The construction of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa began during the flourishing period of the Republican history of the city. Genoa was gradually consolidating its economical power in the Mediterranean sea, with the defeat of the Republic of Pisa in the naval battle at Meloria (1284) and the defeat of the Republic of Venice, in the naval battle near the island of Curzola (1298).
Oberto Spinola and Corrado Doria, Capitani del Popolo (People’s Leaders), bought in 1291 all the houses located between the churches of San Lorenzo and San Matteo.
Three years later, after the exile of its owner, they acquired the neighbouring palazzo with its tower which belonged to the heirs of Alberto Fieschi, and started the construction of the first nucleus of the Palace, which would be named “Ducale” from 1339, when it became the seat of the first Genoese Doge, Simon Boccanegra.
The foundations of the awe-inspiring tower named “Torre del Popolo” (“Tower of the People”), also belong to this early period: it was completed in 1539 and still “towers” over the old part of the city.
During the 14th century the Palace was enlarged, other buildings were added to the original one to fulfil the need for an inner square.
The medieval structure disappeared with the works carried out during the 16th century; the Palace acquired a new appearance which would represent more fittingly the new oligarchic Republic.
Andrea Ceresola from Ticino, better known as “Vannone”, was given the task of modernizing the building in 1591. The work of this artist changed the general aspect of the Palace, now enlarged with a grand covered hall, next to which were two different shaped yards.
The imposing double staircase, which goes up to the lodges on the first floor, was also ascribed to Vannone. The Western flight – often used by the Doge’s processions – leads directly to the public rooms of the Palace, i.e. the “Salone del Maggior Consiglio” (Great Council Hall) and the “Sala del Minor Consiglio” (Minor Council Hall) and to the dogal Suite.
The Chapel, in the same lodge, is a simple rectangular room entirely decorated by Giovanni Battista Carlone (1653-55). On the vault a series of frescoes refers to the glorification of the Virgin Queen, on the occasion of the proclamation of Mary as Queen of Genoa.
The intention to celebrate the glories of the town is evident in the subject chosen for the frescoes on the side wall, where examples of civic virtues are represented and inserted in a “trompe l’oeil” architectonic frame.
Apart from this set of paintings, also belonging to the decorative phase of the 17th century is the fresco by Domenico Fiasella on the left flight of stairs. This painting represents God the Father with the dead Christ in his lap surrounded by Mary and the Patron Saints Baptist, George and Bernard.
During the fire of 1777 several parts of the Palace, such as the original decoration of the “Salone del Maggior Consiglio” were destroyed. Eventually, Giuseppe Isola frescoed an allegory of the Ligurian trade in 1875.
The reconstruction of the central side of the building began from a design of the Ticinese Simone Cantoni, a famous neo-classical architect. Cantoni designed also the inner decoration of the official hall: the “Salone del Maggior Consiglio” is covered with a huge barrel vault with pavillion head-pieces and decorated with stuccoes.
The walls are cast with a set of pilasters with capitals in stucco and bases in yellow marble.
The adjacent “Salonetto” (Minor Council Hall) is elegant in its proportions and refined in its plastic gilded decorations.
The works carried out in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century contributed in altering the original structure of the Palace and isolating it from the surrounding environment. A decorated façade was built specially by Orlando Grosso for the construction of the new De Ferrari square on the Eastern Side of the Palace.
On the day of its opening (14th May 1992), the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa – 38,000 sq.m. and 300,000 cu.m. – was the largest restoration project undertaken in Europe.
Thanks to Architect Giovanni Spalla’s project, the building complex has regained its original “Vannonian architecture”, though, at the same time, maintaining its links with the past (medieval structures, Cantoni’s intervention, main front of 1935).
The innovation that constitutes the space-connecting element of the system, is the large “over-hanging path”, a helicoidal steel-structure slope, rising from the lower floors to the terraces.
A guided tour with Prof. Clario Di Fabio