Some say Genoa takes its name from Janus, the two-faced god of time and doorways. Perhaps. What’s certain is the city has two aspects: the vast industrial port, its docks the bared teeth of the Italian Riviera; and, in the ruched strip of land between the Ligurian Sea and the hills, a bewildering network of alleys, stairways, and irregular little squares. ‘Genoa is the tightest topographic tangle in the world,’ wrote Henry James, ‘which even a second visit helps you little to straighten out. In the wonderful crooked, twisting, climbing, soaring, burrowing Genoese alleys the traveller is really up to his neck in the old Italian sketchability.’
The port has sent out illustrious exports in its time. Most historians think Christopher Columbus, the son of a wool weaver, was born here and lived next to one of its medieval gates.