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Strade Nuove, Genoa Italy
Think about the city or town that you come from. Then think about the wealthiest people who live there – maybe the top 40 or 50 of them.
Then imagine that they all came together and agreed to take over one street of your city and build enormous grand homes for themselves on that street, right next to each other.
If you can picture that, then you’re on your way to getting a sense of what the Strade Nuove in Genoa, Italy, is like. Just make it ten times more luxurious and palatial than you’re imagining.
In the 1500s, there was a lot of money in Genoa as it flourished as one of Europe’s most important trading ports. The various families that controlled the money wanted somewhere special to live and, in partnership with the local political authorities, this stretch of street was allocated.
It’s called Strade Nuove (the new streets) now but it is technically made of up three streets – Via Garibaldi, Via Aurea, and Via Balbi. Along them, on both sides, dozens of grand homes were built.
Each of these palaces – for they really were palaces, rather than homes – was unique, reflecting the particular characteristics of the site and the interests of the owners. But there was also some consistency in the architecture.
The palaces were each 3 or 4 storeys high, with a large entrance hall with spectacular open staircases. They had elegantly-decorated public reception rooms and private residential areas.
Most also had courtyards and covered galleries with garden areas – although, unlike other Italian homes of the time like the Medici Villas, the emphasis was certainly on the interiors more than on the outdoor areas.
Palazzi Dei Rolli, Genoa
Although each of these grand palatial homes was individually owned, they also operated as a collective group of residences that had a public role. Together, they are described as the Palazzi Dei Rolli.
One of the main public roles of these homes was to host visiting dignitaries. Genoa didn’t have a royal palace of its own but, because of the city’s importance, there were a lot of state visits here.
So the families of the Palazaai Dei Rolli took turns providing accommodation, meals and formal receptions when heads of state and other important envoys were in town. The higher a guest’s status, the nicer the palace that was chosen for them.
Visiting the Palazzi Dei Rolli
Most of the palaces still exist today, spread along the Strade Nuove in Genoa. Some are in private hands. Some are used for businesses like banks or shops. And then there are a few that have been maintained as they would have been centuries ago – and they are open to the public.
I think the best way to get a sense of the Palazzai Dei Rolli is by going to three of them that are all in the same area and can be accessed with the same ticket. For just €9 (€7 for a reduced ticket) you can visit the Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Doria Tursi.
The Palazzo Rosso was built between 1671 and 1677. It was owned by the Brignole Sale family until 1874 when Maria Brignole Sale, duchess of Galliera, bequeathed it to the city of Genoa.
After you go up the large stunning staircase to the first floor, you’ll find a collection of rooms decorated with frescoes by the greatest Ligurian painters of the 17th century. There are precious furnishings, paintings, and other pieces of art.
The first floor gives you a bit of a sense of how the rooms may have once been laid out and how guests would have been entertained here. As you go up to the higher levels, there are some exhibitions that give an insight into the lives of those who were lucky enough to once call this home.
Make sure you catch the elevator up to the roof for incredible views across Genoa.
Across the road is the Palazzo Bianco, built between 1530 and 1540, which you’ll immediately realise has a much more imposing entrance. Going up the staircase in the foyer, you’ll get a sense of how large this building is.
The terraced garden out to one side if one of the highlights and there’s actually a lot of space here, compared to many of the gardens of the other palaces.
The Palazzo Bianco is used these days as more of an art gallery than a representation of its original interior layout. You will be able to see the rooms and admire how they are decorated – but mainly the focus is on the impressive collection of paintings and other art that is hanging on the walls.
Palazzo Doria Tursi
The Palazzo Tursi is right next to the Palazzo Bianco and you’ll actually access it through a corridor, rather than coming back out onto the street.
It has some monumental halls which you’ll be able to visit. The frescoes and designs of these rooms are stunning in themselves, but they are also used to display some of the treasures that the city owns.
The most important treasure in the collection is probably a violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri that was owned by Paganini (and is ‘priceless’ but has an estimated value of about $18 million!).
The Palazzo Doria Tursi has some of the city council’s offices in it and so has a more formal feel to it than the other residential-style palaces.
Overall, these palaces on Via Garibaldi are a highlight and one of the best things to do in Genoa.
Genoa is still a wealthy city. It has the largest port in the Mediterranean and you can see the money pouring in. But it has changed a lot. I’ll write about my thoughts on that soon.
For now, though, let’s cherish this view of noble life in the 16th and 17th centuries and that it has been so well preserved.