In the heart of Pegli, beside the marvellous Villa Durazzo Pallavicini (one day I’ll write a whole article on it, for now I wrote about it here), there’s another villa with the pertaining park: its name is Villa Centurione Doria (simply Villa Doria for Genoese) and, in addition to being one of the residences part of the ancient Rolli, it’s also the location of the Nautical Museum.
The 30th e 31st may 2015 for the first time it’s been included in the event Rolli Days, the days dedicated to the opening of Rolli, the ancient genoese noble palaces declared UNESCO human heritage. For this past edition of Rolli Days, that usually are held only in the city centre, the city of Genoa decided to extend the opening also to the villas of the Eastern and Western territory of the city, reaching a number of 26 palaces open.
The 30th may, so, we went to visit the Villa of Pegli, taking advantage of the guided tour available for the occasion: we have been very lucky, because for a good timing we had the possibility of having a guide almost all to ourselves.
A bit of history
Villa Centurione Doria was built between 1529 and 1550, commissioned by Adamo Centurione, banker and first owner of the land. The actual appearance dates to 1592, when the villa was reshuffled by the architect Vannone on commission by Giovanni Andrea Doria whom, since of his hospitality needs linked to his intense public attivity, had necessity of widening the spaces. Are part of Doria’s activity also the tower near the villa anche the Church of Nostra Signora delle Grazie.
The presence of two owners that, in different times, developed the villa, is clear in the internal decorations also: the frescoes of the first phase, dating to the half of XVI century, are inspired to the Villa del Principe ones and they were almost completely made by Nicolosio Granello; the decorations of the second phase, on the other hand, more manneristic, are by Lazzaro Tavarone and date to the end of the century.
The garden of the villa is by Galeazzo Alessi and dates to the half of the sixteenth century; thanks to the 2001 restoration works, now is again visible the beautiful artificial pond with oval islet in the middle that can be found in the high part of the park.
Villa Centurione Doria is composed by two floors, both with an official entrance.
The first entrance we meet is the main lobby of the ground floor: the frescoed ceilings leave us without words from the first step we take inside.
This floor is the one who has been more reshuffled and widened by Giovanni Andrea Doria: it has many rooms with frescoed ceilings; the details are incredible.
How our guide explains us, Giovanni Andrea Doria was not needing this just to host important personalities, but also to be difended in case of an attack. The troops of german mercenaries allocated at the ground floor left a memory of their passage:
From a room on the side of the ground floor lobby we climb a stair to arrive to the kitchens zone; the first thing grabbing our attention is a big incongruity between what expected and reality: for a villa of such dimensions we would have imagined kitchens that are at least wide, but instead we found just a little space with a narrow larder.
Really marvellous the stoves: a board recreates the original tiles, still there under it.
In the same zone, beside the kitchen, there was also a bathroom with a tub and a little window; even in this case it’s a tiny space, so much that we couldn’t even take a picture.
Now it’s time to pass to the first floor of the villa, so we return back to the lobby and we go up the main staircase: from there it is already possible to see the big fresco on the ceiling of the floor above.
This hall, today indoor, in the old times was a loggia: it is easily deducible from the poor preservation of the main fresco, left for long time to the bad weather and partly deleted.
Our guide decides to start out visit in the rooms on the western zone: the first one serves as anteroom for the other two and makes clear the use of the building as Nautical Museum. Here, in fact, we find an ancient anchor and are hanging some rings from the chains that Genoa Republic confiscated to Pisa after its defeat in the Meloria Battle (1284). The fresco on the ceiling portraits the Justice.
From this room, on the right, we reach the little chapel of the villa, decorated with the trompe-l’œil technique, with which are painted a window with far foreign landscapes (probably flemish, as the training of the painter who created them) and two doors. The chapel is a little space and presents on a side a stair that breaks its ambient: the alteration dates back to a very late period and was made to connect the first floor ambients with the service area.
To the other side of the anteroom we find a beautiful representative hall, with incredible decoration on the ceiling and the walls. On the ceiling there is the abduction of Europa, surrounded by representations of scenes linked to water, symbols of the bond of the powerful Genoa with the sea. The atmosphere in this room, as you can notice from the pictures below, was breathtaking, thanks also to the peculiar lighting chosen for the place.
Going back and passing through the former loggia, we arrive to the true main entrance, with so rich frescoes that it is impossible to not look at them. Imagine this space with big open windows and the sight of the sea in the distance, because this was the show that the visitors were finding in front of their eyes entering the palace. Curiosely, the fresco on the ceiling is drew backwards compared to the entrance: Giovanni Andrea Doria wanted his visitors to do what he was deciding to, so they were forced to move exactly where he wanted to see the decoration properly.
Detail: the floors evoke the decoration of the frame in the ceiling:
From this point, we access the two residential zones of the villa, divided in male and female areas, today occupied by the Nautical Museum.
The men part presents frescoes with myths linked mostly to the manly force and glory: e.g. the one with the myth of Jupiter and Io, the nymph loved by the god and then transformed in a dam so the treason was not discovered by Juno.
In the last two rooms are recreated two ambients linked to the maritime culture: the interior of a laboratory for the creation of the flags, with the original materials and sewing machines, and the room of a fleet admiral.
The last part of the villa is the one reserved to the women. Here stands out in particular the room with the fresco by Granello of the suicide of Dido: probably this was the bedroom of Zenobia del Carretto, adored wife of Gio Andrea Doria, whom death made him suffer a lot.
The visit to the villa is ended, so the guide leaves us and we decide to go explore the little tower near the first floor entrance.
This tower dates back to the villa modifications commissioned by Giovanni Andrea Doria, and its aim was the defence from the possible attacks by the enemies of the Doria family. In its basements there are still some cisterns and inside there are the headquarters of the archaeospeleology association “C.S.U. Sostenibile”.
If you want to visit it, be sure you have comfortable shoes and you don’t suffer vertigo. 😉
Our visit to Villa Centurione Doria for the Rolli Days ends here: we reached then the beautiful pond made by Alessi, but a storm prevented us to take good pictures of it.
See you to the next Rolli Days, hoping we are in Italy! 😉
The pictures in this article are partly mine, partly by my sister Alessandra Agrini: grazie Ciagula! 😀