Given the great danger the city was in – besieged by pirates from the sea and by the enemy armies from the surrounding land – its defensive solution had to be not only complex, but brilliant. The walls of Genoa were built and then enlarged numerous times, depending on what the city needed. This enormous defensive structure, which can still be seen today, was the result of a centuries-long expansion project.
Genoa’s city walls – the longest in Europa – are peppered with bastions, forts, towers and outposts. They stretch for almost 12 kilometres, from the sea to around 500 metres above sea level. The names of the forts that are built into the walls evoke the danger of bygone days: Sperone, Begato, Diamante, Richelieu. Petrarch referred to Genoa as, “a regal city, blanketing an Alpine mount, whose men and whose walls are both full of pride, her mere appearance bespeaking her as the mistress of the sea.” This high praise – which the Genoese of course adopted in their nickname, la Superba – tells how, at the time, the city was already surrounded by tall, sturdy walls.
But while these bastions saw battles, cannon and much blood over the centuries, today they are a major tourist attraction. If you love mountain biking, whether alone or with family, an alternative way of seeing the city is to take the Zecca-Righi funicular from the city centre. As the train climbs the steep hills, you can admire the city below you from the comfort of your seat. Once at the top, the foot of Forte Sperone is just a few kilometres uphill. From here you can ride one of the many routes that wind their way around Genoa, along wide grassy paths and along mountain ridges.
You’ll spot dozens of people up here cycling, jogging, exercising or reading in the cool air, far from the heat of the city centre. A few years ago, the local council took over responsibility for the forts and walls, and it is now planning a comprehensive renovation programme for this important part of the city. In the meantime, you can enjoy the vast green spaces just a few minutes from the centre, with panoramic views and tales not to be missed!