The talent of Ligurian artisans is expressed in numerous ways thanks to centuries of cultural exchange throughout the Mediterranean and in particular to the skill of the people "squashed" between the mountains and the sea.
This cultural complexity has been transformed into creations that are the fruit of careful reflection, blending beauty with practicality and developing an even deeper meaning.
Generation after generation of artisans succeed one another in studios and workshops using the skills and secrets handed down by true masters to create diverse and unusual objects.
This gives rise to fine filigree arabesques, polychrome velvet and macramé, elegant ceramic decorations, perfumes with the delicate scent of the sea, and simple yet flavoursome sweets.
Bookbinding has always been a true art: in bookbinder's stores sheets of delicate parchment and, later, paper obtained by soaking rags, were painstakingly stitched together. The technique of sewing books was almost totally supplanted by new glueing techniques, but a few places still practise this skill for binding valuable and ancient books.
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Liguria was one of the most important European pottery-producing areas. The tableware created in Genoa, Savona and Albisola was used far and wide, not only in Europe but across the sea in the Americas.
The ceramic tradition was inspired by Arabic tastes in décor, successfully reinterpreting it with great originality and beauty, as the splendid green and turquoise ceramics and majolica that are still admired today demonstrate.
In 1807 the Marquess Stefano Rivarola, ambassador of the Republic of Genoa, brought back with him on his return from Paris some Parisian chairs to serve as a model for artisans in Chiavari.
The first person to be given cocoa beans as a gift - cultivated since 400 AD by the Maya - was Christopher Columbus. However, it was only with the conquest of the "West Indies" that the importance of this bean, from which chocolate could be made, was truly understood.
From the second half of the eighteenth century, hot chocolate was very much in vogue in Genoa among both the nobility and the less well-off classes. In the Prè area, there was a street named Vico del Cioccolatte, named after the chocolate and sweets manufacturers working there.
The religious zeal of the Ligurians, along with their home-made textiles whose variety and beauty are renowned throughout Europe, led to the creation of splendid sacred vestments. The majority of the liturgical textile heritage is composed of silk fabrics of different types: taffeta, satin, damask, velvet, and lampas woven with gold, silver and polychrome silk.
Called "thread work" by Benvenuto Cellini, filigree became a completely independent branch of jewellery-making from the seventeenth century, evolving on its own with its classic "openwork" design.
The Latin origin of the name (filum e granum) shows that the fundamental raw materials for creating this type of item were gold or silver threads and grains, skilfully woven together.
Filigree had been made in Genoa since the fifteenth century, but since the 1800s production has been based in Campo Ligure, which has become the homeland of filigree experts who continue to painstakingly weave their filigree threads to this day.
“A la façon d’Altare” describes the Altarese method of working glass and distinguishes many types of transparent glass objects that, in time, have become a typical expressive language of the master glaziers of the Ponente area.
In Liguria, glass working developed around the first half of the twelfth century, probably following the settlement of the Isola di Bergeggi (Savona) by a community of Benedictine monks from Provence, becoming established in Altare in the province of Savona around the later Middle Ages.
Genoese luxury jewellers enjoyed widespread fame until the 1800s for the value of the jewels they made. With Jewellers' Guilds existing since the second half of the thirteenth century, this art has a very long tradition. Via degli Orefici, one of the main streets in the Old Town, bears witness to the importance of this ancient guild in the city's past.
Creating a shoe from real leather, with a hand-sewn, made-to-measure upper, can take an entire working day, or even longer. The final effect is a sophisticated elegance that makes the shoe a major part of the complete outfit.
The Genoese style of dressing has long been compared to the British style: classic cuts, elegant, and with attention to detail. In the Ligurian artisan workshops, fashion accessories such as handbags, belts, purses and key rings are made from exquisite leather and entirely sewn by hand.
Corona and Palma (the crown and palm) are the two designs typical of the East Genoese damasks. In Lorsica, in the province of Genoa, the ancient art of manufacturing damask has survived untouched since the sixteenth century. It traces its roots to the Syrian city of Damascus, famous for producing objects containing niello that were decorated with black glazes on gold and silver backgrounds. Classic damasks, considered to be a "reversible" fabric, are characterised by the shiny/opaque contrast of the background and the satin design.
Nicolò Bianchi, a Genoese luthier working in Paris for around twenty years from 1848 to 1867, was considered to be the best copyist luthier in the modern sense and perhaps the only one in the nineteenth century to build antiqued instruments. An expert on classic Italian instrument making, among his favourite models was his Guarneri del Gesù violin from 1741, stylistically similar to the "Cannone", the powerful violin played by Genoese virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, now held by the Strada Nuova Museums in the Palazzo Tursi.
In the seventeenth century in East Liguria, particularly in the Golfo del Tigullio, a particular special type of lace was produced: macramé. The term is of Arabic origin and describes a heavy lace, generally linen, made entirely by hand using a knotting technique. Macramé was initially used for decorating the fringes of towels, tablecloths and bedding; more recently however it has been reinterpreted as a decorative element for bags and clothing.
The olive is without doubt one of the most typical elements of the Ligurian landscape. Existing in the region since 3000 BC, it has been grown more extensively since the 1700s on the slopes of hills and mountains in the region thanks to the terracing technique. In 1997, "Riviera Ligure" extra virgin olive oil - which brings together under a single name oil produced in three different regions: “Riviera dei Fiori”, “Riviera del Ponente Savonese”, and “Riviera del Levante” – was recognised by the European Union as a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOP). The characteristic of Ligurian oil is its fruity flavour with slightly sweet or bitter and spicy tastes.
Mario Sbarbori, from Genoa itself, was one of the most famous Italian "noses" of the twentieth century. His workshop in Via di Scurreria conquered Paris and even the United States thanks to the originality and purity of his perfumes.
The most famous sauce in the world was born in Liguria. The first pesto recipe dates from the nineteenth century, but ground sauces such as agliata, a likely precursor to traditional Genoese pesto, were already being made during the Renaissance. Genoese basil D.O.P. is ground with small amounts of garlic and pine nuts, mature parmesan, pecorino sardo and "Riviera Ligure" extra virgin olive oil D.O.P. Traditional Ligurian pesto is made with a balsa wood pestle and mortar.
Slate is predominantly extracted in the quarries in Tigullio, Val Fontanabuona and Valle Argentina in Arma di Taggia.
Used mainly as a roofing material (the typical grey roofs of Liguria), slate has always been a part of the decorative arts thanks to its malleability, resulting in its use for items such as gates, sheets for painting and inscribing, furniture and decorations.
Decorating a window means, first and foremost, painting with light and playing with colour; it is no coincidence therefore that the first step in creating stained glass is done by painters rather than glaziers. The fusion of two arts, achieved by linking coloured glass with lead, has led to the creation of splendid objects that function as decorative furnishings and other Art Nouveau elements.
Ligurian artisan textiles are notable for their variety, with precious cloths such as damasks and satins, macramé and laminates, as well as the simple and extremely durable cotton fabric used to make trousers named after the city of Genoa itself: jeans. In fact, in the past the Republic of Genoa's crossbowmen wore uniforms made from this strong blue fabric. Today classic jeans are even decorated using the "riporto alla genovese" technique.
The region of Liguria produces eight different DOC wines. From east to west: Dolceacqua Rossese, a fragrant and full-bodied red wine with an intense perfume, Ormeasco di Pornassio, a red with a lingering taste, hints of ripe cherry, blackberry and violet. It is also good as a passito wine. The Riviera Ligure di Ponente covers the Pigato, Vermentino and Rossese wines grown in this geographical area. It also includes Valpolcevera and the very unusual Valpolcevera Coronata, a white with an almost sulphuric after taste, and a particular favourite of Stendhal who mentioned it in his work "Italian Journey".
The Golfo di Tigullio produces Passito and Muscat white wines, the Colline di Levanto and Colli di Luni produce red and white wines, and finally the Cinque Terre and Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà make a sweet passito dessert wine that is particularly sophisticated.
Wrought iron production in Liguria has ancient roots. The first ironworking factories date from the thirteenth century, but it was from the fifteenth century that smiths began to make artistic and decorative objects. The art of ironworking reached its peak in the sixteenth century thanks to the growth in the metallurgy sector in Genoa and Savona. Centres of excellence were located in Valle Stura and in particular in Rossiglione, the home of various guilds. In Genoa's Old Town the memory of this ancient craft is kept alive in the street names: Piazza Campetto, formerly named Piazza dei Fabbri (Smiths' Square), and even Via di Scurreria, from the word scutoria, meaning someone who forged shields.
This fine, soft and delicate oriental fabric, which the Arabs called "kahifet", arrived in Liguria after the Crusades. The importance of “Velluto di Genova” was linked to the incomparable softness and shine of this silky fabric which once dressed European nobility, as demonstrated by Van Dyck's paintings. The art of velvet-making consisted of hand weaving thin and shiny warp and weft on a loom with additional threads to give the fabric its texture.