Very often we hear about Genoa’s historical buildings as The Rolli Palaces.
This definition is based on the notion of “rolls”, that is to say: official lists of patrician palaces and mansions of eminent Genoese families, which aspired to host – from a public lottery – the eminent, important and noble guests visiting the city. These lists were compiled at the time of the Republic of Genoa – between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century.
In the wealthy Genoese society the “Rolli system” used to replace the role of the court, which was very common in other Italian and European states, such as monarchies and lordships. Within this peculiar ritual of hospitality, distinguished guests such as cardinals, princes and viceroys, feudal lords, ambassadors and governors were welcomed, served, charmed, and amazed into patrician mansions including the Rolli ones, which were divided into three categories according to size, beauty and importance. Indeed, the rolls of palaces were divided into compass points (bussoli) according to which the buildings were classified depending on their prestige: the first one was established in 1588, while the other ones in 1599, 1614 and 1664. This was because, due to the improvements made by the owners, a building could be “upgraded” or even be admitted to the ranks of the newly “eligible candidates” (approximately one hundred and fifty palaces).
In most cases, these buildings still exist. For those visitors approaching Genoa, the ancient Rolli palaces represent a unique opportunity to explore an extraordinary century, trying to live the experience of an international historical city which, however, has been very “jealous and proud” of its independence, as well as of its own peculiarities.
The patrician houses located in Via Garibaldi, Via del Campo, via San Luca, in Piazza San Matteo and in Piazza Campetto – to name but a few examples – provide extraordinary evidence of an aristocracy that had made Genoa “superb for men and walls”.
– by Giacomo Montanari, PhD Student at Università di Genova –