Elegant avenues next to alleys and crêuze that climb towards the upper part of the city. Tiny squares overlooked by Gothic churches and centenary shops. Majestic residences alternating with elegantly délabré old buildings. Genoa is like this: aristocratic and plebeian, essential and scenographic, open to the sea and tempted by its hinterland, in a game of evident contrasts everywhere. Even (or above all?) In architecture: alongside Renzo Piano’s interventions, among the docks of the Porto Antico, there are, in fact, the Palaces that go elegantly to the so-called “Rolli System”, that is to say the swanky residences built in starting from the second half of the 16th century.
In those years, in fact, the Senate of the Republic created lists – the “Rolls of the Public Lodgings” – They housed the main acratic palaces of the city, those that the Dynasty of the Republic does not fully understand Genoese and that the rich Genoese merchants were built in Strada Nuova (now via Garibaldi). Since it was not possible to accommodate all the guests included in the state at the Doge’s Palace, the owners of the buildings included in the lists were obliged to receive excellences and eminences, princes and ambassadors visiting the Republic, bearing the expenses of representation.
The model of public hospitality created in Genoa between ‘500 and’ 700, the “Golden Centuries” of the Superba, was unique: thanks to its international guests, such as Rubens, who celebrated these buildings in a highly successful volume published in Antwerp , Genoa became famous throughout Europe for the quality of its architecture and for a refined and high level lifestyle. And it is no coincidence that, since 2006, about forty of these buildings have become UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Rolli (in Genoa they call them, tout court, like this) are Renaissance and Baroque style residences and charming hotels ante litteram: designed or renovated by the archistars of the time, they presented themselves outside with hypnotic glances thanks to frescoes, trompe l’oeil, architectural motifs, and, inside, offered halls and halls crowded with stucco and gilding, furniture and statues, silks and damasks, portraits and author paintings.
A great image operation, certainly enough to make the city experience an incredible artistic and urbanistic moment: «Their buildings are beautiful and very comfortable», says, speaking of the Genoese palaces, the exceptional testimonial Rubens. His large illustrated guide – a kind of Lonely Planet created exactly 400 years ago – tells the exceptionality of the city “buildings”, through a series of detailed drawings of the facades, plants and the structure of the most important residences.
And what about the Rolli today? Some have become museums and are therefore always open to visitors, such as the Museums of what was once the Strada Nuova (today’s Via Garibaldi) that is Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Tursi, megacontainers of incredible works of art, from Guercino to Bernardo Strozzi, from Palma il Vecchio to Veronese, from Van Dick, to Rubens and Caravaggio. Also not to be missed is Palazzo Balbi, more famous as Palazzo Reale, with a scenographic Gallery of Mirrors (made in Genoa version of that of Versailles) and the sixteenth-century Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria, where next to the picture gallery of the National Gallery of Liguria (present at the appeal the usual Rubens and Van Dyck but also Antonello da Messina and Grechetto) makes a good impression on the historic kitchen of the building with the ceramic and silver services Spinola used for receptions from the impeccable mise en place.
Other Rolli houses banks, institutions or offices and therefore are visible only on weekdays: this is the case of Palazzo Tobia Pallavicino (in via Garibaldi, 4), seat of the Chamber of Commerce of Genoa or of the residences, in the monumental via Balbi, of the various offspring of Casa Balbi becomes the seat of some university faculties. Others, again, have been transformed into welcoming places or elegant shopping places (it happened at Palazzo Baldassare Lomellini converted into Garibaldi 12, a concept store based on designer design).
Finally, others belong to private individuals but every year Genoa celebrates its Rolli, with the Rolli Days event, during which you can pass the doors of these majestic mansions and show their treasures to the public. During the autumn edition of the event (from 14 to 16 October) about forty palaces, villas and monumental sites will transport the public into the atmosphere of the Golden Centuries of Genoa, when the Superba held the European kingdoms in its grip with the activities of its unscrupulous and highly skilled financiers.
You can also visit the great exhibition “Rubens in Genoa” which will feature some of the main works of the great Flemish master: the concomitance of these two events will be an opportunity to follow in Rubens’ footsteps and suggestions and visit those places that they astonished and inspired him. However, it will not be only Rubens’ places that will be the protagonists of the October edition of the Rolli Days: a visit to the redesigned Palazzo Rosso is also to be put on the agenda, with the possibility of visiting the eighteenth-century apartment of Anton Giulio II Brignole Sale, open to the public for the first time.
If you are looking for accommodation for the night …
Being hosted as sovereigns and dignitaries, prelates and noblewomen? It is possible at Palazzo Grillo, the first and only Palazzo dei Rolli, to become a charming hotel. Like all Rolli, Palazzo Grillo has charm and charm to spare: built by the Marquis Domenico Grillo in the mid-16th century, the palace has a facade of marble decorations and rich frescoes that create a monumental effect thanks to the play of full and offered voids. from the tympanums, the string courses and the portal with fluted columns.
The interior, then, is a combination, risky but winning, of design furnishings and aristocratic atmospheres evoked by a spectacular staircase of honor, by grotesques that decorate ceilings and walls, by frescoes that tell episodes of the Iliad and stories from mythology Greek. Twenty-five rooms are available for guests, breakfast is served on a terrace overlooking the domes and bell towers, and Primo Piano, the pride of the hotel, is an entire floor dedicated to exhibitions, reviews, seminars and events, with focus on photography and contemporary design.