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‘Secret cities’ would have been an absurd subtitle for two such major places, but did seem to suggest itself because of the rarity with which Britons find themselves there. But every art lover should go.
The prevailing images are perhaps still predominantly commercial and industrial, but not only do both Genoa and Turin have highly attractive centres but both are distinguished by the preservation of a large number of magnificent palaces and picture collections.
Genoa lays claim to the largest historic centre of any European city. It was one of the leading maritime republics of mediaeval Italy (with Marseilles it remains the largest port in the Mediterranean), and enjoyed a golden age during the seventeenth century. In the 1990s civic improvements and building restorations were undertaken to prepare the city for celebrations connected with the quincentenary of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas, and the cultural momentum has continued.
In the earlier seventeenth century, Genoa was artistically the equal of almost anywhere in Italy except for Rome and Naples. More than any other Italian school of painting, the Genoese was indebted to the Flemish school: Rubens made a prolonged visit to Genoa in 1605 and Anthony Van Dyck was based there from 1621 to 1627. Many of his paintings remain here.
Turin, the leading city of Piedmont, was formerly capital of Savoy and later of the kingdom of Sardinia. Developed on a grand scale in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the historic centre is laid out on a regular plan with broad avenues and spacious piazze. Architecture is mainly Baroque and classical. Guarino Guarini and Filippo Juvarra, among the best architects of their time, worked here for much of their lives.