An Afternoon at the Lanterna

It’s a pleasant walk on the boardwalk, past the aquarium, the maritime museum, and the Neptune – a replica of a 17th century galleon that was used in Roman Polanski’s “Pirate” film. I stop to ask directions from the driver of an open-air tour bus that is idling in front of the maritime office. He speaks enough English to point me in the right direction. I told him I’d be back for his tour. “Wait until after 1 PM,” he says, “because there’s a labor strike today.” “Fun for you” I said, which makes him laugh. I meet the labor march head on about 10 minutes later, and stand aside as 200 marchers pass by, walking behind a pick-up truck with huge stereo speakers stacked in the bed, and decline a copy of a Communist newspaper that a white-haired man tries to press into my hand. I proceed north to my destination.

The Lanterna claims to be the oldest working lighthouse in the world, dating to 1543, replacing the original lighthouse that was destroyed by fire in 1514. It is a distinctive square tower rising 177 meters in height, which includes the 40-meter rock that serves as its base. I believe there are about 364 steps from base to top. Its light can be seen for 36 nautical miles above a port that dates to the Roman era.

The boardwalk leading up to the Lanterna is being coated with marine tar (a traditional and very aromatic wood preservative). The walls along the boardwalk are studded with informational signs. The first sign describes the Lanterna Promenade (Passeggiata Panoramica) that marks the ancient road connecting Genoa to its Western neighbors and following the walls that surround the city. There are so many signs that I only read every other one, believing I’d find a book with this information in the gift shop (which, as usual, is an incorrect assumption…)

A police car stops behind me, and one of the officers asks if I am here to see the Lanterna. After some struggles with our language barrier, he realizes I’m a tourist, and takes out his pad upon which he writes: “Cymbol of Genova.” I nod “yes” - wishing I could have learned a little Italian before coming here – and continue my hike up to the base of the lighthouse, where I find the ticket office window.

Nooooo - the Lanterna is closed on Monday! No amount of pleading gains me access to the lighthouse, but the staff allow me to visit the museum free of charge. Reconciling myself to that setback, I sit down on a bench to regroup, and encounter the pair of officers who had stopped me earlier. I ask if it’s OK to take their picture. The blonde officer takes my camera and motions for me to pose with his partner, who asks where I am from. “Seattle,” I said. “Ah, Rainy City,” he replied…

Travel tip: Always check schedules before planning your itinerary!

Travel tip: Always ask police officers in Italy before taking their photo. The police officers here were friendly. Those I encountered in Florence were not at all hospitable.

Heather Daveno and local cop
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

The dark haired partner then starts to lead me down a path to the park and garden that lay below the foot of the Lanterna, which I would have completely missed had he not pointed it out to me.

Genoa is another city where the building that houses the museum, is itself a museum. The Lanterna Museum is in the fortified base of the tower, which did not defend the lighthouse, but rather, the Porta Nuovo, the gate that marked the road leading from East to West. The first several rooms contain benches and video screens, each screen depicting a different aspect of Ligurian arts and culture. The range of topics is broad, from modern port traffic, to medieval sculpture and paint, velvet weaving, processing fruit for confectionery, choir boys preparing for a church processional. This cool and restful spot would be a really great place to spend a hot afternoon.

Fortified base of the tower
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

Deeper inside this building, the rooms are filled with working lights and other lighthouse paraphernalia, and walls that are covered with schematic drawings.

Deeper inside the museum
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno
Lighthouse mechanism
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno
Original schematic
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

Upon exiting the museum, I wander through the park that surrounds the Lanterna, and find an outlook with signs indicating that the houses in the distance were the summer manors for Genevans during the 16th century. I find one of the best views of the garden from the window of the WC.

Heavy cobblestone path
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

After a final, wistful look at the “Cymbol of Genova” I headed back along the heavy cobblestone path, my bruised and blistered feet ever so thankful to finally reach the smooth surface of the boardwalk that would take me to the next grand thing … a cup of delicious café violeta at a nearby coffee shop.

Heather visited Genoa in 2011. All photos are Heather Daveno’s original photography and should be credited as such.

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Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno is from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught hatmaker by night. Her travels inspire her hats, which she handcrafts from reclaimed textiles and found objects. You can find her hats and full texts of her travel journals at August Phoenix Hats, with links to additional travel photos at Daveno Travels.