« Al di qua del mare » : a contribution to the definition of Genoa mountain

Gabriella TROTTA-BRAMBILLA, Post-doc LabEx ITEM (CRJ Grenoble) , Associate Lecturer in architectural design (ENSAG) and researcher at LabEx AE&CC

Fig 1 : The four metropolises studied in the research project (G. Trotta – Brambilla, 2018)

The paper focuses on one of the case studies (the metropolis of Genoa) resulting from an ongoing post-doctoral research project carried out within the “Territorialité, Liminalité et Métropolisations Péripheriques[1]” project of the LabEx Item. The research analyses the relationship between metropolis and mountain in the context of recent territorial reforms in France and in Italy. Four cases of metropolises are studied (Grenoble and Nice in France, Genoa and Turin in Italy), assuming that they can be representative of some “typical figures” of metropolitan cooperation with the mountains included in their respective administrative boundaries. As in France, in Italy metropolises are instituted in 2014 by the law No. 56/2014 also called “Delrio”. Ten Città metropolitane have replaced the homonymous Provinces to govern and plan vast territories, sometimes very wide, which in the case of Genoa and Turin also include mountain territories

Fig 2 : Italian metropolises instituted in 2014 (G. Trotta-Brambilla, 2018)

The French and Italian territorial reforms allow each metropolis to adopt its own legal statute and this is an element of distinction of the metropolitan territories from each other (Vandelli and De Donno, 2016). Thus, it’s interesting to understand the local specificity of each metropolis’ implementation of the national directives and especially in the case of Genoa, where the mountain, on the one hand, seems to escape the attempts of definition but, on the other hand, could find a new identity thanks to the metropolis, among others. Tight between sea and mountain, the city of Genoa (capital of the namesake Province, now transformed into a Città metropolitana) is mainly known for its harbour and its commercial and manufacturing history connected to maritime activities. But Genoa has also a wide mountainous hinterland, which is commonly called ‘entroterra’. Actually, the Città metropolitana try to overcome the opposition coast/outback.

Fig 3 : Genoa’s mountains seen from the harbour (photo G. Trotta-Brambilla, 201

But the notion of entroterra seems to be hard to define. It evokes specific territorial characteristics, but also different ways of looking at them and apprehending them. In this paper, we seek to clarify the definition of this notion and its local utilization by analysing Genoa’s mountains characteristics through social representations associated with the entroterra, in order to highlight its plural identities and to verify the hypothesis that a new and clearer identity can be defined through the cooperation’s strategies with the Città metropolitana.

Divergent definitions of the entroterra

Genoa’s mountain is part of Ligurian Apennines. It is a mainly “medium” mountain which is very close to the sea. This territory is little known and hardly frequented by tourists, especially compared to the coast. Administratively, 67 municipalities are included in the metropolis (determined by the Statuto della Città metropolitana, 2014) and 54 of them are “mountain” municipalities (according to the National law for the mountain, 1952). Despite this, the word “mountain” is very rarely pronounced in the documents and local stakeholders’ speeches. The qualification of the entroterra as a mountain territory is even questioned by some inhabitants and institutional stakeholders (according to an inhabitant, this territory “[…] is not mountain nor hill, it is a in-between. It is hard to define … it is the entroterra![2]”). So, what kind of mountainous territory is Genoa’s entroterra? What about its identity

Fig 4 : Genoa’s relevant administrative boundaries (G. Trotta-Brambilla, 2018)

Historically, it was a rural territory that was gradually abandoned (especially since the second post-war period), mainly because of the many difficulties in agricultural work and, at the same time, the attractiveness of manufacturing activities located on the coast. The terraces (called fasce) built and maintained for centuries are deteriorating more and more, causing serious problems of hydrogeological imbalance. Few farmers remain or return, although some specific policies are conducted by the Liguria Region. At present, the entroterra is mainly perceived as a territory preserved by the urbanization (which characterizes, on the other hand, the coast) and with a touristic potential which can be complementary to the sea tourism. Institutional stakeholders point out the geographical situation as the greatest obstacle to the development of the region. The territorial morphology “has historically determined a condition of evident disadvantage for the organization of the settlement system and for the development of economic activities[3]”.

Defining Genoa’s metropolitan mountain

To better understand Genoa’s entroterra, the research aims to compare different social representations about it. Speeches are collected in order to compare the point of view of the city looking at the mountain to that of the mountain (re)looking itself in the new institutional framework. The analysed corpus consists of:

  • “official speeches” : stakeholders websites, town and territory planning documents, laws, etc.;
  • “unofficial speeches”: semi-directive interviews with institutional and economic stakeholders, associations, inhabitants, researchers, tourists, grey literature (especially for trekkers, climbers, bikers), etc.

First analysis reveal that two main notions are evoked to describe the entroterra:

  • otherness : the entroterra is often described for what it is not (“it is not mountain, strictly speaking[4]”, “I do not define it ‘mountain’, the only true mountain is Santo Stefano d’Aveto[5]”, a little ski resort) or in comparison with other territories (often with the Alps, but also with other Ligurian entroterra: “the entroterra di Ponente, Sanremo, […] seems more dynamic to me[6]”; “there is not an image of the Ligurian Apennines, it is not like Emilian or Tuscan Apennines […][7]”, “the business is on the sea because 90% of the population is on the coast[8]”);
  • interiority : the word entroterra evokes an “inside” (entro-), an “inner land”, something hidden and to be protected if compared to the coast, more visible and accessible, but also more exploited; the idea of interiority is also expressed by the administrative subdivision of the metropolitan territory into homogeneous zones, distinguishing the city of Genoa from the “inner valleys”, as well as by the existence, within the boundary of the Città metropolitana, of two “inner areas” (“In Genoa we do not talk about ‘mountains’, but rather of ‘inner areas’[9]”, explains a planner of Città metropolitana), which are defined as remote areas, far away from essential services and looking for a strategic vocation for their development.

A relational identity

If we consider the identity of a territory in a relational sense, as a construction of distinction from the other, but also as an “articulation between community networks and global networks” (Bonomi and Borghi, 2002), we can better understand the discourses concerning Genoa’s entroterra. In the analysed corpus, three main relationships or comparisons are evoked: with the sea, with other mountains (especially Alps) and with the city of Genoa or other Institutions (see examples below).

entroterra & the sea entroterra & other mountains entroterra & Genoa

I monti del mare / sea’s mountains” (two climbers and writers)

“walking between sea and mountains” (Beigua Regional Park)

“we have the climate impact of thesea” (an inhabitant):

“from the Monte Antola you can see the sea and the snow at the same time” (touristic association Tra l’Antola e il mare

“from the ice waterfalls one can watch the sea” (touristic association Consorzio Accoglienza Diffusa nel Parco dell’Aveto

“It is not the same mountain as in Turin” (a planner of Città metropolitana)

“The landscape, dominated by the highest peaks of the Ligurian Apennines, between 1600 and 1800 m above sea level, remind us alpine areas […], also for pastures, maintained by cattle breeding activities, with the production of a typical cheese […]” (Aveto Regional Park)

(reffered to Apennines in general) ” I monti invisibili” / The invisible mountains (a climber and writer)

“It’s not really mountain” (a planner of Città metropolitana)

Una campagna abitata / An inhabited countryside”(Strategic Metropolitan Plan)

“The city is trying to spread to the mountain because of lack of space pn the coast (…) while penetrating into the main valleys (…). The relationships with the entroterra are complex and unavoidable for Genoa (a local researcher)

Ligurian Apennines (and Apennines in general) are not really considered as a tourist destination and they are rather known for the serious phenomenon of depopulation and for the earthquakes, even if they are also defined as “authentic” and rich in historical heritage. The mountain character of Genoa’s entroterra seems to be emphasized only by Regional Parks, mainly in order to protect it (“an important orographic node”, Antola Regional Park[10]; “a territory whose geological heritage is protected by UNESCO”, Beigua Regional Park[11]). On the contrary, the Città metropolitana’s definition of the entroterra (“an inhabited countryside[12]”) tends to hide or underestimate its “vertical dimension”, even if mobility and hydrogeological risk are declared as priority policies.

However, if for the Città metropolitana the vocation of the entroterra is an “inhabited countryside”, it should not be seen as a desire to reduce these territories to their residential function, but rather as the concern to maintain the population in these areas that may be increasingly destitute of services and resources. Thus, the traditional rural character of the entroterra is also highlighted, but it remind at the same time the difficulties related to mountain agricultural activities (mainly due to orography, fragmentation of land property, abandonment context, wild animals, etc.) and the distance of the institutions perceived by the farmers (“too little incentives”, “the municipal administrations should force the owners to maintain their land”, “more support for young people who want to start”[13]). They ask for support because they know that their activity can also constitute a “presidio territoriale” (a protective action for the territory) against the hydrogeological risk.

Building a new identity through the territorial cooperation?

As we can see from previous examples, there are many definitions and visions for the future of Genoa’s entroterra. On the one hand, we can suppose some lack of identity and sense of belonging, probably due to the depopulation and repopulation cycles that characterized this territory and, on the other hand, we can point out the need to build a shared territorial identity to define a common vision. Can the recent territorial reform, and in particular the institution of the Metropolis, represent a pertinent framework to design the cooperation between complementary metropolitan territories?

Towards a “metropolitan” entroterra?

The main mission of the Città metropolitana is to “coordinate territorial, economic and social resources for the cooperation between the administration and private stakeholders contributing to the territorial development[14]”. The Metropolitan Strategic Plan highlights how, before the “Delrio reform”, the governance of the Province was more hierarchical and the strategic vision more centralized, whereas at present the Città metropolitana advocates a networked territorial development and a more horizontal and participative governance, more suitable to increase the feeling of belonging, as well as the attractiveness of the metropolis for inhabitants, tourists and economic activities (Metropolitan Strategic Plan, April 2017, p.8). Territorial morphology (a system of interconnected urbanized valleys converging on Genoa and the secondary towns located on the coast, fig.5) is potentially conducive for networked development and the overcoming of the traditional coast/entroterra opposition. The Città metropolitana recognizes, however, that some of the essential conditions (i.e. structural interventions on mobility, resources for the most disadvantaged territories, as well as more equity in sharing and making use of resources themselves) remain to be met (Metropolitan Strategic Plan, April 2017, p.20).

Fig 5 :Metropolis of Genoa’s urbanization (G. Trotta-Brambilla, 2018, based on Strategic Metropolitan Plan, avril 2017

Furthermore, the question may be asked as to whether the subdivision of the territory into homogeneous zones (provided for in the National Reform and the Statute of the Città Metropolitana), as well as their coexistence with other administrative boundaries like the four Regional Parks (Antola, Aveto, Beigua, Portofino) and the two “inner areas” (Antola-Tigullio et Beigua-SOL), does not contradict the desire to overcome the classic dichotomy between the city and the mountain (fig.4).

In the same way, we can question the new distribution of competences between the Metropolises and the Regions which, in a concern of preventing overlapping of tasks, requires the separation of some public policies that it is essential to coordinate: Metropolises must deal with economic development while losing, for example, the competences of tourism and agriculture that previously were due to the Provinces. Finally, if we can consider that the coincidence of the metropolitan mayor with the city of Genoa’s mayor is an advantage from the point of view of territorial cohesion (a hinterland more linked to the city) and public economy (less expenditure for politics), this also means a problem of representativeness, since the mayor is elected only by the inhabitants of the main town

The “inner area” strategy: a prototype for a new medium-mountain identity ?

Two of the mountain regions of Genoa’s entroterra were considered eligible to participate in a national program (National Strategy for Inner Areas) financing innovative local development experiences to fight the decadence of areas characterized by depopulation, aging and economic decline, by primarily acting on essential services such as health, education and mobility (Calvaresi, 2015). In particular, the Antola-Tigullio inner area is a prototype to test the design of specific guidelines promoted by the Region with the support of the Città Metropolitana.

The strategy for this inner area foresees a greater specialization of this metropolitan territory (in addition to a better services endowment) by focusing mainly on the enhancement of the environmental aspect in order to constitute and promote a district for tourism and outdoor sports. If we consider the notion of “industrial district” forged by Italian economists (in particular G. Becattini), this economic model adapted to the tourist vocation envisaged by the local stakeholders refers, once more, to the question of the territorial identity because the fundamental character of the Italian districts is the incorporation of knowledge and productions into local identity, environment and lifestyles (Magnaghi, 2015).

However, one can wonder if this tourist specialization of the territory will not hide or stifle the old rural character of Genoa’s entroterra and how these two identities can coexist. The main contribution of the Città metropolitana, which can not take action in tourism or agricultural policies in the strict sense, is therefore to implement instruments to improve the in-depth knowledge of the territory in order to better anchor local and metropolitan strategies.


Less than three years from the institution of the Metropolises in Italy, it is difficult to take stock of the cooperation strategies put in place.

Some innovations in metropolitan governance seem a priori favourable to cooperation between the city and the mountains. In this context, the different territories of Genoa’s entroterra should be able to define their territorial projects and their identity also in relation to their new membership of the metropolis. Anywhere, there remain fundamental inconsistencies, such as the relevance of the new redistribution of administrative tasks or the mode of election of the metropolitan mayor. The Città metropolitana of Genoa seeks to compensate with the implementation of a model of networked governance and voluntary actions to support projects concerning the metropolitan territory but which are not the competence of the Metropolis (instruction, tourism, etc.). The Antola-Tigullio inner area can be a prototype for future territorial cooperation inside the Metropolis if the approach implemented, concerning several local administrations, will listen and value all the expressions of the various territorial identities that have been stratified in the entroterra.


Bonomi, A. & Borghi, E. (2002). La montagna disincantata. Turin : Cda&Vivalda Editori.

Burlando, R., editor (1999). Al di qua del mare : itinerari alla ricerca di un entroterra da scoprire e da conservare. Genoa: Provincia di Genova.

Calvaresi, C. (2015). Una strategia nazionale per le aree interne : diritti di cittadinanza e sviluppo locale. Territorio, n°74, pp.78-79.

Città metropolitana di Genova (2017). Piano Strategico della Città Metropolitana. Il primo passo per costruire insieme il territorio metropolitano (April 2017)

Magnaghi, A. (2015). La lunga marcia del ritorno al territorio. In G. Becattini, La coscienza dei luoghi. Il territorio come soggetto corale (pp. VII-XVI). Rome: Donzelli.

Vandelli, L. & De Donno, M. (2016). Évolutions de la décentralisation en France et en Italie: un regard comparé, Istituzioni del Federalismo, n°4, pp.867-883.

[1]     Directors : S. Gal, N. Kada, R. Lajarge, P.A. Landel.

[2]     Interview (february 2018) with Mr. M. Mantilero, inhabitant, B&B owner, president of a local tourist association.

[3]     Strategic Metropolitan Plan, April 2017, p.19.

[4]     Interview (december 2017) with Mrs. A. Garbarino, strategic and territorial planner at Città Metropolitana of Genoa.

[5]     Interview (february 2018) with Mr. M. Mantilero.

[6]     Interview (february 2018) with Mr. M. Mantilero.

[7]     Interview (mars 2018) with Mr. R. Meraviglia, Director of Santo Stefano d’Aveto ski resort.

[8]     Interview (february 2018) with Mr. M. Mantilero.

[9]     Interview (december 2017) with Mrs. A. Garbarino.

[10]     http://www.parcoantola.it/.

[11]     http://www.parcobeigua.it/.

[12]     Strategic Metropolitan Plan, April 2017.

[13]     Città Metropolitana di Genova, Agricoltura di montagna, la fatica contro il dissesto, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5DWjx-0Qsg

[14]     Strategic Metropolitan Plan, April 2017, p.43.