Port of Genoa, Late 15th Century

Port of Genoa, Late 15th Century

Since antiquity, the technology supporting maritime shipping has not changed much. Port sites having a protected area and offering access to inland trade routes were more prominent. Genoa is a port city that can be traced back to the Roman Empire, granting access to North Italy, particularly the Po River valley. In the Middle Ages, Genoa was an independent city-state able to maintain a commercial network rivaling other city-states such as Venice and Pisa. It was a city that generated the core of its wealth by projecting its maritime power and controlling trade routes across the Mediterranean.

The above engraving, dated 1481, depicts Genoa’s main harbor. Most of the anchored ships are caravels (small ships with a triangular sail) and carracks (larger ships with a square sail). Both were designed in the late Medieval times (15th century) and used for the first long-distance expeditions across the Atlantic. Ships were spending a large amount of time at ports, implying that harbors tended to be crowded places. Further, ships often traveled as convoys for security and mutual support, which needed to be assembled.