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Genova, we visited once a few years ago.

Genoa, Genova for the purists, and it’s a lovely town, driven by topography. Small streets, running up and down hill, larger streets across the traverses. Our hotel is just off Via Roma (every town in Italy has a Via Roma, “all roads lead to Rome”, etc) and is near Via Garibaldi (almost every town in Italy has a Via Garibaldi, the exceptions being villages with only one road, in which case it has to be Via Roma). Our Hotel is the Best Western City Hotel, and it feels a bit American. So the aircon works well, there is a gym, the minibar is really cold, and the breakfast spread is most extensive. All for 95 euro a night, which we rather like.

We are not far from the Via Nova, part of which has been renamed the Via Garibaldi. I think the street was “nova” some time around 1600, when a bunch of dwellings were demolished to make way for a bunch of palaces, and they are pretty grand, housing several museums. It says something about the wealth flowing through Genoa at that time, Genoese ships, or at least ships financed by Genoese merchants, sailing to the Americas, cargoes of exotic spices, foods (potato, tomato, capsicum, all the Nightshade family of plants), plus gold and silver plundered by semi-official privateering. Add to that the protection money earned by the masters of mercenary galley fleets, and the Genoa bourse would have been thumping.

We took one of those narrated bus tours, which is a quick way to get an understanding of the topography and geography of a town. Genoa is very steep, many tunnels, bridges and so on, and then you run out into quite flat areas, like the Piazza della Vittoria, complete with a small triumphal arch, a micro-Arc de Triomph The Piazza is surrounded by a set of buildings that typify Fascist architecture, which I must say I find hard to love. You look at these buildings, and expect Leni Riefenstahl to be setting up for a shoot.

The Museo del Mare, the maritime museum, is good. It focuses on maritime rather than naval issues, and there is a separate naval (as in fighting ship) museum which we won’t get to. The museum shows really well how the harbour of Genoa expanded, and how it was left behind in the 1860’s with the advent of steam, and just about stagnating by 1900. There is a good display about Christopher Columbus, who came from half a dozen places, including Genoa. The jury is still out on Kit’s home town, although Genoa has a better claim than most. A full scale Genoese galley has been built in the museum (shortened a bit, but lifelike enough), complete with oars and leg chains for slaves. Different to Venetian galleys, as the Genoese pulled on the oars, while the Venetians pushed the oars – as they still do to this day. Being a rower on a galley would have been tough work.

I was very taken by a section of the museum that dealt with emigration. About five million Italians emigrated between the end of the Risorgimento around 1860 and 1905. That’s a huge number of people to just pack up and go, whole villages de-populated, families separated, younger folk emigrating, old folk staying behind. Not unlike the potato famine, depopulating huge swathes of Ireland in the 1850’s. Families taking horribly tough decisions.

“If we sell two of the donkeys and half the farm, that will buy Giacomo’s passage to Buenos Aires. It’ll be tough for us, but he’ll get a good job, and then we can all go and join him.” Maybe, with luck, with a huge serve of heartbreak.

We have an Immigration Museum in Melbourne, where we celebrate the arrival and contribution of people who have taken the decision to come to Australia and call Australia home. But behind that celebration is the fact that every person who has migrated to Australia has left their home behind them. Those ships carrying migrants have seen a lot of tears.

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