Since, in the wake of the decline of its metallurgical industry, Genoa, a major port city in northern Italy, has been attracting tourists, the famous Genoese architect Renzo Piano has completely restructured the city. . Warehouses have been transformed into restaurants or theaters, from palaces to museums, and avant-garde structures have blossomed at the water's edge: the Bolla, an astonishing glass sphere, is home to a tropical forest. And, the Bigo, a huge steel structure inspired by the unloading cranes of ships supports a panoramic elevator which, suspended by cables, offers at 40 m high a general sight on the city but also on the port and the sea which, so often in history, have borne the ambitions and prosperity of Genoa. In twenty years, these avant-garde structures have attracted millions of visitors, including many families.
It is still Renzo Piano who landed in savior of Genoa after the disaster that mourned the city in August 2018 when the viaduct Polcevera, more commonly called Morandi Bridge crossing it, partially collapsed, leaving 43 dead and 16 wounded. The famous architect, now 81 years old, has indeed immediately proposed to design a free bridge for his hometown, and his project was retained.
Obviously, this disaster weighs on the image and tourist frequentation of Genoa, which seeks more than ever to attract visitors. Too bad. Lovers of art, history and heritage will benefit from what is known as Rolli Days. In 2019, they take place from May 3rd to May 5th. These are the local heritage days, they take place twice a year, and they are really worth it.
These days are indeed open to the public free of charge the sumptuous Renaissance and Baroque palaces that testify to the maritime and financial power of the ancient Republic of Genoa which, after having defied Pisa, has, for several centuries, rivaled Venice: from the Middle Ages, the merchants of this city founded in the seventh century BC. by the Ligurians, maintained intense maritime trade to London and Antwerp. Soon, they will not only be merchants, but also inventive and successful bankers.
It is from the sixteenth century, when Genoa is at the height of its splendor under the leadership of Admiral Andrea Doria, that the rich aristocrats of the city built these palaces along the nuove strade, these new and wide drawn outside the medieval city.
These private residences were intended to host the distinguished guests of the Republic, and this at the expense of their owners and in turn. As a result, this system, institutionalized by a decree of 1576, was called Rolli. In the manner of our current hotels, distinguished by stars, these palaces were classified according to their standing. Those of the first category received kings, princes and cardinals, those of second category, governors and ambassadors.
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Thus, in nearly three centuries, Genoa has seen some 200 three- or four-storey residences, of Renaissance or Baroque style, emerge from the ground. Forty-two of them, fully restored, are now classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. During the Rolli-days, not only is admission free, but visitors have access to palaces or rooms usually closed to the public. These unique places combine superlatives: thanks to facades, imposing entrance halls, spectacular staircases, sublime frescoes, trompe-l'oeil paintings, marble, stucco, statues, mirrors, tapestries, courtyards, splendid loggias overlooking gardens that often marry the side of the hill. Genoa is indeed storied between the slopes and the bottom of the valleys, and Garibaldi Street, many palaces are backed by a slope.
* Tobia Pallavicino Palace
It's impossible to name them all here, of course. In any case, here are some not to be missed!
We will begin with Garibaldi Street. At number 4 is the Tobia Pallavicino Palace. A house built in two phases, the fifteenth and seventeenth, what the interior often reveals.
Tobia Pallavicino was one of the richest, most powerful notables in Genoa. It was the "king of alum", a substance used to fix the color on the tissues. Today, this magnificent house is home to the seat of the Chamber of Commerce. And its amazing Rococo-style golden gallery serves as a meeting room for consular leaders. When they meet, an imposing red tablecloth hides the gilding and ice that usually hangs over the table. Do they then think of their illustrious predecessors? Mystery.
Difficult, indeed, to find the right words to describe the ostentatious wealth of the decoration of this palace! A wealth that finds its acme in the "golden gallery": this gallery was designed by Lorenzo de Ferrari but probably performed by Diego Andrea Carloni. This piece is well worthy of its name: it flows totally golden, with cherubs or more exactly putti a lot of cornices, moldings, mirror frames, festoons … we're still stunned!
All this gold framed the large fresco that is in the center of the vault. A fresco of Olympus, with in the glasses "Aeneas arrives in Lazio" and so many other scenes evoking Aeneas, Venus, Dido or Aenas …
In the paintings of the two vestibules, the ground floor and the noble floor, the ancient inspiration is also evident. Thus, on the ground floor, on a saturated white background, appear grotesques and divinities, while in central octagons is represented including Juno and Leda.
* Nicolosio Lomellini Palace
In the same street, we will see at number 7, the Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellini. The latter was a member of a family in full economic and political rise. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the property of this palace passed to the Centurione family who carried out an internal reorganization of the building, then in 1748 to the Pallavicini and finally in 1865 to Andrea Podesta, several times mayor of Genoa between 1866 and 1895. This which explains that this palace is also named Palazzo Podesta.
Like other Genoese buildings, the facade and interior plans of the palace (property, then Centurione) were reproduced by the painter Rubens who, at the end of his visit of the city, made known the Genoese palaces in the area. Europe as a whole, thanks to the book he published Palazzi di Genova. A book in which he describes these palaces as "an example of beauty and magnificence for all Europe".
How to describe in a few words the wonderful Nicolosio Lomellini palace? The gray-blue façade is enlivened by a rich stucco decoration, as is the entrance hall where winged ermes support the columns. The courtyard, open, is bordered by the rear wings of the building. the terraces overlook a magnificent nymphaeum built in the eighteenth century, designed by Domenico Parodi.
The garden was built using the slope of the hill just behind.
On the main floor, in the two living rooms, there is a famous fresco by Giacomo Antonio Boni, "Jupiter and the goat Amalthea" and a "Bacchus and Ariane" by Domenico Parodi. It is to Lorenzo De Ferrari that one owes the decoration in stucco and in the open air with figures of divinities on the vault of the gallery. The living room decorated by dall'Aldovrandini, has been enriched by a series of paintings made by Marcanto.
* The Palazzo Rosso
Always rue Garibaldi, do not miss the Palazzo Rosso family Brignole. It is the first palace that Gustave Flaubert had seen in 1845. In his "Notes de voyage", the famous writer remarks: "red facade, marble staircase straight ahead. The apartments are not as large as in many others, but the general dress, the mosaics of the parquet floors and the paintings especially, make it perhaps the richest of Genoa.
In addition to the palace and its furniture, the Duchess of Galliera, last heiress in 1874, gave to the municipality of Genoa, the splendid collection of pictorial art collected by the successive generations of the Brignole Salle family. Today, the gallery of paintings is famous thanks to his portraits of Flemish painters, his paintings of XVIe Venetian century of Palma il vecchio and Veronese.
In the years 1950-1960, the museum space was modified and doubled to accommodate collections of ceramics, numismatics, textiles, maps, etc. Finally, the furniture of the duchess in her Paris apartment was transferred to the top floor.
* The white palace
Via Garibaldi, just in front of the Palazzo Rosso, stands the Palazzo Bianco of Grimaldi. This house is also home, as the palace Doria Tursi which is close, breathtaking collections of Italian art, Flemish and Spanish, works of Guercino, Veronese, Van Dyck, Caravaggio …
In the same street, we will see at number 7, the Palazzo Podesta, also called Nicolosio Lomellini.
* The palazzo reale
Not far from there, on Calle Balbi, is the Palazzo Reale, a royal palace that was built in the 17th century for the family that gave its name to the street. A marvel also with its monumental atrium, stucco, hanging garden, ballroom, gallery worthy of Versailles.
* The Doria-Spinola Palace
Finally, Largo Lanfranco is the old palace Doria-Spinola, headquarters of the current prefecture. And, Piazza De Ferrari, the Palazzo Ducale, seat of the Doges for centuries.
Impossible to say a few words of all these palaces. There are 31 to visit in the city center. One tip: provide comfortable shoes! Especially since after a day-long dip in this world of refined splendor and diplomatic ballets, a walk will be welcome in the historic center around the old port.
We will then discover with delight a complex maze of alleys, squares, churches whose frescoes will be admired. We can also do some shopping in historical shops, a century or more old. There are quality products, an often unforgettable decor and warm attention. It is for all these reasons that our stay in Genoa in the north of Italy, remains unforgettable.