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Bordered by the streets Via Balbi, Via Cairoli, Via Garibaldi, Via XXV Aprile, and Via San Lorenzo, and fronted by the colonnaded waterfront of the Ripa, the Centro Storico encapsulates medieval Genoa. Moving through the narrow, twisting streets is an activity that transports the visitor back in time--in most modern European cities, these ancient honeycombs have been long since paved over. Here, they are peppered with palaces, marked by Madonnas, and peopled with all walks of Genoese life.
Palazzo del Principe
The audacious maneuvering of Andrea Doria ushered in a gilded age, during which the city was liberally speckled with palazzi built by the leading families. His, however, was the first and set the standard for opulence up and down the Ligurian coast.
Following his strategic but surprising (to the French) allegiance with Spain in the midst of the Franco-Spanish war, Doria was proclaimed Prince for life by Emperor Charles V. Requiring a suitable residence in which to receive the Emperor (who visited for 12 days), Doria undertook the exaltation of an existing property he'd acquired in Fassolo (at the time outside the city walls). Not naive to the tribulations of statecraft, Doria chose the location for his royal residence in part because it was wedged between the daunting Granarolo hill and a private harbor in which to anchor his personal fleet. These were dangerous, turbulent times. Doria, however, would rule uncontested--save for one rebellion, brutally quelled, by the Fieschi family in 1547--until his death at age 93.
For the decoration of the palace, Doria commissioned Perino del Vaga, a student of the artist Raphael, who'd refined his stucco and fresco work while collaborating on the Vatican Logge in Rome. For Doria, Perino embarked on a mission of artistic propaganda, wherein allegorical figures and depictions relate the meteoric rise of Doria and his auspicious rule. Perino's work on the palace and the school he formed during his brief sojourn in the city (1528-1536) would make a lasting impact on artistic decoration in Genoa, launching the Mannerist style. The reverberations are to be seen in the palazzi constructed along the Via Garibaldi.
Until recently, these frescoes resisted the ravages of time better than the rest of Doria's palace. By the late 17th century, when Giovanni Andrea Doria III married Anna Pamphili and moved the family's main residence to the Pamphili palace in Rome, the Palazzo del Principe was falling into disrepair. In the 19th century the parts of its garden scaling the Granarolo were appropriated by the State to make way for the rail line, and construction of the Stazione Marittima severed the once all-important access to the sea. Thus it now sits squarely in the middle of Genoa's urban environment. Visitors who arrive via Genoa's Principe railway station might find it's the first monument to greet them.
But as Genoa recovers its former splendor and prominence, so too is the palace being reborn. The current heirs to the Doria estate--Princess Gesine Doria-Pamphili and Prince Jonathon--undertook restoration of the palazzo and its grounds in 1995. Visitors are now treated to a tour that includes the Atrium (where Perino's name and the date 1530 is emblazed on the ceiling's central rosette), the grand staircase leading to the loggia of the Gallery of Heroes (where Doria's ancestors are depicted clad as warriors), the Roman Charity Room, the Hall of the Giants, and the four private apartments of Andrea Doria, named for their frescoes--the Room of the Sacrifices, the Zodiac Room, the Room of Perseus, and the Room of Cadmus.
The Hall of the Giants is considered the apogee of the palace. Signed with Perino's monogram, the frescoes depict Jupiter--King of the Gods, an allegory for Doria's benefactor Charles V--heaving thunderbolts at the Giants who dared to attack Mt. Olympus--an allegory for the Empire. The prominence of Jupiter in this western room was once echoed by a depiction of Neptune--God of the Sea, standing in for Doria--on a panel in the grand room on the palace's east side. Unfortunately this painting, in which Neptune calmed the seas after the shipwreck of the Aeneas, was painted over in the 19th century during the renovations by Annibale Angelini.
The gardens are currently under restoration to return them to their 16th- and 17th-century form. Nestled among them are the Fountain of the Triton by Montorsoli (a student of Michelangelo), the Fountain of Neptune (Taddeo Carlone, 1599) and the Fountain of the Dolphins (Silvio Cosini). The references to Neptune again evoke the image of Doria as Lord of the Seas, a reference to his naval prowess and the sea battles that assured his ascendancy to the seat of power. Visitors wishing to channel that maritime legacy can now voyage to the Palazzo by sea aboard the Doria Frigate, a vessel built according to 16th/17th-century designs that sails between the palace and the Acquario di Genova. ([telephone] 010.255.50.9, www.palazzodelprincipe.it/uktour.asp, firstname.lastname@example.org; entrance fee Museum + Audioguide, 6,20 [euro] adults, 4,65 [euro] reduced fare with Museumcard. Museum + Doria Frigate, 11,36 [euro] adults, 9,30 [euro] reduced fare with Museumcard.)
San Giovanni di Pre
Working from the model of the Hospital of Saint John established during the Crusades in Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, later known as the Knights of Malta, built a hospital complex on the site of the church of Saint Sepulchre in Praedis in 1180. Praedis, the origin of the current Pre, was at the time on the outskirts of Genoa, the port of which was an important point for transit to and from the Holy Land. Thus, knights, travelers, and pilgrims could seek shelter and medical attention at the hospital according to its papal charter. Inside, a series of passageways, doors and staircases served to facilitate access to religious services for the sick and wounded. The lower church features vaults decorated by the different confraternities who quartered here, while the monumental upper church boasts a form that, while unusual for Genoese Romanesque architecture, is nonetheless attributed to Magistri Antelami (works by whom are sprinkled up and down the Ligurian coast).
The central altar of the right-hand side nave is dedicated to Saint Hugh Canefri, a 13th-century Hospital Knight who is said to have wrung water from stones to provide for those in his care. Above the saint's altar, behind the shrine with his relics, an early 18th-century altarpiece by Lorenzo de Ferrari depicts the miracle. Saint Hugh's feast day is celebrated at San Giovanni di Pre on October 19. ([telephone] 010.265.48.6.)
The close, narrow streets had been the site of murderous 14th-century intrigue between the factions of Guelphs and Ghibellines, and as Genoa entered its second golden age in the 16th century these wealthy families petitioned the city to construct their own exclusive residential district on the steep hillside just outside the medieval city. Originally the street--named Strada Nuovo, or New Street--dead-ended at its western point with a monumental fountain and nymphaeum. It wasn't until the 18th century, when the Strada Nuovossima (today Via Cairoli) was laid out, that it was incorporated into the city's street network, joining the Via Balbi (where the Durazzo palaces, today's Palazzo Reale, are located).
The finest of everything in Genoa could be found in the private palaces lining the Via Aurea--or Golden Way, as it was nicknamed. Each was constructed with two piani nobili, or principle floors; one to accommodate the family, the other for the official guests (everyone from princes to ambassadors) they would receive as part of their participation in the Rolli, a system of hospitality necessitated by the Republic's lack of a royal residence. In some instances, however, both piani nobili were occupied by the family, as with the Palazzo Rosso, built for two brothers in the late 17th century. The palaces themselves were a feat of engineering. Features like monumental indoor staircases and terraced gardens masked the uneven terrain and the hill's steep drop toward the valley.
Lest anyone forget how important international finance was to the fortunes of Genoa's leading families, many of the palaces are now the Genoa headquarters of various banks. However, some rooms of these remain open to the public.
This description of the …