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Genoa is the most winding, incoherent of cities, the most entangled topographical ravel in the world." So said Henry James, and the city is still marvellously eclectic, full of pace and rough-edged style. Genoa made its money at sea, through trade, colonial exploitation and piracy. By the thirteenth century, on the heels of a major role in the Crusades, the Genoese were roaming the Mediterranean, bringing back ideas as well as goods: the city's architects were using Arab pointed arches a century before the rest of Italy. The San Giorgio banking syndicate effectively controlled the city for much of the fifteenth century, and cold-shouldered Columbus (who had grown up in Genoa) when he sought funding for his voyages of exploration. With Spanish backing, he opened up new Atlantic trade routes which ironically reduced Genova La Superba ("the proud") to a backwater.

Things started to look up in the 1990s. State funding to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's 1492 voyage paid to renovate some of the city's late-Renaissance palaces and the old port area, with Genoa's most famous son of modern times, Renzo Piano (best known as the co-designer of Paris's Pompidou Centre), taking a leading role. The results of a 46-million euro programme to prepare the city for a well-earned role as European Capital of Culture in 2004 are evident all over the city, especially in the old town. The city authorities must be hoping that 2004 will prove a less controversial moment in the limelight than the ill-fated G8 summit, held in Genoa in July 2001, which descended into chaos as police fought running battles on the streets with rioting anti-globalization protesters, and in which 23-year old Carlo Giuliani was shot dead by carabinieri.

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