of charge, from 9.30 to 18.30.
Leonardo lived in Milan for 25 years in the most productive period of his life. The extraordinary idea of the bringing the horse of Leonardo to life was born after publication, in a National Geographic magazine (1978), of some of Leonardo’s preparatory drawings for the horse sculpture which had been discovered a decade earlier in the National Library of Madrid.
The article was read by Charles Dent, a retired airline pilot from Pennsylvania, USA, who had been, for the whole of his life, passionately interested in Leonardo’s life and works. He decided that he would bring the horse into existence, and in this way he’d pay tribute to the biggest genius of all mankind.
He established the “Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse Inc.”, gathered as much information as possible on Leonardo’s drawings and notes, and started the process of financing the project partially by selling pieces from his extensive art collection and partially through gathering money from the supporters of his extraordinary idea.
It wasn’t easy but his determination overcame all obstacles and, by about 1990, thirty people were working on the project, including bronze-casting experts, architects, structural engineers, and sculptors Nina Akamu and Rod Skidmore. In particular Akamu, born in Oklahoma of Japanese-Chinese origin, had the difficult task of developing Leonardo’s drawings, most of which where just a few centimeters in size, to the scale of the final monument.
In December 1994, Charles Dent died, but the foundation that he had created continued his work for another 5 years. Finally in July 1999, Leonardo’s horse arrived in Milan, almost exactly five hundred years after Leonardo’s clay model of the horse was destroyed by French soldiers who used it, unbelievably, as a target for crossbow practice.
We hurried to get back to the city centre by 2.00 only to find that the Hop On/Hop Off bus had been cancelled for the day because of the strike.
Tired though we were after our long walk to see the horse, we decided to walk around the high fashion area behind the Duomo, passing through such famous streets as Via della Spiga which claims to be the most elegant area of the city and is where the great stylists have their showrooms.
The shops were beautiful and discreet. And Rolex was advertising Wimbledon, which had just begun in London.
We walked full circle and came upon La Scala, the most important monument in piazza Scale. The theatre was built in 1777-1778 by Giuseppe Piermarini. The façade is neoclassical while the interior, which subsequently underwent various transformations, was partially rebuilt after the damage caused by bombing in 1943.
The theatre was advertising a performance of Romeo and Juliette.
Opposite La Scala is the Piazza della Scala with a superb statue of Leonardo da Vinci.
We finished our walk in the same Galleria where we’d had our first coffee of the day, Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II, with all of us feeling just a little tired. McDonald's, as in Montpellier, is housed in a building of spectacular architecture.
With the transport strike at the forefront of our mind, we decided to get to the station early so that we could be sure of catching the first available train back to Genoa. Despite being in plenty of time, we had a wait of almost two hours because of the disruptions caused by the strike. Then we had a two-hour journey, which made it a very long, though truly memorable day.
At this point, we had just a little time left to explore Genoa together before we all left to return to London.
Suzi particularly likes waterfalls so the big fountain in the Piazza dei Ferrari provided an opportunity for her to do a little dance!
Piazza De Ferrari is the main square of Genoa. It’s situated in the heart of the city between the historical and the modern centre. It’s renowned for its fountain, which was restored in recent years along with a major restyling of the square.
Next to Piazza De Ferrari are numerous beautiful office buildings, headquarters of banks, insurances and other private companies. This makes this district the financial and business centre of Genoa, so the Genoese popularly refer to it as the “City” of Genoa.
At the end of the 19th century Genoa was the main financial centre of Italy along with Milan. Piazza De Ferrari was the place were many institutions were established, like the stock exchange, the Credito Italiano, and the branch offices of the Bank of Italy, founded in 1893.
We passed an antiques market close to the Piazza de Ferrari. This was one of those times when the baggage allowance for the return to New Zealand seemed woefully small!
Our timing was better for the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo and this time we managed to get inside. It’s very beautiful.
The dome and the medieval parts were restored in 1894-1900.
Various altars and chapels were built between the 14th and 15th centuries.
The construction of the cathedral ended in the 17th century. It had a fortunate escape on February 9 1941 when the city was being shelled as part of Operation Grog, the name assigned to the British naval and air bombardment of Genoa and La Spezia between 6 and 11 February 1941 during the Second World War. Owing to a crew error, the British battleship HMS Malaya fired a 15″ armour piercing shell into the southeast corner of the nave. The relatively soft material 33failed to detonate the fuse and the shell is still there.
Leaving the Cathedral, we passed close to the house where Christopher Columbus is supposed to have lived. It was too beautiful a day to go inside.
Down at Porto Antico 20there was lots to see. This old boat was one attraction.
And after lots of walking, it was time to enjoy an outside café and the lovely sights and sounds all around us, close to the water.
In the evening we sat at a street café and enjoyed our meal al fresco. The local constabulary stood close by and I couldn’t resist a photo – much to the girls’ embarrassment! I’m sure the attraction must have something to do with their uniforms. Goodness knows how they keep the feathers in their hats looking so tidy.
Saturday was our last full day in Genoa and we went out and about again to explore last-minute things.
We decided that a good way to see as much as possible and then decide what to go back to would be to go on the little train around the city.
The journey was wonderful and the audio guide commentary was in English but we really needed to take notes so that we could remember the names of all the lovely things we saw.
Once back at Porto Antico, we decided to wander along the edge of the Port to see if we could find the Villa del Principe that I’d seen on my first day. We did find it but they were just about to close so we decided to make a very, very quick visit the next morning before we caught the airport bus.
So it was our last night together and my last night in Europe for the time being. Our Hotel sported a lovely restaurant so we stayed close to home and enjoyed a fabulous Italian meal together.
On Sunday morning we packed and got ready for the bus and were waiting at the entrance to the Villa del Principe when it opened at 10.00. Below the Villa we could see the King’s Palace dwarfed by a visiting cruise ship.
The gardens were very beautiful.
And, even with the enormous cruise ship in the background, showed the amazing situation of the Palace.
This villa was built by Andrea Doria around 1530. It’s the only ‘Royal Palace’ which existed during the Republic of Genoa’s centuries-old history. It retains Raphael’s pupil, Perin del Vaga’s work, and vast numbers of frescoes and stucco work based on mythological themes.
The richly furnished rooms hold paintings by Sebastiano del Piombo, Bronzino, Piola and an extraordinary collection of tapestries. The Italian-style garden has been restored to its late-16th century layout.
During the 16th century, this splendid residence housed the most illustrious visitors to the city, especially numerous members of the Hapsburg dynasty such as Charles V himself and his son, Prince Philip who was later to become the King of Spain.
Andrea Doria was born in 1466. In 1484, he was orphaned and deprived of his portion of feudal heritage which was transferred from his mother to his cousin Domenico. But he became enormously wealthy in his own right, and was a much loved son of Genoa, gifting both money and property to the City.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the interior. But the audio guide was excellent – if only we’d had all day to linger and listen.
And so it was time to catch the airport bus, the plane and then the Gatwick Express to Victoria and a bus back to Kate and Bret’s. Suzi peeled off at Victoria. Julie very kindly came with me on the bus to see me safely back to Kate and Bret’s. It was a very hot day and I was very glad to arrive safely, albeit only for an overnight stay.
It wasn't until 27 August that I went back to Italy this year, again with both Julie and Suzi. We were off to spend a few days at Adam and Jan's villa in Como until 31 August. Julie and I got up fairly slowly in her flat and made our way to Paddington to meet Suzi. The BA trip to Malpensa Airport in Milan went very smoothly and Adam met us for the drive to Como.
Their new villa is an astonishing place and they’re very happy with their acquisition. It’s the yellow villa at the top of the photo.
It’s high up in the hills above Como itself with amazing views over the southern tip of the lake.
The hills surrounding the current location of Como have been inhabited since at least the Bonze Age by a Celtic tribe known as the Orobii. Remains of settlements are still present on the wood-covered hills to the South-west of the town.
Around the 1st Century BC, the territory became subject to the Romans. The town centre was situated on the nearby hills, but it was then moved to its current location by order of Julius Caesar who had the swamp near the southern tip of the lake drained and laid the plan of the walled city in the typical Roman grid of perpendicular streets.
In 774, the town surrendered to invading Franks led by Charlemagne, and became a centre of commercial exchange.
The history of Como is a chequered one of high and low spots. In 1714 it was taken by the Austrians. Napoleon descended into Lombardy in 1796 and ruled it until 1815. Finally in 1859, with the arrival of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the town was freed from the Austrians and it became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy.
At the end of WWII, after passing through Como on his escape towards Switzerland, Benito Mussolini was taken prisoner and then shot by partisans in Giulino di Mezzegra, a small town on the north shores of Lake Como.
In 2010, a motion by members of the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) was submitted to the Swiss Parliament requesting the admission of adjacent territories to the Swiss Confederation. Como and its province is one of these.
Its proximity to Lake Como and to the Alps has made Como a popular tourist destination. The city contains numerous works of art, churches, gardens, museums, theatres, parks and palaces. It’s a great place for a family home.
Until they can negotiate with their neighbours to share the cost of paying for the funicular to stop at their level, it’s 226 steps up to their ground floor level.
And most of the activity takes place on the third floor at the moment, so that’s even further up.
They’ve only just bought it so there’s very little furniture in evidence yet. Fortunately, this gets delivered!
The villa is on three floors and has wonderful mosaic tiled floors throughout. The ground floor has no furniture at all yet.
The stairs up to the second floor are very Italian and rather lovely.
And reach the second floor where the look of the tiles changes.
The top floor where they’re living at the moment is different again. The lounge has a little furniture and there’s a mat covering some of the floor.
The kitchen leads out to a balcony overlooking the city and the lake and there’s a second balcony from two of the bedrooms below.
But it’s the garden that’s occupying most of their time at the moment. This is on eight levels and very overgrown.
Some of the levels are beginning to look half decent and much tidier.
And looking down from the level above their top floor to the balcony outside one of the bedrooms on the second floor gives an idea of their wonderful location.
The first full day was spent tearing ivy away from the steps up from about the fifth level to let in the light and allow easier passage.
But until the funicular is in evidence, all the rubbish from the house and garden has to go down the steps, and all the furniture and provisions that have to come into the house has to come up.
At the end of all the work in the garden, it was time to clean up and go down all the steps and out into the city for dinner.
The next morning, we were up early enough to see the sunrise over the snow at the top of the Swiss mountains in the distance.
We were off early on a boat trip with a final destination of Bellagio on the eastern side of the lake, close as the crow flies but a long way away on a slow ferry.
On the way, we passed heaps of stunning building on the edge of the Lake, like this one before we finally arrived at Bellagio.
We had a quick stop for a cup of coffee and enjoyed strolling through some of the quaint streets.
There was even time when we arrived back in Como to explore the beautiful Duomo (cathedral). Construction of the cathedral began in 1396 on the site of the previous Romanesque church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The façade was built in 1457 with the characteristic rose window. Construction was finished in 1740.
Back at the villa, we enjoyed a lovely simple dinner at home and generally relaxed. For the next couple of days, the girls went out and about exploring while Adam and I worked at home. Janice went back to work in Zurich.
And on Tuesday evening we all went back home, Adam drove to Zurich, Julie, Suzi and I caught the plane back to London and took tubes and trains back to our various homes. We’d all had a wonderful adventure.