The historic centre is an expanse of roofs, towers and homes. Behind every door there are hundreds of stories. If telling the stories of the city meant just memories, legends which are passed down, coincidences and presences, shadows rather than light, the history of Genoa would no longer be the same, but believe it or not, it would still be as real.
You don’t need to do anything but close your eyes and…imagine.
If every city is the history of who lives there, sea cities are the history of those who come and go. Just like the Knights and the Hospitallers, for whom entrance to the city was prohibited as arms could not be brought inside the city walls. Thousands of pilgrims, survivors of the crusades, men of faith and men of arms met at the crossroads around a huge hospital complex built in 1180 dedicated to San Giovanni di Pré. In the big Commenda, the Knights were cured and given aid. Today, passing the huge atrium of grey stone, a stone’s throw from Principe railway station, it seems one can still hear the voices of the knights. It is a mysterious space where the spirit of Guglielmo, the monk who had the building constructed, still stirs, as well as those of Caffaro or Benedetto Zaccaria, travellers who passed by Genoa, just like Sephardic Jew Beniamino da Tudela or Arab geographer Al-Idrisi, also protagonists of the crusades, who fought the Genoese or collaborated with them, in Syria and in Palestine, like Balian of Ibelin or Saladin, the sultan who recaptured Jerusalem in 1187.
Mystery after mystery, Porta di Vacca is found nearby: the theatre of the sad affair of the Vachero family, a very important family lost to the oblivion of a tragic end. In a tiny square near Via del Campo a beautiful and mysterious fountain can be found. It was 1628 when Giulio Cesare Vachero conspired with the House of Savoy against the powerful Genoese oligarchy which governed the city. In one night they would have sold Genoa to the Savoy monarchy. Everything was planned to the last detail. But betrayal met betrayal and when everything was about to fall, off came his head first. The punishment of the Genoese republic set an example. That is why you read, on the infamous column on the pavement
«To the memory of the infamous Giulio Cesare Vachero, a truly wicked man who conspired against the Republic. He lost his head, his goods were confiscated, his children exiled, his house demolished and he expiated his crimes’».
Today, for those who believe in ghosts, the menacing shadow of the decapitated Giulio Cesare remains, ready to capture the souls of the wicked. The older generations know that there has always been infamy here, long before Giulio Cesare. On that pavement there once stood an ancient pagan temple where blood flowed copiously to celebrate sacrifices and martyrdoms and to appease the wrath of the gods. As night falls and shadows confuse your thoughts, it is easy to get back to reality and find refuge in a good downtown restaurant. The welcoming flavours, the pleasure of stuffed vegetables and Mediterranean fish reject the shadows beyond, back to where they came from.
And here ends the first story, but another one is about to begin…