Villa Durazzo Pallavicini: a path among theatre, marvel and esoterism

The path created by Canzio on the 8 hectares of hill on which the garden spreads is a theatrical piece divided in three acts, but it is also an initiation journey with esoteric and phylosophical meanings.

I talked about it already three times on this blog, but without ever writing a proper article: sometimes this is what happens when you love something so much that you don’t know how to present it at its best. But in this case the story has a happy ending; the wait, caused by the feeling of never being ready to talk about an important place as Villa Durazzo Pallavicini in Pegli, had its compensation thanks to an incredible news: the reopening of the park after a restoration process of many, many years.

But let’s talk about one thing at a time.

Villa Durazzo Pallavicini

The Villa that I will talk you about today is a magical place, to which I am connected from when I was a child. Set just behind Genova Pegli’s train station, it doesn’t reveal its beauty at the first gaze: perched at the end of a long pebbled avenue, hidden by now among buildings and pieces of the highway, it is like a secret garden to which only those who are not stopping at what Genoa has to offer on the surface have access.

Going up the avenue you reach the Villa and its park: the building hosts from many years the important Pegli Archaeological Museum (did you know that inside there is the famous burial of the Young Prince?), while the park…well, the park is a marvel for the mind and all the senses!

Villa Durazzo Pallavicini is a historical residence dating back in its first version to the Eighteen Century, while the current one was built from 1840to 1846  following the project that the architect Michele Canzio created for Ignazio Alessandro Pallavicini. The Villa is neoclassical style later re-elaborated following the romantic style and its park is one of the most important Nineteenth Century romantic gardens in all of Europe.

The restoration and the reopening

In 1928 Matilde Giustiniani, widow of Giacomo Filippo Durazzo Pallavicini, last descendant of the noble family, gifted the villa and the park to the City of Genoa with only one condition: the building had to be used for cultural activities and the park opened to the public. This is why from 1936 the villa is the location for the Archaeological Museum and the garden is one of the city’s parks. However, because of the works for the underlying highway, from the 60s to the 80s the park was closed. Once reopened, it was victim of terrible acts of vandalism that caused the closure for restoration of all the upper part of its internal path.

Thanks to the renovation by Studio Ghigino, that completed an inestimable work of research and restoration, finally the park has been reopened in its plenitude in a pretty meaningful date: 23th September 2016, exactly 170 years after the original inauguration.

In this occasion I had the pleasure to visit the park, finally restored to its original splendor, with an exceptional guide: the Head of the Park, Architect Silvana Ghigino.

The path

The walk inside the park starts straight away after the Archaeological Museum’s building: as you pass the little gate at the side of the square in front of the museum, thanks to a sudden change of scenery, now shady and natural, you already know you are reaching a magical place.

And surely the project of the park has a lot in common with magic and spiritual: the path created by Canzio on the 8 hectares of hill on which the garden spreads is a theatrical piece divided in three acts, but at the same time is also an initiation journey with esoteric and phylosophical meanings. The three acts of the story are divided in four scenes each, like in a theatrical performance.

This is why Villa Durazzo Pallavicini is a so touching and characteristic place: the path is not just a walk, but a 360° experience full of emotions, meanings and revelations.

Prologue and prequel

Following the scheme of a true theatrical work, the path starts from prologue and prequel. These two moments are architecturally represented by the Gothic Avenue, that we meet as we enter the park, and the more scenographic and emblematic Classical Avenue.

This last one starts with the “coffee house“, a little neoclassical-style building garnished with statues and frescoes in the upper floor and crossed in its lower part by an arch that welcomes us in the garden’s experience:

Once passed the coffee house, we find ourselves in the core part of the Classical Avenue; here Canzio used a clever optical illusion: thanks to a study of perspective and a fountain set at two thirds of the path, when watching the avenue from the first building it seems a lot longer than it really is.

The Classical Avenue ends with a triumphal arch embellished with friezes from the myth of Pan and Syringe. Here ends the prequel and, right beyond the arch, we leave the city ambient and are thrown in the middle of nature: the neoclassical architecture of the arch is transformed in the rustic one of a country hut.

1st Act: Return to nature

From the hut, called “The Hermitage“, we start to go up following a path inside the wild nature. After a while we reach one of the most famous points of the park: every year between March and April this is the place where one of the most ancient and wide collections of camellias in Italy blooms. Visiting the park during those months makes possible to have a unique walk in an avenue made vivid by these marvellous flowers covering the plants above us and the path under our feet.

If you travel to Genoa during those months, don’t forget to visit the park and admire the “Camellias Avenue” incredible, natural show: it warms the heart. (Since I’ve been there in October, the pictures in this article date to a previous visit to the park)

The second scene of the first act is held at the end of the Camellias Avenue, in the “Amusemen Park“. This scene is one of those that had been reopened to the public just lately. The “Amusement Park” is a square with two enormous metal carousels. Seen with our eyes, used to bigger and more complex amusement parks, they could seem nothing special, but in their period they were an incredible attraction.

These carousels were manually activated. The one composed by seats worked thanks to some underground mechanism: if you look closely in the last picture, you will be able to see a hole in the edge of the square; it was from there that the guests and the servants were exchanging signals to start and stop the game.

After the Amusement Park, the theatrical act continues in the “Old Lake” and the “Source“:

Here the water is the absolute protagonist with its two opposite sides: wild, murky and obscure in the Old Lake, limpid and symbol of life and rebirth in the Source.

2nd Act: Return to the story

After we got lost and found again ourselves in the middle of the nature, it’s time to face history and its course: being this a romantic park, the story couldn’t be other than a chivalrous one. All the top part of the hill follows this topic.

Leaving the Source and continuing our walk up among a wood of maritime pines, the change of landscape makes it clear that we are changing also act: on the hill in front the far, old farmers’ cottages transform in many castles of rival reigns.

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Can you see the farmhouse disguised as a castle in the picture? This was one of the things that amazed me: it’s not just the park being part of Canzio’s path, but also what is around becomes a part of itt as well, and is being transformed by it. They seem just simple details, but I think they are one of the keys that make all this artwork a so incredible and successful experience.

If on a side the hills and the farmers buildings become part of the theatrical path of the villa, on the other there is the breathtaking lanscape, so beautiful that it doesn’t need adjustments. Climbing the hill, in fact, we find sights like these:

Between a sight and another we enter the second act, scene after scene: Mary’s Little Chapel and the Swiss Hut (still to be rebuilt).

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Continuing our walk up, without yet being totally acquainted with the beauty of the landscapes around, we are surprised again: in front of us, on the top of the hill, there is a true Castle, moat included. The bridge is down: are we perhaps awaited?

Of course we aren’t, but once the guests arriving at the castle surely were: for them there was a table set with food and drinks waiting inside one of the rooms at the ground floor of the building, illuminated by the sun coming in throught the coloured windows, creating a warm, cozy, fable-like atmosphere.

The castle is one of the scenes that were hit most by vandalism; that’s why today the rooms are almost completely empty, the furnitures stolen or broken. There’s still the kitchen though, since it was typically made of stone (we saw a similar one in Villa Doria, do you remember?).

As every romantic castle deserving this name, also the one in Villa Pallavicini hides a marvellous treasure: far from curious eyes and vandalism, behind a closed metal door there is a stair to the upper floor.

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The Architect Ghigino opens it and let me go first. Straight away I admit I was a bit confused: I don’t know the building, the stairs are semi-dark, illuminated only by the sunbeams passing through the coloured glasses, and I don’t know when or where to stop. Then I understood: after going up for some minutes, I found myself in front of a breathtaking sight.

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What I found in front of me would be highly incredible by itself, but coming from the darkness of the stairs it results even more moving, since the eyes are suddenly hit by the rainbow of vivid colours that, in my case also helped by a beautiful sunny day, emanate from the glasses on the floor: a profusely decorated room, with mosaics on the ground and stuccos and frescoes covering the walls and the ceiling, open on the sky thanks to big ogival windows made by multicolour stained glass.

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And the marvel of this room isn’t even ended: the windows, each with a different main colour, aren’t casual. They are a ingenious natural clock: the sun, during its way in the sky, passes through the glasses emitting coloured rays; the ray ending in the centre of the room shows the time, and for every moment of the day it would be a different colour. For example my visit took place in the early afternoon and so you can see in the pictures the sun passing through the orange glass, representing the hours just after and around noon.
In the gallery below you can see the light blue window as well, the night one.

Since the whole park, and especially this last part, seems to be created to not give pauses to the continue wonder of the visitors, the visit to the castle has still another surprise for us: through a passage outside the room it is possible to go further up and reach the roof of the building.

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From here the landscape is amazing and the Architect Ghigino points out to me a thing: for us this is a beautiful sight, but not as much as it was for people who didn’t have airplanes or skyscrapers and had really few (or none) possibilities to enjoy this kind of view.

Once again on the ground, with heart and eyes still full of marvel, we continue our tour; the next scene is the “Captain’s Mausoleum“, where the story of the second act created by Canzio ends with the glorious and romantic death.

3rd Act: The catharsis

Once the story has been lived and ended with the heroic death, is finally the moment for the catharsis. The first scene is of course “The Grottoes“: the passage between death and rebirth, the tunnel that from darkness puts us back to light. The grottoes, real artificial caves in the depth of the hill, are still being restored.

It is once we passed through the grottoes, when we see the light once more, that we can fill our eyes again with marvel: the worst is over and now it is the moment to enter the Paradise, recreated by Canzio in the “Big Lake“, that in time became the symbol of the entire villa.

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Here there are various peculiar ambients, all part of the magnificent scenography on the shore of the green lake at the centre of the park, in which big fishes, turtles and swans calmly swim:

  • the famous Temple of Diana at the centre of the lake:
  • oriental bridge and pagoda, with a swing on the water:
  • the Egyptian obelisk:

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  • the Turkish temple:

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After passing through Paradise, we enter the eternal rest: it’s Flora’s Garden, lovely corner dedicated to otium among flowers and plants. Flora’s statue stands out in the middle of a garden and is framed by the octagonal lodge decorated with stuccos and coloured glasses:

Inside the little building there’s a taste of eternity: we find it in the countless images that a mirror reflects in the other in front, infinite times.

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This is where my visit ended, even if, to be precise, the original path created by Canzio continued to other two scenes:  “The Remembrance” and “The Water Games”; especially this last one is pretty difficult to restore, but – who knows? – maybe one day we will see it with our eyes anyway.

In this article, probably the longest one I wrote on this blog, I wanted to share with you the marvellous visit I was so lucky to have to this beautiful place. Anyhow I have to warn you: it is not enough. I told you about the path, some oddities, I showed you the pictures but, as I said at the beginning of this post, it is really difficult to give a good idea of a place like Villa Pallavicini: this park is an experience, made not just only by the story, but also by the sound of the water that pours and flows, by the smells of nature in this very region, by the colours of the flowers, the plants and the butterflies that made again this hill their home. You have to visit it yourselves to taste all the emotions that it gives and to celebrate the luck of being able to enjoy a so magical place again in all its original splendour.

In conclusion: some time ago I listened to the speech by the great James Bradburne at the Communication Festival in Camogli, and a concept remained in my mind: we are all migrants, but in time, not in space, and so we have to choose what we want to leave for the people of the future. These words made me think that the restoration of Villa Pallavicini is even more important for all of us: if we are migrants in time, this is the kind of testimony of mankind that I am happy to leave to whoever will come after.


Information:

Entrance: 10/5 euro
Entrance Villa + Archaeological Museum (highly recommended): 12 euro
Guided Tour (highly recommended as well since it gives you access to the upper floor of the castle): 18 euro

Opening Times:
2nd  November – 31st March
All weekends, 10 am – 5 pm, last admission at 3 pm, except Christmas day and 1st January.
Guaranteed admission for group visits on weekdays, if booked in advance.
1st April – 30th September
From Tuesday until Sunday, 9.30 am – 7 pm, last admission at 5 pm, closed on Mondays, except long weekends or holidays.
1st October – 1st November
From Tuesday until Sunday, 9.30 am – 6 pm, last admission at 4 pm.

More info on the official site of Villa Durazzo Pallavicini (available in Italiano, English, Francais, Deutsch, Espanol, Russkij)

I want to thank will all my heart the Architect Silvana Ghigino, Head of the Park, whom not only spent some of her precious time to guide me inside the marvellous restoration work that has been made, but in primis gifted me an experience that will remain indelibly in my memory.

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