Guide Tour of the Old harbour of Genoa, Italy

The Old harbour (Porto Antico) of Genoa is the heart of the city, a modern area in a thousand-year-old city, the junction point between the sea and the historic center. Porto Antico is the soul of the historic center and the largest square on the Mediterranean, it is the always open space where tourism, culture, congresses, fairs, shows, sports, boating, catering and shopping meet every day. The ancient port is a part of the port of Genoa currently used as a residential area, tourist, cultural and service center.

As a gateway open to cultures, encounters and the future, in 1992 the old port area was redesigned by Renzo Piano,, on the occasion of the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. The area hosted the exhibitions of Expo ’92 Genoa, were now extends in length from Piazza Cavour to Ponte Parodi and is bordered, on the upstream side, by the elevated road. Today, the place become a vast area overlooking the sea where, in addition to the aquarium, numerous points of artistic, museum and tourist interest are located., exhibition and entertainment, on an area of over 230,000 square meters.

Porto Antico of Genoa is today the protagonist in the new city waterfront: from Aquarium to Magazzini del Cotone, from Piazza delle Feste to Porta Siberia fortress, it expands to include the areas of Genoa Fair, with the Blue Pavilion, the Piazza sul Mare and nautical docks. In the area there has been a tourist information service for years, now part of the IAT network of the municipality, which offers hospitality and information to the many visitors arriving in the city, being the Porto Antico area one of the main attractions of the city.

The old port area become a city tourist centre that offers every kind of service: restaurants, cinemas, an outdoor swimming pool in summer and an ice skating rink in winter. This area offers you numerous attractions: the Bigo panoramic lift with an unusual view of the Harbour, the Biosphere with plants from all over the world, the City of children for the joy of the youngest, and the National Museum of the Antarctica to let you dip into the world of geographical discoveries. A great place for eating, browsing, strolling or just chilling out under the palm trees and soaking up the sun and atmosphere. Often host to cultural, culinary and political events there is always something going on making it a favourite place for tourists and locals alike. A great place to let the kids run around in a safe pedestrian environment.

The proudest boast of the Old Harbour is undoubtedly the famous Aquarium, the biggest display of aquatic biodiversity in Europe with 71 basins and over 15,000 animals of 400 different species. Visited every year by over a million people, the Aquarium really surprises everybody: 27,000 square metres of display surface allow you to take a walk among the seas of the planet amid sharks and dolphins, penguins and seals, jellyfish and tropical fish, in addition to the numerous reptiles, amphibians and river forest and freshwater animals.

After the splendid Galleon Neptune, famous for the film “Pirates” by R. Polanski and today visitable, you come to another area of the harbour that is equally fascinating. Moored on the quay is the famous submarine Nazario Sauro and opposite the Galata Museum of the Sea that allows visitors to experience a beautiful journey amid old ships and maritime curiosities with multimedia installations.

At the end of the dock lies the Magazzini del Cotone complex, from this point of view you can admire the Lanterna, which is very close, and Genoa and its Gulf in all their beauty. In the background the hills are full of colours in the light of day and lit at night. Beyond the Acquario, there are also other attractions are: the panoramic lift, Bigo, (whose shape and name recall to the ancient manual loading cranes), the Biosfera, the Città dei Bambini, a recreational and interactive museum for children between 2 and 14 years old.

In recent years, the Porto Antico area has been the site of numerous tourist, musical, cultural and sporting events. In 2007 and 2010 it was the starting point of The Tall Ships’ Race, in 2008 and 2009 it hosted the MTV Day musical event and in 2010 the TRL Awards, a musical event always linked to the music broadcaster MTV Italia. Furthermore, every year, the area hosts two events much appreciated by the Genoese public and beyond: the Sports Festival, in spring, and the Porto Antico Estate music, theater and dance festival. Show, in summer, which takes place in the panoramic square of the Arena del Mare.

The Arena del Mare and Piazza delle Feste, which becomes an artificial ice rink in the winter, host important concerts of Italian and international artists, shows and festivals dedicated to every expression of culture and art and cinema, that fill with lights and sounds the Genoese nights. The Magazzini del Cotone complex represents an exceptional location for international conventions, conferences and seminars.

Porto Antico was active since the 5th century BC, at the center of traffic in antiquity and during the Middle Ages, its primacy was accentuated and consolidated with the birth of the Municipality in the era of the Crusades and subsequently. The development of port activities grew at great speed until the sixteenth century, when with the discovery of America, traffic was diverted to the Atlantic. A new period of maritime expansion was favored by the construction of the new port between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century and by subsequent significant extensions in 1919 and 1945.

In the second half of the 20th century, port traffic gradually moved towards the western part of the city and the old area remained virtually unused. The renovation carried out on the occasion of the Colombian celebrations in 1992 reconnected it to the city, giving it back its central and driving role for Genoa, of which the Porto Antico represents today to all intents and purposes the “historical heart”.

In 1992, Renzo Piano recovery of the area on the occasion of the International Specialized Exhibition, since then Genoa has been able to find its contact with the sea and re-establish a relationship with water. Over the years, the spaces have become one of the most popular and appreciated realities, the Old Port of Genoa, the Mediterranean Square.

Since then, the Area has not stopped expanding, improving itself, always offering new reasons of interest to the visitors who live it every day: Genoese and more numerous tourists are increasingly attracted by the richness of the cultural offer of our territory. And today the Area has expanded even further: in the overall picture of the new Genoese waterfront that is taking shape day by day, Porto Antico di Genova extends its activities and its expertise to the Genoese exhibition center, creating new opportunities of interest and new reasons to visit our city.

In 2017, Piano donated the Levante Waterfront project to the Municipality of Genoa: the works for this work began in 2019, and are intended as a natural completion and continuation towards the East of the Porto Antico project. Some of the best designers of the time worked on the construction, with buildings that have made the history of architecture. The district, which was later equipped with marinas for the exhibition in water of the boats present at the International Boat Show and a marquee on the sea, has been enriched in even more recent times by a spectacular pavilion designed by Atelier Jean Nouvel.

Today the exhibition center is profoundly transforming, according to the design of the eastern waterfront signed by Renzo Piano, maintaining its traditional functions in the Blue pavilion, in the tensile structure and in the marina. The management of the Fiera di Genova is responsible for some of the events that have become part of the heritage of the sector of our country, such as the International Boat Show and Euroflora, one of the longest-lived Italian samples, Fiera Primavera.

The Palasport was the scene of concerts by the Beatles and Kiss, by Frank Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Vasco Rossi, Ligabue and Jovanotti, Sport events such as the World League of volleyball and boxing matches with Nino Benvenuti and Cassius Clay; the tensile structure hosted, among others, the concerts of Elton John and Peter Gabriel.

Main Attractions
The Porto Antico area is rich to discover, inside the district there are many buildings of artistic and cultural interest, including museums, cultural centers, shops, commercial galleries, restaurants, bars… There is more to discover inside the complex of the Genoese exhibition center that extends over the sea, right in the heart of Genoa. Large open areas, a multi-storey and multifunctional pavilion, the dock and the adjacent tensile structure. In the summer you will find a swimming pool. In winter, an ice skating rink. In every season, the Aquarium of Genoa, the Bigo, Eataly, the Biosphere, The Space Cinema, the Genoa Museum, the De Amicis Library.

The aquarium
The Aquarium of Genoa is an aquarium located in Ponte Spinola, in the 16th -century ancient port of Genoa. At the time of its inauguration it was the largest in Europe and the second in the world. The Aquarium of Genoa is a living museum that houses about 6000 specimens of 600 different marine species (fish, marine animals, crustaceans, reptiles, plants). It is located on the Spinola Bridge.

The Aquarium was inaugurated in 1992 on the occasion of the Colombiadi, that is the Expo celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the European discovery of America. The design of the structure and the surrounding area is by the architect Renzo Piano, the interior was designed by the architect Peter Chermayeff. It has sixty-one tubs that occupy nearly 10,000 square meters of space. With the opening of the large dolphin pool, the structure allows you to live an exciting experience in direct contact with the dolphins.

The biosphere
Renzo Piano’s Bubble is a glass and steel structure located in the Porto Antico of Genoa and built in 2001. The spherical structure, with a diameter of 20 m, a total weight of 60 t and an exhibition area of approximately 200 m², is suspended over the sea, at the Spinola bridge, in the immediate vicinity of the aquarium. The glass and steel sphere located in the sea next to the aquarium hosts butterflies, iguanas, ferns and various species of tropical plants that manage to live thanks to a particular automatic arrangement that the curtains placed on the internal walls of the sphere allow the penetration of an adequate solar heat level from outside.

It was designed by the famous Genoese architect Renzo Piano and inaugurated in 2001 as a symbol of the world on the occasion of the G8 Summit held in Genoa. Inside, a small portion of tropical rainforest has been reconstructed that hosts over 150 species of animal and plant organisms, such as birds, turtles, fish, insects, large tree ferns from municipal nurseries, up to seven meters high, and various species of tropical plants traditionally used by man, which find the climatic conditions suitable for their survival thanks to a computerized conditioning system that guarantees the maintenance of an adequate level of temperature and humidity inside the sphere.

The Bigo
The Bigo is an architectural structure present in the ancient port of Genoa. It is a design experiment created as a scenography of the ancient port. Its base is in the water. It is a modern metal monument designed by Renzo Piano on the occasion of the Genoa Expo in 1992, which reproduces on an enlarged scale a large cargo crane like those mounted on ships, the name and design are inspired by the bigo, that is the crane used for loading and unloading in the naval environment.

The Bigo has, in addition to an image function, also a structural function (supporting the marquee of the nearby party square) and a tourist one: in fact it has a panoramic lift that rises up to 40 m in height and rotates 360 degrees; inside, the view of the city of Genoa is guided, with background music, through written panels and voice guides in different languages that indicate the buildings and structures worthy of note. When active, the lift leaves the ground every 10 minutes. Next to the Bigo there are the Columbus’ Wind, designed by the Japanese Susumu Shingu.

Porta Siberia
It is a gate that was part of the sixteenth-century walls built between 1551 and 1553 by Galeazzo Alessi. It was the gateway to the Molo Vecchio, built as an extension of the Mandraccio, the peninsula used in ancient times as a natural landing place. The documented historical name is in fact Porta del Molo while the name commonly used today is instead borrowed from an adjacent door, built in more recent times, which gave its name to the entire complex . It seems that the term derives from cibaria since foodstuffs that arrived by sea and those departing destined for other Mediterranean ports passed through this passage.

In ancient times it was a place of collection of the customs duty. After the renovation of the ancient port, in 2001, the museum dedicated to the painter and set designer Emanuele Luzzati was opened inside with temporary exhibitions of the Genoese artist and major contemporary illustrators. Today the structure is currently awaiting a new destination.

Cotton warehouses
Magazzini del Cotone is one of the main structures of the ancient port of Genoa, the second fair area of the city after the Genoa International Fair. They cover an area of over thirty-one thousand square meters and were built at the end of the 19th century as General Warehouses for goods in transit at the Molo Vecchio. The construction was part of the series of works for the modernization of the Genoese port, building from the early 1900s used for the storage of goods, it is now a multifunctional structure located in the Porto Antico di Genova Congress Center. Inside the building there are shops, bars, the cinema multiplex, cultural and recreational facilities.

Refurbished in 1992 on the occasion of the Colombian Expo for the five hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, they have been used as a venue for various cultural and recreational activities. They house the Genoa Porto Antico multiplex cinema with 10 rooms and 3,128 seats managed since 2010 by The Space Cinema chain, the congress center and galleries with shops, bars, restaurants. On the first floor, there is the Children’s City, an educational area where children can experiment and play with the guidance of animators. The premises of the north building are also dedicated to the exhibition area, among the events that take place periodically there are the Cibio food fair (since 2006), the comic and animation fair Smack! (since 2011) and the Sports Festival! (event that affects the entire area of the ancient port).

Millo Building – Built in 1876, it houses the offices of Porto Antico di Genova SpA, restaurants, bars, shops and the Genoese headquarters of Eataly

Seventeenth-century buildings – Next to the Millo there are four restored buildings dating back to the 17th century. They were part of a group of buildings, progressively demolished in the 1900s, which together with the Millo constituted the “Portofranco”.

Piazza delle Feste – It is the largest space located on the pier in front of the Millo building; versatile and multifunctional tensile structure can host various kinds of events (musical, cultural, commercial and sporting) from April to October. During the winter it becomes an ice skating rink. Since 2015 it has been the main venue of the Supernova Festival Genova music festival.

Mandraccio – On the premises of the Mandraccio there is a gym specializing in fitness. In the square in front there is an inclusive play area where able-bodied and disabled children can play together, without separations. The Whalewatchgenova boats depart from the quay of the homonymous abseil, for whale watching excursions in the International Sanctuary of the Ligurian Sea and for destinations on the Riviera di Levante.

Also present in the structure are the Edmondo De Amicis civic library for children where it is possible to consult texts suitable for childhood and psycho – pedagogical books.

The congress sector of Porto Antico di Genova SpA manages the Congress Center located in the last six modules of the Cotton Warehouses. Other rooms of various capacities of which some are modular; 8 500 m² of exhibition space; outdoor spaces for various activities.

Vessello Neptune
In the west part of the old port, besides the dry docks, it houses small fishing boats. The submarine-museum Nazario Sauro (S 518) is located adjacent to the Galata – Sea Museum and to the building that houses the Faculty of Economics.

The Neptune is an imaginative, full-scale, seaworthy reconstruction (its maximum speed is 5 knots) of an ancient pirate vessel built as the main set of Roman Polański ‘s Pirates. The ship is now open to the public and is moored next to the aquarium. The Neptune is built in 1986 in the shipyards of Port El Kantaoui (Tunisia) specifically for the film Pirates by Roman Polański. In 2011, she was used as the setting for the television transposition of Captain Hook ‘s Jolly Roger in the television miniseries Neverland – The True Story of Peter Pan by Nick Willing.

The Neptune was designed as a real ship, therefore perfectly seaworthy, with the hull in steel while the topside and the mast are made of iroko wood, and registered in the naval register of Tunisia, the country where it was built. The ship has 20 km of rope, for a total of 11 tons and 4,500 m² of sail area that allow it to sail at 5 knots, against the 3 knots that can be developed with the auxiliary engine. She is 63 meters long.

In perfect working order despite having been born as a film set, it was used for the promotion of the film when it was moored in the port of Cannes for the 39th Cannes Film Festival, where the film was presented out of competition. It was then transported to the ancient port of Genoa, where it is moored at Ponte Calvi and can be visited as an attraction. On the whole it gives a pretty good idea of what a large three-deck of the second half of the seventeenth century could look like even if it is closer to a French-type vessel than a Spanish one.

Galata – Museum of the sea
The Galata – Museo del mare di Genova is the largest museum dedicated to this genus in the Mediterranean area and also one of the most modern in Italy. Inaugurated in 2004, the museum is located in the Galata Palace, whose renovation was designed by the Spanish architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. The museum houses, in addition to a full-scale reproduction of a Genoese galley, several interactive rooms in which to understand what it meant, in different eras, to go to sea.

One of these is the “La Merica” exhibition which shows the journey of our ancestors to America. There are numerous rooms dedicated to maritime trade and to go to sea at the time of the maritime republic of Genoa. The museum also exhibits a section dedicated to ocean liners with nautical charts and a storm simulation off Cape Horn. The Galata – Sea Museum also offers an exhibition hall, library, café with terrace. It is the seat of activities with schools, also favored by the proximity of the museum complex with the Genoa Piazza Principe station and the proximity of the “Darsena” metro stop.

Sand of the sea
Theater on the sea located at the head of the pier at the end of the Cotton Warehouses. Set up in summer, it hosts the Porto Antico EstateSpettacolo music, theater and dance festival.