Sulla cresta dell'onda


The port of Genoa throughout time

The following description is taken from Ports, shipyards and ships of Italy, by George Roletto, published by Giulio Tannini, Brescia 1934:

"Originally the port of Genoa lay in the shelter of the small peninsula that stretches out in the east, in the area of the ancient"Mandracchio"now filled up. Probably the initial works along the small peninsula were carried out by the Romans. The records mention alterations made in 1130 "to the Pier." while in later years they refer to the "Saviors of the Port and of the Pier" (Salvatori del porto e del molo), a body of special magistrates in charge of maintenance, repairs and improvements of the harbor facilities, which later appear to be called "Keepers of the sea".

Since the "Mandracchio" had become too small for the increased mercantile activities, in 1283 they started excavating the Dock, located on the eastern side of the bay. The Dock actually included three separate basins, namely the Ship-yard, the Galley-Dock and the Wine-Dock. Between the Docks and the Pier they built - between 1276 and 1545 - additional piers called "bridges", for the use of passengers. The western part of the bay was occupied by yards and workshops, dominated by the Lanterna, the main lighthouse and the symbol of Genoa.

In the 16th century and at the beginning of the following century, the port was extended on the western side of the bay, where additional docks were installed. The bay was far from calm, since it was open to the winds from SW, SE, and S. Therefore they thought to put a remedy to such major problem by casting a new pier from the base of Cape Lighthouse toward the Molo Vecchio (the Old Pier). In 1638 Ansaldo De Mari began this work, 500 meters long, called in fact "New Pier". But it only was a partial remedy and new works had to be undertaken, which could not be completed because of misunderstandings and the pressure of political events.

Towards the first half of the 19th century further works were carried out inside the harbour, required by the increased maritime traffic. A major new initiative was the construction of the ware-station in "Piazza Caricamento" (half-way on the harbour front), directly connected with the Genoa-Turin railway station.

To satisfy the growing mercantile activities, the Government planned the expansion of the port, apt to cover needs for the following fifty years. The project was drafted by Civil Engineer Inspector Adolfo Parodi, who planned the construction of a root, which could be expanded at a later time.

The project met with some miscontent, eventually superseded by a donation of twenty million made by the Duke of Galliera. Works began in October 1877, and included the construction of the "Molo Duca di Galliera", starting at about 100 m from the root of the New Pier, and extending southwards for 657 m and 843 m towards SE. On the opposite side of the harbor they built the "Molo Giano," which, from the coast of the Carignano area, extended 595 m. WSW. Inside the harbor they built 12 jetties, and dredged the seabed down to 9 m depth in the most important mooring areas. In 1889 they opended the Giovi extension and built new warehouses fitted with hydraulic cranes. But commercial traffic grew faster than the development of the port facilities, hence the inability of ships to dock, which required the introduction of transhipment barges, so that port operations became more expensive. Because of traffic jams, vessels had to be diverted to neighboring ports, especially towards Savona.

New projects for the enlargement of the port were presented, and the one submitted by engineer Giaccone prevailed, which provided for the westward extension of the far end of the Galliera pier, and the creation of a new dock, behind the dam thus obtained. It was necessary to coordinate the various works and all the activities connected with harbour traffic, therefore an Act of 1903 instituted the Consorzio Autonomo del Porto (Independent Consortium of the Port of Genoa), which began to operate regularly in 1905. In that same year, the Consortium approved the project of engineer Inglese, which included the westward expansion of the port, according to the previous project of engineer Giaccone. That line of action was maintained in the following projects presented by the engineers Coen-Cagli and Albertazzi.

From 1905 to the outbreak of war work proceeded slowly. Part of the dam was built to protect the new dock, starting from the Galliera pier, which was partially interrupted close to its root. The southern quay of the Molo Vecchio was improved, Ponte Caracciolo was expanded, three-story high warehouses in reinforced concrete were built close to the "Chiapella", while the adjacent piers (Ponte Calvi, Spinola, Embriaco, Assereto and Caracciolo) were fitted with 21 appliances for the unloading of coal. Electric and hydraulic cranes were installed on the quays and a power plant was built at the "Chiapella", while the road and rail viability within the harbour was improved. In wartime and immediately afterwards works proceeded even slower and, in 1922, the dam which was to protect the new basins was still unfinished.

Eventually it was extended to reach the "basin Vittorio Emanuele III", while the extension westwards was in progress, to protect the basin named after Benito Mussolini. They extended the Galliera Pier eastwards by 400 m, while building the Umberto Cagni Pier on the east coast which, together with the Giano Pier, bounds the small port "Duca degli Abruzzi" for pleasure boats only. At the "Grazie" they built a new dry-dock for large vessels and a new maritime station for passengers at the "Ponte dei Mille" - a novelty in its kind - while creating a temporary water airport as well. New warehouses were erected on the "Ponte Caracciolo" and on the "Ponte Assereto" plus one at the "Passo Nuovo".

To connect the new port facilities created in the western area with the eastern side of the port, it was decided to flatten San Benigno hill, which was a hindrance to the harbour transit. A new provisional project was already being drafted, for the further enlargement of the plants to the west. Furthermore, to meet the needs of the modern large ocean-liners, the quays of the "Andrea Doria" pier were improved and a new monumental Maritime Station was built, while the ends of the "Molo Vecchio" were cut off, in order to facilitate the manoeuvring of large vessels. Therefore the bay of Genoa, originally a natural harbour, has now become an artificial port where man's work has successfully won over the environmental adversities."

It seemed interesting to accompany the above description with a selection of images of the city and the port of Genoa. They have different origins and purposes - handwritten charts, etchings, celebrative or votive paintings, or technical plans - all of them contributing to illustrate the evolution of the harbour in the course of time up to the final images, taken from Ports, shipyards and ships of Italy (1934), representing the port as it was at the time the book was published.

Perspective view of Genoa, on which we can clearly recognize the "Lanterna" (the lighthouse) and the "Castelletto", in a manuscript chart of the Mediterranean by Albino de Canepa, made in 1489, today at the James Ford Bell Library
The previous chart by Albino de Canepa pays particular attention to Genoa, in presenting realistic emblematic buildings of the city, because the author is a native of Genoa. On other charts we find many town views, but conventional and unrealistic, because simply aimed at recording the existance of prominent cities. It is the case of a chart of the Central Mediterranean in the atlas by John Xenodocos from Corfu, dated 1520, probably made in Venice and there kept in the Correr Museum.
This is thought to be the oldest printed map of Genoa.
It is one of the 1809 woodcuts illustrating the Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel, Nürnberg 1493.
The University Library of Genoa has the first edition of this famous and widespread Nuremberg Chronicle, printed by Anton Koberger in Latin and German.
Most of the woodcuts, and this one in particular, were made by Michael Wohlgemuth (courtesy J.-M. Urvoy).
The port of Genoa in the first half of the 16th century, in an oil painting on a wood board (detail) known as "Naval convention" it is an allegory of the meeting between Pope Paul III, Emperor Charles V and Andrea Doria, which preceded the formation of the Holy League.
The painting, in fact, portrays in the foreground the papal galley guided by Faith, represented by the light that shines on the back "carriage", while Charity is close to the Eucharist and Hope is on the bow, looking eastwards.
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare)
Genoa in 1571 in a French view. The date must be wrong because the new pier was built the following century. It was not uncommon for older plates to be reused, once the necessary corrections were made. In this case the date may have been overlooked
(Courtesy J.-M. Urvoy).
Etching by Antonio Lafrefy dated 1573. Below an insert with 58 place-names ( Bibliotheque Nationale de France).
View of Genoa by Cristoforo de Grassi, signed and dated 1597, but probably a copy of an older picture that can be placed around 1481: it shows in fact the naval parade commemorating the Battle of Otranto (1481), plus buildings erected in those years and the Castelletto, demolished in 1528.
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare).
Anonymous fresco, 310x144 cm, in the Lodge of Maps in the Vatican Palace. It probably derives from a painting sent to Pope Urban VIII to show him the "New Walls" - i.e., the town-wall erected around 1630, so named to distinguish it from the 16th century "Old Walls" surrounding the port.
Genoa in a oil by Domenico Fiasella (detail), c. 1640, originally painted for the church called "Oratorio di San Giorgio dei Genovesi" in Naples. Is now placed in the church of "Santa Maria dell'Incoronatella", known as church of the "Pietà dei Turchini", in via Medina in Naples. Built in 1592 and somewhat altered the following century, it owes its name to the color of the uniforms of the children housed in the annexed orphanage.
The port of Genoa in mid-17th century, oil on canvas by Giovanni Battista Costanzo, 253x175 cm, which provides a bathymetric survey of the port, complete with clear representations in perspective of the main buildings of the port. At the bottom, two cartouches with place-names and soundings.
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare).
In 1684 the French bombarded the town. Genoa was guilty of an alliance with Spain, of selling weapons to Algiers and of still playing an important role in the politics of Central Europe, at a time when France seeked hegemony in the Mediterranean.
In this scenario the French complained additional pretexts, such as the application of duties to the French ships in transit, intrigues and diplomatic incidents.
The situation reached its climax in 1684, with the bombing of Genoa by a powerful fleet, officially under the command of Abraham Duquesne, but in fact fiercely directed by Jean-Baptiste of Seignaley, son of Colbert.
The retaliation lasted several days and resulted in the partial destruction of the central areas, causing extensive damage and penalties imposed on the Republic.
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare).
Genoa under French fire in 1684, by an anonymous German author. The title
"Genoa terrified by the fire of the French fleet in the month of May 1684"
reflects the international echo of the bombing
which the City was submitted to by the fleet of the Sun King
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare).
The port of Genoa in La nuova grande illuminante face del mare, J. Van Keulen, 1695.
Van Keulen publishing house was founded byJohannes van Keulen (ca 1650-1715) around 1678, and was entered in 1695 by his son Gerard, who impressed the firm the map-making specialization that made it famous in Holland and Europe for the next two centuries.
Their production included the monumental De Nieuwe Groote Zee-Lichte Fakkel, i.e., an atlas/pilot book of the seas of the world published between 1681 and 1684 in five "folio" volumes, to which in 1753 they added a sixth book for navigation along the coasts of Asia .
The third volume, which includes this view of Genoa, was translated into Italian with the title above, because it was dedicated to the Mediterranean.
( Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute).
Plan du port de Genes by H. Michelot and L. Bremond, published in Amsterdam by Mortier in 1709. It shows the harbor depths and some relelvant buildings, beside the "Lanterna" in the left insert (priv. belonging).
View of the port of Genoa, at the bottom of a map of Liguria entitled "Republicae Genuensis Dominium", by Matthaus Seutter, 18th century
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare).
Francesco Maria Accinelli, Stato presente della metropolitana di Genova. Pianta di Genova con tutte le parrochie contenute nel recinto delle "mura vecchie.". In the first half of the 16th century the medieval walls were extended and strengthened according to the new architectural features required by the evolution of siege techniques and firearms. They were called "old walls" when in the following century a second wall was erected on top of the hills that encircle the City. Ms., second half of the 18th century.
Berio Civic Library, Genoa
Francesco Maria Accinelli, Stato presente della metropolitana di Genova. Pianta di Genova .... In this sheet of the atlas above F. M. Accinelli represents the shipyard, to the left, and the docks (ms., second half of the 18th century.
Berio Civic Library, Genoa
In 1764 Joseph Roux had released an album titled Recueil des Principaux Plans des Ports et Rades de la Mer Méditerranée ..., 242 x 174 mm, including 121 inclusive of 121 harbour plans, with neither explanatory text nor captions.
The charts are engraved rather coarsely, contain little nautical information and have different scales and orientation, due to the small size of the charts.
They provide no geographical coordinates, have a central rose of eight or sixteen winds, and present features typical of the previous century, such as profiles of conspicuous buildings or villages, drawn in perspective within the coastline.
Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute
View of the port of Genoa, one of four engraved in 1769 by Antonio Giolfo
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare)
The lighthouse (Lanterna with a partial view of the port of Genoa in the late 18th century (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)
The port of Genoa in a French chart of the Tyrrhenian coast, early 19th century
Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute
Pianta della città / di / Genova / delle sue fortificazioni nel 1815 / col tracciamento delle mura / del 1536 e del 1632 (Map of Genoa with its fortifications in 1815 and the walls erected in 1536 and in 1632)
Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute
Chart entitledGenoa. Genova. Genes. Published under the Superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Drawn by W.B. Clarke. Engraved & printed by B.R. Davies, 16 George Str., London University. Published by Baldwin & Cradock, 47 Paternoster Row, March 1836.
1:8300 . Central insert with a map of the town.
At the bottom, in a row, the facades of 14 major buildings.
Visit the David Rumsey Map Collection
Detail of the previous map, with the area surrounding the old pier.
Plan de la ville de Genes, de ses fortifications et de ses environs à l'échelle de 1:10000.Watercolored etching , realistic in its topography.
The presence of the Castelletto can date it slightly earlier than the year 1849, when the fortress was demolished. Below, insert with 234 place-names, including public buildings, churches, palaces, hotels, roads, etc. (Turin, Royal Library)
Anonymous and undated very detailed view of Genoa, from the neighborhood of the district of Albaro to the lighthouse Lanterna. It can be dated about 1848 because of the buildings it represents. Lithograph from the topographical collection of Genoa Municipality, kept at the Museo Sant'Agostino.
Louis Le Breton
Genoa and the lighthouse Lanterna, probably dating to mid-19th century.
From the topographical collection of Genoa Municipality, at the Museo Sant'Agostino.
The dry dock, mid-19th century
(Genoa, Galata Museo del Mare).
Topographic map of Genoa in 1854, by Celestino Foppiani, showing the development of the city behind the coastal area.
From the topographical collection of Genoa Municipality, at the Museo Sant'Agostino.
In mid-19th century the charts of the Ligurian Sea, coming from different sources and having non-homogeneous features, were inadequate to the needs of the increasing national and international maritime traffic. Therefore Giuseppe Albini, Admiral of the Savoy Navy, produced this Portolano della Liguria, published by Armanino, Genoa 1855, with 24 small sheets of harbors and roadsteads plus a general map of the Ligurian Sea.
Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute
The port in 1875, in Studi sul miglioramento e sull'ampliamento del Porto di Genova (from Rivista Marittima , 1875, p.331-384, 431-480), together with 26 additional tables showing the 19 projects presented by different professionals.
The port in 1876, from the Guida Ufficiale, published by the Consorzio Autonomo del Porto in 1929, now renamed Autorità Portuale (Port Authority).
Plan of the Port and the City of Genoa, scale 1:4000, published in 1884 and reissued in 1887 under the direction of Giovanni Battista Magnaghi, founder and director of the Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute, established in Genoa in 1872.
The port of Genoa in 1890, from the Guida Ufficiale, published by the Consorzio Autonomo del Porto in 1929.
The port of Genoa in a chart published in Spain in 1906,
according to the latest Italian surveys
(Private Collection).
The port of Genoa in 1911, from the Guida del porto di Genova, by Cesare Festa
Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute
The port of Genoa in 1922, from the Guida Ufficiale published by the Consorzio Autonomo del Porto in 1929.
The port of Genoa in 1927, from the Guida Ufficiale published by the Consorzio Autonomo del Porto in 1929.
The port of Genoa in 1930, from Porti, cantieri e navi d'Italia, by George Roletto, published by Giulio Tannini, Brescia 1934
General plan of future extensions to the west,
from Porti, cantieri e navi d'Italia, by George Roletto

Paola Presciuttini
June 10, 2004 - last updated January 15, 2008