Built in the 13th century, the Palazzo San Giorgio is the current seat of the Port Authorities of Genoa. However, it began its existence as the city’s town hall. The building overlooks the harbor and is particularly notable for the frescoes that adorn its exterior.
Palazzo San Giorgio Genoa
History and description
The Palazzo San Giorgio served as the city’s town hall until 1262. It consists of two parts. The oldest part is medieval, while the newer part is characterized by its Renaissance architecture.
According to legend, the Palazzo San Giorgio is the building where Marco Polo was imprisoned in 1298, dictating his Il Milione to a cellmate. In reality, he was probably imprisoned in the Palazzo Criminale. The latter building is now part of the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the City Archives.
The palazzo has fulfilled many roles over the years. During the Middle Ages it was the seat of civil power an a customs office for sea trade.
In 1451, the Palazzo San Giorgio became the seat of the Banco di San Giorgio. At the time, this was probably the most important bank in the world, as it was the lender for the Spanish voyages of discovery. The bank had been established to consolidate the Republic’s sovereign debt, escalated by Genoa‘s war with Venice in the 14th century.
The bank operated until the fall of the Republic in 1795.
A renovation in the early 20th century saw the construction of a new main entrance. For the first time in the building’s existence, it now faced the sea instead of the city.
What to see
The exterior is painted entirely with frescoes. The frescoes on the facade facing the sea depict mythological figures and local heroes. These include St. George and the Dragon, Janus (with two faces), Neptune, Caffaro di Rustico, Andrea Doria, Simon Boccanegra, Guglielmo Embriaco, Christopher Columbus and Biagio Assereto. The frescoes were painted by Lazzaro Tavarone between 1606 and 1608. They replaced paintings done by Andrea Semino in 1591.
The statues in the niches on the facade depict the same six heroic figures from the city’s history.
The “Our Lady of the Assumption” in the Aedicula on the Piazza della Raibetta side dates from the 18th century.
The atrium is the result of an extensive renovation in the 20th century by Alfredo D’Andrade. This included the construction of a new main entrance in the facade. The wide monumental staircase leading to the Salone delle Compere was the work of Marco Aurelio Crotta.
Salone delle Compere
The most interesting room in the building is the Salone delle Compere. The works of art in this hall have rather lofty titles such as “St. George of the Genovese with the Emblem of the Bank” (by Luchino Da Milano, 1444) and “Justice and Fortitude and the Coat of Arms of Genoa” (by Francesco de Ferrari, 1490-1491).
Sala dei Protettori
The Sala dei Protettori was added when the palace was expanded in 1508. Today, meetings of the port authorities take place here.
The painting “Madonna and Child and St. George” dates from the 17th century. It has been attributed to several artists over the years, including Artemisio Gentileschi. It is now thought there may have been more than one artist involved.
The fireplace, from 1554, is the work of Della Porta. Above it is a “Madonna and Child, St. George and John the Baptist” by Giovan Battista Paggi from the early 17th century. In the bottom left corner of the painting you can see the Palazzo San Giorgio, with its recently repainted facade.
The Sala dei Protettori is not included in the visit to the palace.
Sala del Capitano
The Sala del Capitano is named after Guglielmo Boccanegra. He held the office of Capitano del Popolo when he entrusted Frate Oliverio with the construction of the Palazzo San Giorgio in 1260. In the early 20th century, this hall was completely remodeled by Alfredo D’Andrade.
The statues in the niches depict some benefactors associated with the bank. The sculptures are the work of Tamagnino, Michele d’Aria, Battista Perollo and Pace Gaggini.
The two bronze chandeliers are copies. The original is in the San Giorgio Church in the municipality of Castiglione di Olona in the province of Varese.
The room called Manica Lunga (“Long Sleeve”) was also renovated by D’Andrade.
The bas-relief “St. George and the Dragon” from the 15th century is the work of Michele D’Aria.
The walls of the loggia are decorated with yellow and white frescoes. The frieze depicts the coats of arms of the noble families of Genoa and the notables of the Bank.
The statue “Our Lady Queen of Genoa” gracing the Loggia was made in the first half of the 17th century by Bernardo Carlone. It originally stood on the Porta del Mare and was used as a reference point by sailors. It has been in Palazzo San Giorgio since 1998.
Several plaques decorate the wall. Two of these warn bank officials not to accept bonuses on top of taxes. Another, bronze one, commemorates the dock workers killed during World War I.
In the first loggia, on the right side, you can see a kind of letterboxes. These were for the so-called lettere orbe, in which people could complain about the magistrates nominated on these boxes.
Address: Via Mercanzia, 2 – Genova. Telephone: +39 010 2412330 or 242842. Opening Hours: Palazzo San Giorgio is open to the public only on Saturday mornings. Tours are free of charge. Reservations (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) are required. (In case of bad weather, the visit may be canceled).