As in so many port cities, religious life took a back step in Genoa, the independent republic being more occupied in medieval times with trade and its ongoing struggles with other Mediterranean maritime powers. Its republican era was long; established in 1005, its autonomy lasted until 1798.
Genoa’s patron saints were first, St Lawrence, and then St George, and the cathedral, built in the early 13th century, is still dedicated to the former. A superb black-and-white striped façade fronts the building, which is said to contain the ashes of St John the Baptist, brought to Genoa after the First Crusade. This was partially funded by loans from Genoese bankers, who were less happy to support their own mariner, Christopher Columbus, who had to go to Spain to get funding for his voyages. Genoese wealth paid for some opulent churches throughout the city; Santa Maria di Castello, San Giorgio and the wonderfully High Baroque Gesù are all worth a visit.