« PreviousContinue »
SKETCH OF GENOA-PRINCIPAL STREETS-ASPECT OF THE TOWN --HARBOUR-MOLES AND DEFENCES-ROYAL NAVY-ARRIVAL OF THE KING-PALACES-PAINTINGS.
March, 1826.-On the morning after our arrival, a valetde-place was procured to take us the ordinary rounds, and show us the wonders of the town with all convenient despatch. The first hour's walk satisfied us, that the finest part of Genoa had already been seen. Strada Nuova and Strada Nuovissima are in the same style of magnificence as the Strada Balbi, with which they are connected, opening a wide and superb passage through nearly the whole extent of the city, bordered on both sides by long façades of palaces, three or four stories high, and enriched with the several orders of Grecian architecture. If a stranger should merely ride through these three streets, and make his exit without farther examination, he would suppose Genoa to be one of the most splendid places in the world. But the moment you depart either to the right or left of this broad and beautiful avenue, you are lost in an inextricable labyrinth of crooked, dark, dirty lanes, lined with gloomy buildings, four, five, or six stories high, often nearly meeting at top, utterly excluding the rays of the sun, and almost the light of day. A mere belt of the blue heavens is discernible from the depth of these fissures in fair weather; but when the skies are overcast, the gloom is intolerable.
The width of these streets, if such they may be called, does not generally exceed six or eight feet, a considerable part of which is occupied by incumbrances before the shops and boutiques. They are of course too narrow for carriages, if the steepness of the hills on which Genoa is built did not preclude such a mode of conveyance. At any rate, from one or the other of the two causes, there is scarcely a street in the city, with the exception of the three above named, through which a coach or cart can pass. The consequence is, that the labour generally performed by dumb beasts here devolves in a great measure upon human beings,
Donkies are sometimes put in requisition; but in most cases, men and women themselves stoop to the burden, carrying enormous loads, and presenting the most abject and revolting pictures of servitude. At one time you see gangs of galley-slaves, chained together, with their irons clanking upon the pavements, attended by drivers, and staggering under loads, which humane masters would not impose upon brutes: at another time, two men, (often infirm, grey-headed, old men, their limbs trembling with age,) are seen bearing a sedan chair, in which is seated perhaps some bloated nobleman, some lazy ecclesiastic, or wealthy dandy, who is afraid of soiling his pumps and silk stockings. I have seen, not without feelings of indignation and disgust, the King himself, together with his royal spouse and court panders, borne about the streets of Genoa, in processions, by the degenerate, degraded descendants of Andrew Doria, and his highspirited republicans!
With the view of obtaining a more accurate knowledge of the outlines of the city, we made the entire circuit of the Harbour, which is one of the finest imaginable, except that its entrance is too much exposed to the south-westerly winds. It was embosomed naturally by ranges of the Apennines, sweeping round it, and terminating in two high capes, 8 inclining towards each other, as they project into the Gulf. To these natural defences against the winds and waves, have been added gigantic works of art, worthy of the enterprising spirit, which characterised the Republic at the period of their construction. From the two bluffs forming the chops of the channel, immense moles composed of consolidated masses of rock, and impregnable to the sea which at times beats against them with violence, have been extended towards each other, so as to leave an entrance of moderate breadth, though still deemed too wide for the stormy character of this part of 1 the Mediterranean.
Besides these colossal barriers, another rampart of solid masonry, thirty or forty feet in height, pierced at the bottom with numerous large arches communicating with the town, and wide enough at the top for two or three persons to walk abreast, sweeps more than half way round the port. In winter it forms the principal promenade of the citizens, being guarded by walls on the summit, open to the sun, sheltered by the long ranges of buildings on one side, and bordered on the other by the shipping in the harbour. At the time of our
visit, the vernal sun was by no means ungrateful in the fickle and rather inhospitable climate of Genoa, exposed as it is to bleak winds from the Alps and Apennines; and this walk, although it presented nothing rural save the nursling plants and flowers sunning themselves in the windows of the houses, was often selected for exercise, instead of the confined, gloomy alleys of the town. The thoroughfare at the base of the wall on the left, or the shifting panorama of the port on the right, always presented something new for observation. Midway stands a long range of buildings appropriated to what is called the Frauc Port. They are all numbered, kept under lock and key, and rigidly guarded by public officers. By a singular regulation, females, ecclesiastics, and the military, are allowed in no case to enter, and all other persons are prohibited, except on special business. Here merchandise may be deposited for any length of time, and reshipped free of duty, the proprietor merely paying for the storage. Many of the warehouses are owned by foreigners, and others rented by the government. This establishment is said to have conduced greatly to the commercial prosperity of Genoa. In the same neighbourhood are the barracks, spacious enough to accommodate two thousand troops.
At the junction of this terrace with the ancient mole, we embarked in a boat, and completed the circuit of the harbour, gliding among the large quantities of shipping riding at anchor in the basin. Out of several hundred vessels, great and small, not a single American deck was to be seen, and the boatman thought there was not then one in port, although our commerce with this place is at times considerable. Most of the shipping in the harbour appeared to be coasters, though some fifty foreign vessels were lying at Quarantine, near the Light-House. There has been a sad decline in commercial prosperity since the proud days of the Republic.
One of the finest views of Genoa is obtained from the water, midway between the two moles, at the entrance of the port; and to this point the boatman was requested to conduct us, where our little bark rode delightfully upon the smooth azure swells rolling in from the Gulf. The position is in the centre of the amphitheatre of hills, at the base and on the acclivities of which the city is built. Nothing can be more picturesque and magnificent, than the crescent of white edifices, crowned with domes and turrets, encircling the port with a graceful curve, and climbing stage above
stage up the verdant sides of the Apennines, often so steep as to require flights of steps in ascending from one street to another. Overtopping the whole, are seen the ramparts of the city, flanked with towers and fortresses, extending for: the distance of eight or ten miles over the summits of the mountains. Several chateaux, churches, and convents are 'perched upon the heights; but a considerable part of the area enclosed by the outer walls is a waste of rocks and uncultivated fields. The town itself is not more than four or five miles in circuit, containing about 80,000 inhabitants. Such a charming picture presented itself to view from this point, the distance concealing all meaner features in the streets and houses, that some reluctance was felt to dissolve the enchantment by again approaching the shore.
On debarking from this excursion, an effort was made to visit the Royal Navy-Yard, which was open to the passage of groups of galley slaves; but a brace of sentinels stationed at the gate thrust us back in a rude manner, informing us that a special permit emanating from his majesty was indispensable. Our principal object was to see the beak of a Roman ship, said to be here deposited; but the trouble and delay of suing for a royal passport induced us to abandon a second trial for admission. The naval force of this potent monarch, who by the grace of the Holy Alliance, is lord of a portion of the Alps and of the Isles of the Mediterranean, consists of some ten or fifteen ships of war, the largest of which is a frigate. Its magnitude, however, far transcends its uses to the state. The only powder it burns is wasted in birth-day salutes, on the festivals of the Virgin, or in honour of the arrival or departure of the royal family.
I was not a little amused with the uproar which this formidable armament, snugly moored under the lee of the moles, created on the great occasion of the arrival of the king and his court from his good city of Turin, which divides his affections and favours with Genoa, each in turn being blest with his royal presence. On the glorious day of his return to the embraces of his second love, the navy of his Majesty was for four hours in a blaze, and the roar of cannon echoed through the deepest recesses of the Alps and the Apennines. To the din of broadsides, were added the merry peals of bells, with the accompaniments of drums and bugles, the rattling of carriages and the trampling of steeds. All the marmots of the hills and the anchovies upon the coast must have
been astounded. Certain it is, that the whole town was in commotion. As fate would have it, a violent gust of wind and rain descended simultaneously with the king from the heights of the Bochetta; but he thundered on in his coach and six upon the full gallop, unceremoniously leaving the proces sion of courtiers who went to meet him, far in the rear, and without a salutation, the windows of his carriage being closed. We had a glance at him and his family, as they alighted at the gates of the Palace, and took sedans to go to church, for the purpose of offering up their prayers in public. This trifling event produced as strong a sensation and as much parade, as if another Doria had set the nation free.
So numerous are the Palaces of Genoa, that I am as much at a loss how to dispose of them to advantage, as have been some of their noble, bankrupt proprietors, since the sad reverses of their fortunes and the unhappy revolutions of their country. The continuous façades of these gorgeous piles, stretching along both sides of the Strada Balbi, Nuova, and Nuovissima, have perhaps justly called forth the admiration of all travellers, even after having seen the rest of Italy. Eustace prefers them to the same description of edifices at Naples, Rome, or Florence. Lady Morgan, in one of the poetic, truth-stretching flights of her imagination, converts them into ruins and gilds them with moon-beams. The author of Corinne, the romantic, grandiloquent Corinne, during her residence at this place, used to say that these three treets, "seemed to have been built for a congress of kings;" a most ungallant compliment by the bye to the quandam republicans of Genoa.
There are not less than forty palaces upon the lists of the valets-de-place; and in the eagerness of novices, who had just entered upon the routine of sight-seeing at the threshold of Italy, we went the rounds of nearly the whole number, sweeping indiscriminately whatever fell in our way. But let not my readers recoil with the apprehension, that I am about to conduct them through desolate corridors, over acres of tiled floors, stuccoed walls, and frescoed ceilings. The American motto of "e pluribus unum" must be my guide in speaking of the multifarious works of art in Italy.
The most interesting of the Genoese palaces, as well from its position as from its associations, is that of the Prince D'Ória Panfili, once the residence of Andrew Doria, the Liberator of his country; of Charles the Vth during his visit