Julia Buckley, CNN • Updated 24th November 2022
City of The Great King of The North?
It’s the Italian city home to palaces so spectacular that they’re UNESCO World Heritage sites. A city that was once home to so much wealth that the local aristocracy lived in environments literally fit for a king, and the place where Rubens began his great artistic career.
Rome? Florence? The Grand Canal-facing palaces of Venice?
And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot. And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.Isaiah:23:15,17
The sins of Babylon will be laid open. The fearful results of enforcing the observances of the church by civil authority, the inroads of spiritualism, the stealthy but rapid progress of the papal power—all will be unmasked. By these solemn warnings the people will be stirred. Thousands upon thousands will listen who have never heard words like these. In amazement they hear the testimony that Babylon is the church, fallen because of her errors and sins, because of her rejection of the truth sent to her from heaven. GC 606.2
Seen by many as “just” a port city — one whose approach by water is often marred by ugly postwar urban development and the sprawling port itself, which stretches nearly 14 miles along the waterfront — the capital of Liguria is in fact one of Italy’s most spectacular cities.
But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water: yet they shall flee away. Stand, stand, shall they cry; but none shall look back. Nahum:2:8
It’s home to what’s said to be the most intact medieval city center in Europe, and beautiful art nouveau architecture in its “new” area (yes, this is a city where “new” is still old). But what drew UNESCO’s attention in 2006 was the Palazzi dei Rolli, or Rolli Palaces — a system of aristocratic mansions so spectacular that they were used as proto-hotels for visiting dignitaries and even royalty.
WHAT DOES ROME ITALY SELL?
Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts. Nahum:3:4
But Romanism as a system is no more in harmony with the gospel of Christ now than at any former period in her history. The Protestant churches are in great darkness, or they would discern the signs of the times. The Roman Church is far-reaching in her plans and modes of operation. She is employing every device to extend her influence and increase her power in preparation for a fierce and determined conflict to regain control of the world, to re-establish persecution, and to undo all that Protestantism has done. Catholicism is gaining ground upon every side. See the increasing number of her churches and chapels in Protestant countries. Look at the popularity of her colleges and seminaries in America, so widely patronized by Protestants. Look at the growth of ritualism in England and the frequent defections to the ranks of the Catholics. These things should awaken the anxiety of all who prize the pure principles of the gospel.
Protestants have tampered with and patronized popery; they have made compromises and concessions which papists themselves are surprised to see and fail to understand. Men are closing their eyes to the real character of Romanism and the dangers to be apprehended from her supremacy. The people need to be aroused to resist the advances of this most dangerous foe to civil and religious liberty. GC 565.4 – GC 566.1
Palazzo Spinola’s Hall of Mirrors is modeled on Versailles.
Rolli is the plural of “rollo” — the old word for “list” — so the term means “Palaces of the List.” That’s up they were, quite literally, mansions added to a Renaissance-era list compiled by the all-powerful Republic of Genoa. This was no ordinary list — it was a compilation of palaces so spectacular that the state could commandeer them as lodgings for VIP visitors.
The list was first created in 1576 by a decree of the republic’s senate “that assigns the use of private homes to host visitors of the state,” says art historian Giacomo Montanari from the University of Genoa, and the scientific curator of the Rolli Days, in which many of the palaces open up for tours.
THE MERCHANT CITY OF TRUTH?
Under the just administration of Theodoric, and the safety assured by the Gothic power, many Jews had established themselves in Rome, Genoa, Milan, and other cities, for the purposes of trade. They were permitted by express laws to dwell there. As soon as the imperial edict was known, which commanded all remaining heretics to be ranked as pagans and Jews, as the Catholics did not dare to attack the Gothic heretics, they, at Rome and Ravenna especially, riotously attacked the Jews, abused them, robbed them, and burnt their synagogues. A legal investigation was attempted, but the leaders in the riots could not be discovered. Then Theodoric levied a tax upon the whole community of the guilty cities, with which to settle the damages. Some of the Catholics refused to pay the tax. They were punished. This at once brought a cry from the Catholics everywhere, that they were persecuted. Those who had been punished were glorified as confessors of the faith, and “three hundred pulpits deplored the persecution of the Church.”— Gibbon. ECE 195.3
“Instead of being met in a royal palace, like at Versailles or Madrid, they were in the individual homes of aristocrats.”
Michelin-style palace ratings
Palazzo is the City Hall and museum.
Aivar Mikko/Alamy Stock Photo
The aristocrats already effectively ran Genoa — it was, says Montanari, an “oligarchical society.” And the mansions were even listed in different bands, depending on their quality, and who they were fine enough to host.
“They were suited to different kinds of guests — so if an ambassador arrived there were medium to high level houses, whereas for monarchs or archbishops there were places of even better quality,” says Montanari, who likens the bands to hotel star ratings or the Michelin star system. Like the latter, homes could be removed from the list or demoted down the bands if they weren’t up to scratch.
The lists were redone five times: in 1576, 1588, 1599, 1614 and 1664. Over that period, historians know of 163 homes that were on the rolls. The late historian Ennio Poleggi, who was director of the Institute of the History of Architecture at Genoa University, identified 88 that we can still recognize today. Around half of them — 42 — were added to UNESCO’s list.
“Tourists are always amazed by the beauty of our palaces,” says tour guide Laura Gregis. “Lots of them have been to Genoa before to take the ferry, but they didn’t think it was worth stopping. The Rolli Palaces are probably the most important trigger now that pushes people to see the city. In the last few years they’ve been a huge draw to the city — they perfectly represent Genoa’s economic power in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the UNESCO listing has made them even more famous.”
Let us recite some of the events of 1800 that would seem to fix the date of the 45 years at that time. The papal government was overturned in Feb. 1798—the Pope, Pius VL, retiring to Tuscany, a little north of Rome. In March, 1799, he was seized by the French and taken to Leghorn, a sea-port, for the purpose of being conveyed to Cagliari, a town in the island of Sardmin; but the English frigates cruising on the coast wanted to get possession of the Pope, which determined the French original illegible his destination. They look him across the Appennines and the Alps to Valence, a town in the south-west part of France, where he died in August following. He had been torn from his dominion, and a new government established in his capital. It is usual in times of peace for the original illegible of Cardinals to assemble on the day of the interment of the deceased Pope, for the election of a new one; but such was the distracted state of affairs that this was impossible. But the Austrians becoming victorious over the French in Italy, the college was, by this event, permitted to assemble at Venice, without the Papal territories, in Nov. 1799, and by the 13th March, 1800 elected Pius VII. He did not, however, go immediately to Rome. The French were masters of all Italy at the end of 1798, and at the beginning of 1799 had 110,000 men in that country. Austria having made a treaty of alliance with Russia near the close of 1798, the latter sent 60,000 troops to the north of Italy by the spring of 1799. The campaign of this year, while Bonaparte was absent in Egypt, lost all Italy to the French expect the single fortress of Genoa. The Papal territories were now recovered to the Catholics. It is worthy of note here, that in 538, 10,000 men from France, and in the spring of 539, 100,000 more under their king, invaded and ravaged the whole length of Italy, siding neither with the Gothic king nor with Belisarius the Catholic general, both of whom fled before the Franks. Through disease and other causes, the Franks lost one-third of their number and the remainder returned to France in 539. Precisely in 1260 years, after the French, with an equal number of men, have possession of Italy, and like wise yield it up in 1799. Bonaparte who had returned from Egypt, went early in 1800 to Lombardy and THE BATTLE OF MARENGO, on the 14th June, decided again the fate of Italy. What had been lost to the French in 1798 was now regained. Napoleon re-organized some of the government in the north of Italy, and returned to Paris. Rome and the Papal dominions were now, June 1800, virtually in the possession of France. The French surrendered Rome on Oct., 1799, to the Neapolitan troops, and when these evacuated the Roman territories, subsequent to the battle of Marengo , Murat, according to orders from Bonaparte, “carefully respected the territory of the Church, and re-installed the officers of the Pope in what had long been considered the patrimony of St. Peter’s. This unexpected turn of circumstances originated in high policy of Bonaparte.”— Scott’s Napoleon . JUBST July 31, 1845, page 154.1
The ‘city of miracles’
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
Palazzo Spinola is now an art gallery.
Toni Spagone/Realy Easy Star/Alamy Stock Photo
That’s because the palaces aren’t just works of art in themselves — they represent the mindblowing story of Genoa’s success.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, this was known as “la città dei miracoli” — the city of miracles — because “absolutely unthinkable things could happen there,” says Montanari. In 1528, Genoese politician Andrea Doria signed a deal with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for Genoese bankers to become the biggest financiers of the Spanish crown.
“This allowed them to construct a series of very high risk activities with unthinkable amounts of money, even by today’s standards,” he says, equating it to today’s global stock exchange. “The biggest loans in history were done by the Genoese in the 16th and 17th centuries.”
And that unthinkable wealth allowed them to redo their homes, build new ones, and essentially build a whole new city on top of the old. These are the “new streets” or “strade nuove” recognized by UNESCO. Three streets — via Garibaldi, via Balbi and via Cairoli — wrap around Genoa’s original medieval center, filled with vast palaces, built on that unimaginable banking wealth. Via Garibaldi, which sits at the northern edge of the medieval city, on a hillside, was in fact called “Strada Nuova” or “new street” when it was built. The buildings are so impressive that painter Rubens — who came to Genoa for his first commissions — published a book of drawings of them all in 1622.
There are also Palazzi dei Rolli down below, in the medieval core — but, says Montanari, those are medieval buildings that were repurposed and expanded, rather than being built from scratch. That’s why they’re not included in the UNESCO listing.
In 2006, UNESCO inscribed “Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Rolli Palaces” onto its World Heritage List, including 42 of the 88 buildings that are still known today — those that were built from scratch during the 16th and 17th centuries in the “new streets” rather than the medieval mansions that were converted. “UNESCO wanted to highlight the new city built by this new aristocratic society which had a new role in Europe as great bankers and financiers — people who held the financial survival of the kingdoms of Europe in their hands,” says Montanari.
It is, he says, a place where time has stopped. “The Strada Nuova [Via Garibaldi] is still exactly as it was in 1580 when it was finished, and you can enter into the heart of a renaissance European city. It is extraordinary.
Shops and bars as palaces
The great sin charged against Babylon is that she “made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” This cup of intoxication which she presents to the world represents the false doctrines that she has accepted as the result of her unlawful connection with the great ones of the earth. Friendship with the world corrupts her faith, and in her turn she exerts a corrupting influence upon the world by teaching doctrines which are opposed to the plainest statements of Holy Writ.
Rome withheld the Bible from the people and required all men to accept her teachings in its place. It was the work of the Reformation to restore to men the word of God; but is it not too true that in the churches of our time men are taught to rest their faith upon their creed and the teachings of their church rather than on the Scriptures? Said Charles Beecher, speaking of the Protestant churches: “They shrink from any rude word against creeds with the same sensitiveness with which those holy fathers would have shrunk from a rude word against the rising veneration of saints and martyrs which they were fostering…. The Protestant evangelical denominations have so tied up one another’s hands, and their own, that, between them all, a man cannot become a preacher at all, anywhere, without accepting some book besides the Bible…. There is nothing imaginary in the statement that the creed power is now beginning to prohibit the Bible as really as Rome did, though in a subtler way.”—Sermon on “The Bible a Sufficient Creed,” delivered at Fort Wayne, Indiana, Feb. 22, 1846. GC 388.2 – GC 388.3
Design shop Via Garibaldi 12 is set in a Rolli Palace.
Via Garibaldi 12
Of course, hosting kings, queens and ambassadors at your own home was no easy task. The state didn’t pay expenses so owners were tasked with significant outlay. On the plus side, it allowed several families to monetize the access they were acquiring to the great and good. The Pallavicino family built a fortune by wangling the monopoly on quarries of alum — a chemical compound used to fix fabric dyes — in what’s now Lazio through contacts made during their hosting. Others were less lucky, and therefore less happy. Another aristocrat, Andrea Spinola, “lashed out several times about the decree,” says Montanari. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though — he became the 99th doge (duke, or ruler) of Genoa.
Today, many of the palaces are open to the public. Some are museums — like Palazzo Spinola, now the Liguria region’s premier art gallery. On the Strada Nuova itself, three palazzos — Rosso (red), Bianco (white) and Tursi have been turned into a “scattered” museum of paintings, frescoes, ceramics, coins… and the musical instruments of Genoese violinist Paganini.
But this is a city that lives its history rather than calcifies it in museums, so many of the other Palazzi dei Rolli are visitable every day, as shops, bars and banks. About half of the of the UNESCO-listed ones are always accessible, says Montanari — whether they are council buildings, belong to the university, or are museums. But there are other, privately owned ones, too. Many open their doors for the twice-yearly Rolli Days events.
Walk the Strada Nuova and you’ll be able to walk into many of the buildings. Some are still homes — but allow you to see their fancy entranceways, atriums and staircases. Others are banks, keeping up that centuries-old tradition (Deutsche Bank at number 5 is particularly beautiful).
Via Garibaldi 12 is both the address and the name of a design shop, where items from the likes of Alessi sit beside Zara Hadid furniture under gold stucco and mirrored walls of this Rolli Palace. The building was renovated in 1770 by Charles de Wailly, a French architect who had also worked at Versailles. Outside he planned a simple neoclassical façade — all the better to “amaze guests with the richness of gold and the multiplication of the mirror in the interior rooms,” says shop owner Lorenzo Bagnara. In fact, one of the store’s rooms is a mini Hall of Mirrors. (There are also Versailles-like Halls of Mirrors at Palazzo Spinola and Palazzo Reale, Genoa’s “royal” palace, even though it never had a royal family.)
“The idea putting the store on the second floor, without windows on the street, very much reflects the city,” says Bagnara, who has a degree in the conservation of cultural heritage. “I find that in Genoa there is always a sense of discovery and finding something unexpected.”
The store design seeks to “juxtapose tradition and the present,” he said, with gilded wood meeting steel displays. In his university thesis he wrote about “how the recovery of a place of historical and artistic value can only be achieved through knowledge of it, and how the inclusion of an activity, albeit a commercial one, that includes respect for the space in which it is housed, can be a vehicle for the enjoyment and maintenance of the property,” he says.
Down in the medieval core is Les Rouges, a cocktail bar inside Palazzo Imperiale, built around 1560 for the Imperiale family who still own it, and in the Rolli from 1576 to 1664.
“It’s different from regular offices — it’s a very special atmosphere,” says Les Rouges manager Matteo Cagnolari of his workplace. It’s not all plain sailing — strict conservation rules mean they can’t even install air conditioning — but Cagnolari says he wouldn’t swap it for the world.
“Lots of the palazzos still have private owners — often the same families that built them — so the owners don’t need to make them into museums,” he says, of why Genoa is special. Above their bar is an architectural studio.
In fact, the Genoese are so used to seeing these works of art as ordinary buildings, that many have forgotten that it isn’t normal.
Palazzo Rosso is an art gallery on Via Garibaldi.
“Sometimes they don’t see the beauty of our city,” says Gregis. “I’ve been asked, ‘But where do you take tourists? What do you show them?'”
For Montanari, this mix of ancient and new preserves Genoa’s identity, keeping it alive — ever more important as the number of visitors rises and Airbnbs expand across the city.
“Here, tourists are amazed that the city lives independently from them. They love that tourists are welcomed, but that activities are not aimed only at tourists,” he says.
“It keeps these spaces alive, and it maintains the Genoese way of life in a way that Florence and Venice have lost.”