Wednesday, 16 September 2015


Castello Mackenzie

We're on our way home from the Cinque Terre, but we have an afternoon to explore Genoa, Italy's sixth largest city, but not a major tourist destination. A particular objective was to see the Castello Mackenzie. We set out from our hotel near the Piazza Principe station to soon reach via Garibaldi, famous for the Rolli Palaces. This a group of 16th century palaces, built in Genoa's golden age which were recorded in the register or rolls (rolli) of the noble families who aspired to host distinguished visitors to the city. They were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2007.

At the entrance to the surprisingly narrow street, we were immediately struck by a riot of colour and decoration, and by the green palace on the right whose exterior was actually painted, and by the facade which was in need of restoration.

 We looked at the beautiful interior courtyard of the Palazzo Rosso.

 And further on we admired the extravagant exterior of the Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino ...

... and ventured in to see the extraordinary nymphaeum. 

At the end of via Garibaldi we turned left up via Interiano to reach Piazza del Portello and take the lift up to the Spianiata di Castelleto, a celebrated viewpoint over the city. The top of the lift tower and the entrance area below have lovely art nouveau details.

It was a bit hazy from terrace at the top, but we could see in the port area the celebrated medieval lighthouse, the Torre della Lanterna ...

... and look down over the palaces we had just walked past to the tower of the cathedral beyond.

We caught the lift back down (good value at .90 euros) and began our major detour to see Castello Mackenzie, which probably doesn't loom large on most itineraries around Genoa. We reached Piazza Corvetto and headed uphill along via Assarotti. At Piazza Manin we climbed some steps by the Esso garage and turning left at the top soon reached the Castello. It was built between 1893-1905 for Evan Mackenzie a Scottish insurer by the architect Gino Coppede. Here is the main facade and a detail of the exterior decoration.

 Now we wandered inside and asked if we could possibly have a look around. After a moment's uncertainty and a reference to someone unseen in a back office, the man behind reception very generously gave us a guided tour! We could hardly believe our luck. The Castle is now used for auctions by Cambi, a company specialising in the fine arts, and the rooms were mostly full of stock, but it was just wonderful to see inside. We were especially struck by the arched entrance hall ...

... and the stairway with its stained glass and renaissance-style fresco including a depiction of Evan Mackenzie briefing his architect.

The chapel was also very impressive, as was the library. We were also shown a gallery at the base of the main tower where there was a moving memorial tablet to Evan Mackenzie's son Mario, a pilot who was killed in 1917.

We now made the long trek back down into the city centre, passing the delightful art nouveau shop, Finollo, now (perhaps always) selling ties.

Our next destination was the 12th century Porta Soprana, once part of a very extensive set of town walls.

In front of the gate and to the right was the exquisite cloister of the lost convent of Sant'Andrea, now merely a nice place for a picnic.

From here we headed towards the magnificent cathedral. On the way we passed the magnificent 16th centre Palazzo Ducale, or Doge's palace (who knew that Genoa once had a Doge as well as Venice?). It reminded us of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, I suppose because of the number of columns.

Then we came to the cathedral with its superb symmetrical black and white facade. (The symmetry is lost higher up as there is a tower on the right side but not the left.)

The inside similarly dramatic at the west end ...

... but more baroque at the east end. It is like being in two different churches.

By now we were tired and ready to head back to the hotel, but there was one final unexpected delight: the church of San Pietro in Banchi, with its frescoed facade including painted balusters, mirroring the real ones in front of the building.

Conditions: warm but cloudy, at least the threatened thunder storms did not materialise.

Distance: we walked about 5 miles in total. There was still much we did not see.

Rating: four and half stars.

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