Summer 1284. The fleets of Genoa and Pisa clash one sweltering day in August off the Tuscan coast between Pisa and Livorno, near the rocks of Meloria. The outcome of the battle is a decisive turning point in Italian maritime control, with Genoa seeing its flag prevail over its hated enemies. But victory alone is not enough for the Ligurian Maritime Republic, so thousands of Pisan prisoners are brought just outside the city of Genoa, alongside the city walls. And here they are left to die in their thousands, with no food or sustenance.
The “Campo Pisano”, the picturesque square just a few steps from the bars and restaurants of the historic centre, takes its name from this tragic story. The square, which was refurbished in the early nineties, is now at the heart of a tourist route halfway between history and great food, as a wealth of restaurants, bars and clubs has flourished around it, becoming a focal point for young Genoese to spend their free time. As soon as you set foot in Campo Pisano, surrounded by the hubbub of the city nightlife, you will be transported somewhere else altogether. Some people will find it easy to imagine themselves in a world long gone by, seeing in their mind’s eye the troops of the Republic of Genoa entering the city victoriously, leaving thousands of prisoners outside the walls. A few metres from the square, an arch of the Carignano bridge paints a completely different picture.
Here once stood an entire part of the old town centre, built around the via Madre di Dio. The area was heavily bombed during the Second World War and was razed to the ground in the post-war period, to make room for parks and the new administrative centre that houses offices, shops and local authorities. The incredible diversity between each side of the arch is quite striking and almost like a window through time. When the area was demolished, the birthplace of Niccolò Paganini, a famous violinist of the eighteenth and eighteenth centuries, was also destroyed. But the Genoese have not forgotten this piece of their history and a memorial has been installed there with the poignant inscription: “To the shame of the living and as a warning to those to come, like in the time of the glorious Republic of Genova, we dedicate this “shameful pillar” to the greed of the speculators and the culpable weaknesses of our city’s own leaders”.
Leave the legendary tales of the Campo Pisano behind you for a moment, and follow the crêuza (a brick built street going up a hill, typical of Liguria) that takes you to piazza Sarzano. Here you can find bars, bistros and a small market where you can sample local specialities. If history is your thing, look no further. In the centre of the square, you will find the Well of Giano Bifronte, legend has it that he was the founder of the city – and hence the name, Genoa. The Museum of Sant’Agostino holds some fascinating sculptures, and the tranquillity of its cloisters will provide you with the perfect backdrop for a photograph of your first trip to Genova!