November 30, 2022

Genoa, the Italian city where the houses are fit for a king

8 min read

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(CNN) — This is an Italian city with palaces so magnificent that they are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A city that was once home to so much wealth that the local elite lived in an environment literally fit for a king, and the place where Rubens began his great artistic career.

Rome? Florence? Palaces facing the Grand Canal of Venice?

No: Genoa.

Seen by many as “just” a port city — its waterfront outlook often marred by unsightly postwar urban development and the sprawling harbor itself, some 14 miles along the waterfront. extends to — the capital of Liguria is actually one of them. Italy’s most spectacular cities.

It is home to what is said to be Europe’s most intact medieval city center, and beautiful Art Nouveau architecture in its “new” area (yes, this is the city where “new” is still old). But what caught UNESCO’s attention in 2006 were the Palazzo dei Rolli, or Rolli Palaces – a system of aristocratic mansions so grand that they were used as proto-hotels for visiting dignitaries and even royal families. used to go

Palazzo Spinola's Hall of Mirrors is modeled after Versailles.

Palazzo Spinola’s Hall of Mirrors is modeled after Versailles.

CA Elysee

Rowley is the plural of “rollo” — the old word for “list” — so the term means “palaces of the list.” This is because they were, quite literally, listed as mansions by the powerful Republic of Genoa during the Renaissance. This was no ordinary list — it was such a magnificent collection of palaces that the state could handle them as residences for VIP visitors.

The list was first created in 1576 by a decree of the Senate of the Republic “assigning the use of private houses to host visitors of state,” according to University of Genoa art historian Giacomo Montanari. , and says the scientific curator of Rowley Days, in which many palaces are open for tours.

“Instead of meeting in a royal palace, as in Versailles or Madrid, they were in the individual homes of the aristocracy.”

Michelin-style palace rating

The Palazzo is the city hall and museum.

The Palazzo is the city hall and museum.

Aivar Mikko/Alamy Stock Photo

The aristocracy already effectively ran Genoa — it was, says Montanari, an “oligrical society.” And mansions were also listed in different bands, depending on their quality, and who they were good enough to host.

“They were suitable for different types of guests — so if an ambassador was coming, there were middle- to high-class houses, while there were even better-quality places for kings or archbishops. ” says Montaneri, who likens the bands to hotel star ratings or the Michelin star system. As with the latter, houses can be delisted or bands reduced if they are not up to scratch.

The lists were revised five times: in 1576, 1588, 1599, 1614 and 1664. During this period, historians know of 163 houses that were on the list. The late historian Ennio Poligi, director of the Institute of the History of Architecture at the University of Genoa, identified 88 that we can still recognize today. About half of them — 42 — were added to the UNESCO list.

“Tourists are always amazed by the beauty of our palaces,” says the tour guide. Laura Greggs. “Many of them have been to Genoa before to take the ferry, but they didn’t see fit to stop. The Rowley palaces are probably now the main attraction that pushes people to visit the city. A few past Over the years they’ve been a huge draw to the city — they perfectly represent the economic power of Genoa in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the UNESCO listing has made them even more famous.”

‘City of Miracles’

Palazzo Spinola is now an art gallery.

Palazzo Spinola is now an art gallery.

Tony Spagone/Really Easy Star/Alamy Stock Photo

That’s because palaces aren’t just works of art in themselves — they represent Genoa’s mind-blowing success story.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was known as “la citta dei miracoli” — the city of miracles — because “completely unimaginable things could happen there,” says Montanari. In 1528, the Genoese politician Andrea Doria negotiated a deal with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for Genoese bankers to become the Spanish crown’s largest financiers.

“It allowed them to create a series of high-risk activities that are unimaginable, even by today’s standards,” he says, likening it to today’s global stock exchange. “The largest loans in history were made by the Genoese in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

And this unimaginable wealth allowed them to rebuild their homes, build new ones, and basically build a whole new city on top of the old one. These are the “New Streets” or “Strade Nuevo” recognized by UNESCO. Three streets — Via Garibaldi, Via Balbi and Via Caroli — wrap around the original medieval center of Genoa, filled with vast palaces built on this unimaginable banking wealth. Via Garibaldi, which sits on a hill, on the northern edge of the medieval city, was actually called “Strada Nuova” or “New Street” when it was built. These buildings are so impressive that the painter Rubens – who came to Genoa for his first commission – published a book of drawings of them all in 1622.

Down in the medieval center are the Palazzo dei Rolli — but, Montaneri says, these are medieval buildings that were rebuilt and expanded rather than built from scratch. That is why they are not included in the UNESCO list.

In 2006, UNESCO added “Le Strade Nuove and the system of Rolli Palaces” to its World Heritage List, including 42 of the 88 buildings still known today — those dating from the 16th and were built from scratch during the 17th century. “New Streets” were replaced by medieval mansions instead. “UNESCO wanted to highlight the new city built by this new elite society that had a new role in Europe as the great bankers and financiers — the people who ensured the financial survival of Europe’s empires,” says Montanari. held in his hands,” says Montanari.

It is, they say, a place where time has stood still. “Strada Nuova [Via Garibaldi] It’s still pretty much the same as it was in 1580 when it was finished, and you can step into the heart of a Renaissance European city. This is unusual.

Shops and bars as palaces

The design shop Via Garibaldi 12 is set in a rowly palace.

The design shop Via Garibaldi 12 is set in a rowly palace.

12 by Garibaldi

Of course, hosting kings, queens and ambassadors at her home was no easy task. The state did not pay the expenses so the owners were entrusted with the main expenses. On the plus side, it allowed many families to monetize the access they were getting to the great and good. The Pallavicino family made a fortune by ending their monopoly on the mining of alum — a chemical compound used to fix fabric dyes — in what is now Lazio through contacts made while hosting them. is through Others were less fortunate, and therefore less happy. Another aristocrat, Andrea Spinola, says Montanari, “came several times about the decree. Not too sorry for him, though he became the 99th dog (duke, or ruler) of Genoa.”

Today, many palaces are open to the public. There are some museums — like the Palazzo Spinola, now the premier art gallery of the Liguria region. On the Strada Nova itself, three palazzo’s — the Rosso (red), the Bianco (white) and the Tarsi have been converted into a “scattered” museum of paintings, frescoes, ceramics, coins… and the musical instruments of the Genoese violinist Paganini. .

But this is a city that relives its history rather than preserving it in museums, so many other Palazzi dei Rolli are worth visiting every day as shops, bars and banks. Montaneri says that about half of UNESCO’s listings are always accessible — whether they’re council buildings, university buildings, or museums. But there are others, privately owned. Many open their doors twice a year for Rollie’s Day events.

Take a walk down Strada Nuova and you’ll be able to walk past many buildings. Some are still houses — but allow you to see their grand entrances, atriums and staircases. There are other banks, maintaining a centuries-old tradition (Deutsche Bank at number 5 is particularly beautiful).

Via Garibaldi 12 is both the address and the name of a design shop, where the likes of Alessi sit alongside furniture by Zara Hadid against the gold stucco and mirrored walls of this rollicking palace. The building was renovated in 1770 by Charles de Vallée, a French architect who also worked at Versailles. Outside, he planned a simple neoclassical facade — “to surprise guests with the richness of gold and the multiplicity of mirrors in the interior rooms,” says shop owner Lorenzo Bagnara. In fact, one of the store’s rooms is a mini-hall of mirrors. (Genoa’s “royal” palaces, the Palazzo Spinola and the Palazzo Reale, also have Versailles-like Halls of Mirrors, though they never housed a royal family.)

“The idea of ​​having a store on the second floor with no windows on the street reflects the city,” says Bagnara, who has a degree in heritage conservation. “I think there’s always a sense of discovery and finding something unexpected in Genoa.”

The store’s design seeks to “connect tradition and modernity,” he said, with steel displays resembling wood. In his university thesis he wrote about how “restoration of a place of historical and artistic value can only be achieved through its knowledge, and how incorporating an activity, albeit a commercial activity, That includes respect for the place. Kept, the property can be a vehicle for enjoyment and maintenance,” he says.

In the medieval center is Les Rouges, a cocktail bar inside the Palazzo Imperiale, built around 1560 for the Imperial family who still own it, and in Rolli from 1576 to 1664.

“It’s different from normal offices — it’s a very special environment,” says Matteo Cagnolari, manager of his workplace Les Rouges. It’s not all plain sailing — strict safety rules mean they can’t even put on air conditioning — but Cagnolari says he wouldn’t change it for the world.

“A lot of palazzos still have private owners — often the same family that built them — so the owners don’t have to turn them into museums,” he says of why Genoa is special. Above their bar is an architectural studio.

In fact, Genoese are so used to seeing these works of art as ordinary buildings that many have forgotten that they are not ordinary.

Palazzo Rosso is an art gallery on Via Garibaldi.

Palazzo Rosso is an art gallery on Via Garibaldi.

dudlajzov/Adobe Stock

“Sometimes they don’t see the beauty of our city,” says Gregis. “I’ve been asked, ‘But where do you take tourists? What do you show them?'”

For Montanari, this mix of old and new preserves Genoa’s identity, keeping it alive — and more important as visitor numbers increase and Airbnbs proliferate throughout the city.

“Here, tourists are surprised that the city lives independently of them. They like that tourists are welcome, but these activities are not only aimed at tourists,” he says.

“It keeps these spaces alive, and it preserves the Genoese way of life in a way that Florence and Venice have lost.”

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