My morning commute to work is far from ordinary – or at least I’d like to think so. Coming froma country where most people drive to work, sitting in rush hour traffic, slowly building up road rage, I feel pretty lucky that I only have a 10 minute stroll out in the fresh air between my home and where I work. Not that I’m bragging or anything. :D
Four of those blissful minutes are spent on the most curious road called Borgo degli Incrociati – meaning “Village of the Crosses”. It’s a narrow pedestrian-only street situated just behind Brignole station, running parallel to the Val Bisagno river, connecting my hilly neighborhood of Genoa with the city center.
What I love most about this road is its peculiar charm – the handful of unique antique furniture shops, the ‘panni’ (laundry) waving in the air like flags, the charachters I pass by everyday and the lives I imagine they live. There’s always something to look at when walking down Borgo degli Incrociati and usually its the people that catch my attention the most.
Such a curious road lead to me to do some research about its history. I discovered that Borgo degli Incrociati started out as a medieval village that used to be connected to an old church (hence the name “Village of the Crosses”) that was demolished during the 19th century. The church stood where Brignole station is now. Where there is an underpass tunnel now, there used to be a rather large piazza where the Borgo degli Incrociati fed into. A smaller piazza right before entering the tunnel has recently been built, adding a bit of long lost comfort to the area.
During the 1940’s, the road was known as the “Village of Women”. Women used to stand outside the doors, dressed in long black dresses, selling fruit or roasted chestnuts during the winter. Inside the women would sew or repair shoes. They were so busy with their work that they couldn’t even afford the time it took to pull down underwear in order to relieve themselves, so they went without them and simply opened their legs when needed.
During this period there was also a barber shop and other food markets, as well as antique shops selling used items much like there is today. While the women were busy working at home, the men were either in the city working or getting drunk and hiding from their wives in a nearby tunnel called “landun” (still visible today).
Of course today you’ll find something different, although it’s not any less interesting than before.
Coming from the tunnel that runs under Brignole station, the first thing you’ll pass is la Antica Hostaria di Paccetti – an elegant but modest restaurant with a menu based mostly on seafood. A few doors down you’ll find Trattoria Colombo. This is your everyday eatery with simple comfort food at an affordable price. The TV is never turned off and often people come here to watch the latest football match.
A little further along there’s what I like to call the ‘antique family dynasty’. The patriarch and man in charge is a big guy, graying shoulder length hair with thick bushy eyebrows. He sits on his folding chair just outside his antique furniture shop and watches. Sometimes people, presumably his family or returning clients, come by and speak to him in what I believe to be a thick genoese dialect. My boyfriend once spotted him pull out a big wad of cash to give to his wife. He doesn’t seem the type to negotiate any more than he wants to. He’s the boss and he knows it.
Just across the way is where all the work is done: men working hard to load and unload antique furniture. They saw, sand, build, hammer, and paint, breathing new life into old pieces of wood. Some of their works are sold at Genoa’s weekend travelling antique markets.
Like any road in Italy, there is of course a small take away pizzeria and a bar. These are the sort of places you can always count on and the same people work here day in and day out, probably carrying on the family tradition.
Once someone tried to plant a cactus in a small hole in the road. They placed on sign above it saying that where there is nothing, life can be born again. The poor cactus lasted only about two days before someone destroyed it.
Another day I spotted vomit in the hole. The next there was caution tape and an orange cone placed on top of it.
About a year ago there was a terrible flood in Genoa that nearly destroyed the village.
Fortunately the people of Genoa have banded together and put their roads back in order. Even to this day you can see the people of Borgo degli Incrociati cleaning out and restoring the first floor of their buildings after the destruction of the flood.
I’m not sure what there will be tomorrow on Borgo degli Incrociati, but I’m sure it will be full of life.