The Italian case: Genoa

The Italian case: Genoa

Genoa, a maritime power

The city of Genoa is the capital of the Liguria region, in the north-west of Italy. Is part of the most industrial area of the country, historically formed by the triangle between Milan, Turin and itself. It has a population of almost 600 000 inhabitants in the city limits and of over 1,5 million in the metropolitan area. The region has the typical north Mediterranean topography, with mountains with peaks form 600 to 1000 meters high near or directly by the coast. This context has been at the same time an advantage and a problem for the urban settlements and ports. The coastline creates natural ports and the deep water allows easy access for the modern ships, but at the same time the fact that the terrain is so complex complicates the creation of large flat surfaces for major infrastructure such as ports and airports.

View of Genoa Source: http://www.porto.genova.it/
View of Genoa
Source: http://www.porto.genova.it/

The origin of the city goes back to the pre-romans time. The existing settlement in the “Castello” hill had the conditions to work as an Emporium for commerce in the route to Marseille. As it happens with many other Mediterranean cities is possible that the Greeks arrived and related with the locals Ligurians to give birth to the new city. During the roman times the town was not a very important center of power and was able to keep a certain independence. After the fall of the Roman Empire we could see how the city continues to grow and benefits from the development of the Lombard hinterland. Only in the XIth century would the city become a proper commune.

During the Middle Ages, Genoa would become one of the main maritime republics in the Mediterranean region. In this period it would play an important role in the crusades on both ends of the sea, the Middle East and the Iberian Pensinsula, its galley fleet would gain fame for its capacities in the sea battles. In the XVIth Century the city would create, after a period of French control, a long standing relation with the Spanish kingdom. This political change was defended by one of the main figures of its history, Andrea Doria. This alliance was not just a political move, but mainly an economic strategy. The local bankers would be the ones who most benefit from this move, by lending money to Spain and receiving later a considerable amount of the gold coming from South America. The new association would mean a change in its development model, more focus in financing foreign states than in the maritime traffic and commerce.

View of Genoa in 1597 by Christoforo de Grossi Source: http://www.museum-humpis-quartier.de
View of Genoa in 1597 by Christoforo de Grossi
Source: http://www.museum-humpis-quartier.de

Later on, during the XVIIth century, the city would suffer a severe epidemic of the plague, second time in its history after the XIVth Century. In terms of politics it would be affected by the Spanish crisis and would end the century again under French domination from the King Louis XIV. In order to control Genoa, would attack it from the sea in 1684, what it would be the first naval bombing of a city in history. During this century we could see the creation of the free port and the new dike in order to improve its commercial conditions. In the next century it would definitely lose its overseas territories, like Corsica to France in the treaty of Versailles. It would be later controlled by the Austria and again would rebel against the foreign invader.

MAP of Genoa in 1766 Source:
MAP of Genoa in 1766 by Giovanni Lorenzo Guidotti Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Only during the industrial revolution would Genoa recover its glory days as an important economic, logistic and industrial center. It would see the creation of several big companies mainly related with steel plants. During the WWII the city suffered severe punishment due to its seaport conditions. The focus of the bombings was the port infrastructure, although also the urban tissue suffered considerable destruction. After the war it was an important core for the “Italian economic miracle” and formed, alongside with Milan and Turin, the industrial triangle of the north of Italy. During the second half of the XXtth century the city suffered several crisis that reduced its industry and limited the port as a logistic center with less associated industry than before.

Along its history the city has been involved in many conflicts, whether with the neighbors, like Pisa or Savona, or with sea rivals like Venice. Also, inside the city itself, we would see little peace. It has suffered constant tension from the first Commune years to the G8 summit in 2001, including civil wars, resistance to foreign domination or class struggle.

The port of Genoa

The port of Genoa is one of the biggest in the Mediterranean Sea. In the Euromed region we find several harbours that compete against each other for similar markets and hinterlands. Marseille, which we saw in the previous post, could be considered the main rival of Genoa for the port activity. Both harbours have large container terminals, important shipyards and are cruise destination. In this last sector, very important in the region, we also find Barcelona or other Ligurian ports like Savona.

There are several similarities to the case of Marseille in terms of the physical evolution of the port. As we have seen, the origin of the port was near the historical city center. During the industrial revolution and motivated by the growth of the factories in the region the port needed to be expanded, starting a similar process to the previous analyzed case. From the original location the growth evolved towards the territory with the most favorable conditions, the west, where before the port expansion we could see beaches that the locals would usufruct. The first expansion took place near La Lanterna, the historical light house from the XIIth century. Gradually it took more territory, including the coast of San Pier d´Arena.

The case of Genoa has the particularity of including the airport inside the port perimeter. The presence of this infrastructure is a considerable limitation for the port activities next to it. The last expansion phase of the port took place in the area of Voltri, in the 1980´s, with one the main container terminals. The majority of the port territories are landfills since, as said before, the availability of flat land is very limited. To the east side of Porto Antico we also find port areas, but of smaller scale when compared to the other direction. In this territories we can mainly find repairing shipyards and marinas with the historical Yacht club.

In the year 2014 the port of Genoa registered record figures.  In total it had a general throughput of 52 mill tons. From these figure approx. 30 mill was general cargo, including 21,5 mill in container traffic. In Genoa the oil sector is also relevant: in 2014 it was around 16 mill tons. In the same year it counted almost 2,2 mill TEU, with an increment of 9,3% to the previous year. Besides cargo, the passenger traffic is also an important sector in this port. Ferries and cruise combined moved over 2,7 mill persons, 1,9 mill and 800 000 respectively. This numbers, although impressive when compared with other ports, might be a matter of concern for the port, since the cruise traffic went down 21,5% when compared to the previous year. This drop might probably be related with the fact that Costa Crociere, one of the main actors in the sector, decided in 2014 to change Genoa for Savona. This issue is more concerning to the city than the port itself since, as it is well known, the port does not get so much revenue from the cruise traffic.

View of the port from La Lanterna Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org
View of the port from La Lanterna
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

In terms of employment the port is still a significant entity in the city. We could only find data from some years ago, 2010 and 2011. Since the traffic has not changed significantly during these years we can assume they probably still are near the real current figures. The direct employment in the port is estimated in 4700 jobs, and indirect of 26 300, including activities very related with the port such as the shipyards. In total we account 31 000 jobs without considering the induced employment, activities not related with the port but that benefit from the port activities and jobs.

An interesting point of the port development is the new port plan (PRP) currently in approval phase. The main characteristic of this new document, in terms of port territory, if the fact that no expansion outside the current boundaries is planned and the expected growth will take place within the existing area, mainly by improving the efficiency of the existing land and new landfills in several quays, mainly the ones placed in San Pier d´Arena. This plan and the consequences for the relation with the city will be analyzed in the next post.

The waterfront

The first important interventions in the Genoese waterfront took place for the 1992 World Exhibition, celebrating the 500 years of the discovery of America by Columbus (allegedly Genovese, but its nationality is always a subject of controversy). The plan for the waterfront regeneration was made by Genoa´s most famous contemporary architect, Renzo Piano.

The project was developed in the “Porto Antico” (old port) area, a territory the port could no longer use, including old warehouses and cranes that later would become elements of industrial heritage. The project could be considered a success since it gave to the city a much needed public space and access to the water. In terms of program the focus of the project as putted in services and leisure activities. A new congress center was created in the magazzini del cottone, with several spaces for cultural activities, including a museum and a library. Another one of the main elements of the project was the new aquarium, the biggest one in Italy and an important tourist attraction. This new building, developed by the water was also a project from Renzo Piano, along with the congress center and other buildings. In the water plane a new marina was developed, where nowadays we might find some of the most luxurious yachts. For the management of these new spaces a new semi-private society was created named Porto Antico. In this new body the port, the city and private investors are present.

View of Porto Antigo Source: www.rpbw.com
View of Porto Antigo
Source: http://www.rpbw.com

Later on, in 2000´s, we could see more projects focused on improving the area and expanding the public space in the waterfront. These new development were related with the so called, big events policy. Two main venues took place in Genoa within a short distance in time: in 2001 the G8 meeting took place in the city and in 2004 the city was the European capital of culture. In the waterfront the public area was expanded towards the west, the Galata sea museum was built, and also new hotel and housing by the sea. In the city center we also saw several improvement, particularly the rehabilitation of several “palazzi”. In 2006 some areas of the city center were considered world heritage by the UNESCO.

During the last 15 years we have also seen some unrealized ambitions that could have improved even more the existing waterfront. Two main projects stand out, the new Ponte Parodi cruise terminal and the Silo Hennebique. The first one should have been a key infrastructure for both, the city and the port. It was a very ambitious project by the Dutch office UNstudio led Ben Van Berkel. It included the creation of a new mall and elevated public spaces, besides the cruise terminal program. The second mentioned project is the rehabilitation of an industrial building of considerable proportions. One of the challenge of this building was to find the appropriate functions for it. For a long period it was discussed if it should host several public offices. Since the project has not been developed the building remains abandoned.

Renzo Piano has played an important role in the relation between the port and the city for the last 25 years. His ascendant over the issue is a particularity of this case. In no other port-city has one single architect played such an important role. Besides the Porto Antico development and other relevant architectural projects, his office has also produced several plans for the urban waterfront, including the active port, not just the dismissed areas. The plans have been named “the Affresco”, designed in 2004, and more recently the “Blueprint”. In both we find ideas that have inspired the future port plan. His figure and impact will be analyzed in further detail in the next post as also both mentioned plans.

Affresco plan from Renzo Piano Source: http://www.rpbw.com/
Affresco plan from Renzo Piano
Source: http://www.rpbw.com/

 

 

 

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