So magnificent that the Flemish painter Rubens was thrilled, UNESCO has chosen New Streets and the Rolli Palaces to become part of the World Heritage List. Let's discover together the secret of this splendid artistic treasure
The UNESCO commission decided in 2006 to include Genoa's New Streets and Rolli Palaces in the World Heritage List. The Rolli Palaces are buildings of incredible artistic value, now used for various purposes: museums, banks, offices and private properties. However, what makes them and the New Streets a treasure of humanity is the role they played in Genoa's architectural and urban development. The New Streets are unique: think of the building complex of a port city like Genoa, which lives overlooking the sea and with the majestic Apennine mountain range behind it.
Let's take a walk together along Genoa's New Streets! Discover the details of these magnificent palaces, investigate why they became UNESCO World Heritage Sites and finally unveil the beautiful project with which the city of Genoa has decided to pay homage to its most precious heritage.
Arriving in Genoa you will see an imperious city, crowned by rugged mountains, proud of men and walls, Lady of the Sea.
Genoa, the Lady of the Sea
The city of Genoa is located in northern Italy and is one of the main ports on the Peninsula.
Just in the 5th century B.C. Genoa was a crucial maritime centre in the Mediterranean, trading with Greece, Etruria and Carthage. After being subjugated by the Byzantines and the Lombards, it began its inexorable expansion from 1000 onwards, quickly becoming the powerful Maritime Republic.
Genoa reached the peak of its greatness in 1582 under the leadership of the Doge Andrea Doria: he belonged to a rich merchant family that boasted close contacts with the Spanish empire of Charles V, which determined its fortune.
In those years, the city of Genoa decided to launch a major public project to rebuild the city's road network and noble residences. This project would make it an undisputed great city in the eyes of all European courts.
A superb project
The environmental scenario in which the restructuring of the city's urban plan was to take place was not the best: the centre of Genoa, in particular, was incredibly populated and suffocated by the conformation of the territory squeezed between the sea and the Apennines. Therefore, it was decided to articulate the new palaces and streets on various levels, with loggias, courtyards of honour and, in general, to attempt a vertical architectural development.
The New Street and Rolli Palaces were the first project in Europe of parcelled out town planning within a unitary framework and associated with a public housing system in private residences.
The noble families who came to inhabit the Rolli Palaces had the honour and the burden of welcoming state visits and illustrious travellers such as princes, ambassadors and high-ranking clerics in such a way as to consolidate the city's image through the magnificence of its residences.
The New Streets planning and the Rolli Palaces design are attributed mainly to Galeazzo Alessi, an architect.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
What were the criteria used by the UNESCO commission? What are the extraordinary characteristics of the New Streets and the Rolli Palaces?
The first criterion is that the New Streets and their palaces show a vital exchange of architecture and town planning development in the 16th and 17th centuries. Through the architectural treatises of the time, these examples were publicised, making the New Streets and the late Renaissance palaces of Genoa a significant reference point in the development of Mannerist and Baroque architecture in Europe.
The second criterion is that Genoa's New Streets are an exceptional example of an urban ensemble of aristocratic palaces of high architectural value, illustrating the economy and politics of the mercantile city of Genoa at the height of its power in the 16th and 17th centuries. The project proposes an innovative spirit characterising the Siglo de Los Genoveses (1563 to 1640). In 1576, the Republic of Genoa established a legal list of Rolli that recognised the most important palaces for the official accommodation of illustrious guests.
These criteria recall values of integrity: the individual palaces are very well contextualised while retaining their originality and authenticity.
The three most beautiful Rolli Palaces
The 42 Rolli Palaces, partly Renaissance and partly Baroque, are an incredible artistic spectacle: courtyards, loggias and gardens, interiors decorated with stucco and frescoes.
They are always three- or four-storey high palaces, with vast entrance halls, imposing staircases and interior decorations consisting of stucco and frescoes.
Let's see three of the most beautiful palaces that contribute to the splendour of the city of Genoa.
Red Palace was built on two equally magnificent floors to house Rodolfo and Francesco Brignole Sale. This beautiful building is rich in decorations and frescoes typical of the Genoese Baroque. Here you can admire the Loggia delle Rovine, adorned with frescoes depicting the myth of Diana and Endymion.
Today, Red Palace houses a rich gallery of paintings by the most important painters, including Van Dyck, Grechetto, Guercino, Strozzi, Veronese and Durer.
White Palace was built as the sumptuous residence of Maria Durazzo Brignole Sale, the former owner of Red Palace. Maria Durazzo decided to have the building renovated and transformed into an actual work of architectural art. In 1943, the Palace was devastated by bombing during the Second World War and was rebuilt in 18th-century style to be reopened to the public in 1950.
Today White Palace houses Genoese, Italian and European paintings from the 16th century to the 18th century, including works by Caravaggio, Rubens, Sten, Lucret and Murillo.
Tursi Palace is the building with the most significant extension: the vast land on which it is built and the fact that it was built on the slope of a hill have contributed to making it completely original and scenic. The original architectural solutions make Tursi Palace one of the most spectacular buildings in the Rolli system: the rich materials such as Promontorio stone and Carrara marble create enchanting light plays.
If you wonder how to visit these beautiful buildings, here is the answer: during Rolli Day's!
This very successful event is designed to allow visitors to discover the magnificent historic Rolli houses, both public and private.
The event is usually organised in spring and autumn, particularly during two weekends in April and October. During these events, it is possible to participate in organised tours led by art historians, university students and researchers who will be happy to take you on a discovery of the frescoed halls and enchanting structures of this fantastic UNESCO World Heritage Site.