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(CNN) — An Italian city with such a spectacular palace as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once so wealthy, it’s a city where the local nobility literally lived in an environment fit for a king, and it’s also where Rubens launched his great artistic career.

Rome? Florence? A Venetian palace on the Grand Canal?

No: Genoese.

Considered by many to be ‘just’ a port city – approaches from the waterways are often marred by ugly post-war urban development and the unregulated port itself, which stretches about 14 miles along the waterfront – Liguria The capital of is actually one of them. Italy’s most spectacular city.

Said to be the center of Europe’s most pristine medieval town, its ‘new’ area has beautiful Art Nouveau architecture (yes, this is the ‘new’ still old city). But it was the Palazzi dei Lolli (Palazzo Lori) that caught UNESCO’s attention in 2006. This is a system of aristocratic mansions so spectacular that they are used as protohis hotels for visiting dignitaries and royalty.

The Hall of Mirrors at the Spinola Palace is modeled after the Palace of Versailles.

CA Alessi

Rolli is the plural of “rollo” (the old word for “list”), so the term means “palace of lists”. For it was literally a mansion added to the Renaissance list compiled by the all-powerful Republic of Genoa. This was no ordinary list. It was a compilation of palaces so spectacular that the country could requisition them as lodgings for her VIP visitors.

The list was first drawn up by a decree of the Senate of the Republic in 1576 “allowing the use of private houses to receive state visitors,” says Giacomo Montanari, an art historian at the University of Genoa, and Rolli Days Science Curator. Many palaces are open for tours.

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

Michelin-style palace rating

The Palazzo is the town hall and museum.

The Palazzo is the town hall and museum.

Aivar Mikko/Alamy Stock Photo

Aristocrats were already running de facto Genoa – it was an “oligarchic society,” says Montanari. And the mansions were listed with different bands depending on their quality and who they were good enough to host.

“They suited different types of guests, which meant that if ambassadors arrived, there were mid- to upper-class homes, but monarchs and archbishops had even better quality places,” said the band. Hotel star rating or Michelin star system. As with the latter, Home could be removed from the list or demoted if the band has not reached Scratch.

The list has been redone five times: 1576, 1588, 1599, 1614, 1664. During that period, historians know that 163 of his houses were lying. The late historian Ennio Porregi, director of the Institute of Architectural History at the University of Genoa, identified 88 that are still recognizable today. About half of them, 42 of his, have been added to the UNESCO list.

“Tourists are always amazed by the beauty of our palaces,” says the tour guide Laura Regis“Many of them had been to Genoa before to catch the ferry, but didn’t think it was worth the stop. An important trigger: in the last few years they’ perfectly represent the economic power of Genoa in the 16th and 17th centuries, made even more famous by their inclusion in UNESCO. ”

“City of Miracles”

Spinola Palace is now an art gallery.

Spinola Palace is now an art gallery.

Toni Spagone/Really Easy Star/Alamy stock photo

That’s because the palace itself is more than just a work of art, it represents the amazing story of Genoese success.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was known as “La Citta dei Miracoli”, the City of Miracles. In 1528, the Genoese politician Andrea Doria signed a contract with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, to make the Genoese bankers the largest investors in the Spanish royal family.

“This has allowed them to build a series of highly risky activities for amounts that would be unthinkable even by today’s standards,” he said, referring to today’s global stock exchanges and “The greatest loans in history were made by the Genoese in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

And that unimaginable wealth allowed them to refurbish homes, build new homes, essentially build whole new cities on top of old ones. New street” or “strade nuove”. Three streets, Via Garibaldi, Via Balbi and Via Cairoli, encircle Genoa’s original medieval center filled with sprawling palaces built on unimaginable bank wealth. Located on the hillside at the northern end of the medieval city, Via Garibaldi was called “Strada Nuova” or “New Street” when it was built. The buildings were so impressive that in 1622 the painter Rubens, who came to Genoa on his first commission, published a collection of drawings of all the buildings.

In the lower medieval center there is also the Palazzi dei Lori. As such, it is not included in the UNESCO list.

In 2006, UNESCO inscribed the “System of the Strade Nouve and Palazzo Lori” on its World Heritage List. This includes 42 of the 88 buildings still known today. A “new street” rather than a converted medieval mansion. “UNESCO wanted to focus on the new cities built by this new aristocratic society that took on new roles in Europe as great bankers and financiers, the people who took the financial continuation of the European kingdoms. .

He says it’s a place where time has stopped. “Strada Nuova [Via Garibaldi] As it was completed in 1580, you can enter the heart of a European Renaissance city. that’s abnormal.

Shops and bars as palaces

The design shop Via Garibaldi 12 is located in Palazzo Lori.

The design shop Via Garibaldi 12 is located in Palazzo Lori.

Via Garibaldi 12

Of course, welcoming the King, Queen and Ambassadors to your home was no easy task. The state did not pay the costs, so the owners were charged with large expenses. On the plus side, it allowed some families to monetize the access they were gaining to the great and good people. They made their fortunes by monopolizing the quarries of the compounds used). Another nobleman, Andrea Spinola, “several times lashed out at the order,” says Montanari. He became the 99th governor (duke or ruler) of Genoa.

Many palaces are now open to the public. Some are museums, such as the Spinola Palace, which is now his gallery of the best art in Liguria. In Strada Nuova itself, his three palaces, Rosso (red), Bianco (white) and Tulsi, are now “scattered” museums of paintings, frescoes, pottery, coins and instruments of the Genoese violinist Paganini. increase.

But since this is a city that lives its history rather than calcifying it in museums, many of the other Palazzi dei Lori, including shops, bars and banks, can be visited daily. About half of the UNESCO-listed buildings are accessible at all times, Montanari said. Whether they are parliamentary buildings, belong to universities or are museums. But there are others that are privately owned. Many stores open their doors for his two annual Rolli Days events.

You can enter many buildings by walking on Strada Nuova. Some are still homes, but you can see the gorgeous foyer, atrium, and staircase. Others are banks, keeping centuries-old traditions (Deutsche Bank at number 5 is particularly beautiful).

Via Garibaldi 12 is both the address and the name of the design shop. Items like Alessi sit alongside Zara Hadid furniture beneath the gold stucco and mirrored walls of this Lorihis Palace. The building was renovated in his 1770 by Charles de Wiley, a French architect who also worked at the Palace of Versailles. Outside we planned a simple neoclassical façade. “We surprise our guests with the richness of gold and the multiplication of mirrors in the interior rooms,” says shopkeeper Lorenzo He Vanara. In fact, one of his rooms in the store is a mini-mirror hall. (The “royal” palaces of Genoa, the Spinola and Reale Palaces, also have a Versailles-like Hall of Mirrors, even though they never had royal houses.)

“The idea of ​​having the shop on the second floor with no windows facing the street is very reflective of the city,” says Bagnara, who holds a degree in heritage conservation. “In Genoa there is always a sense of discovery and you can find something unexpected.”

The store’s design aims to “juxtapose tradition and the present”, where gilded wood and steel displays meet. I write about how it can only be achieved through knowledge of the place, and how to include activities that, although commercial, involve respect for the place, which can be housed and become a means for the enjoyment and maintenance of the property. You can,’ he says.

In the heart of the Middle Ages, Les Rouges is a cocktail bar in the Palazzo Imperiale, built around 1560 for the Imperiale family who still own it, and built in Lori from 1576 to 1664.

“It’s not a regular office. Not all is smooth sailing. Strict protection rules do not even allow air conditioning to be installed.

“Many palazzos still have private owners, often the same families who built them, so the owners don’t need to make them museums,” says Genoa, what makes it so special about he says. Above their bar is an architectural studio.

In fact, Genoese are so accustomed to seeing these works of art as ordinary buildings that many forget 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 understand the beauty of our city,” says Gregis. “I’ve been asked, ‘But where are you taking the tourists? What are you going to show them?'”

For Montanari, this mix of old and new keeps the Genoese identity alive and well. This becomes even more important as the number of visitors increases and Airbnb expands across the city.

“Here, tourists are amazed at how the city lives independently of them. No,” he says.

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