The Palace in the history of Genoa
At the end of the 13th century, there was no building in Genoa that stood as a symbol of the political power that was exercised both in the Archbishop’s Palace and in private palaces. In the middle of the 13th century, Guglielmo Boccanegra, Captain of the People from 1256 to 1262, decided to start the construction of a public palace right at the key point for trade and commerce, namely by the sea, in front of the port. The design and construction of the building was entrusted to Benedictine friar Oliverio, who had directed the works for the construction of the ancient dock – the Molo Vecchio – a few years earlier.
The new building was constructed on the area obtained from the covering of the mouth of the rivulet Suziglia, in a privileged position with respect to the line marked by Ripa Maris, the area of the city where the trades related to trade and navigation were practiced. It is not certain whether the Palace had already been built in its entirety or whether the building site was still in progress when Guglielmo Boccanegra was ousted from power in 1262.
However, a notarial deed dating back to 1278 states that the Palace was defined as palatium magnum maris fundatum sub basilica s.ti Petri, ubi nunc colliguntur introitus, i.e. not subject to taxation.
In 1340, the “palace of the sea” became the seat of the customs house that was mainly linked to the activities of the port. At that time, the courtyard was used as a warehouse for the goods subject to customs duties, while on the first floor there were the offices of the Calleghe (Litigation on the application of customs duties), the Gazaria (Colony Administration) and the Confortatori (Exemption from duties and customs). It is also said – though there is no proof of this – that the top floor was reserved for prisons for tax evaders.
In the 15th century, the Palace was chosen to house the Bank of Saint George, an institution created in 1407 by French governor Jean Le Meingre to absorb public debt. Within a short period of time, the Banco di San Giorgio consolidated its power up to the point of managing the public economy and taking control of the colonies.
In 1451, the assignment of the headquarters to the Bank of Saint George became final. In 1539, Andrea Doria unified all the compere under the administration of the Bank, gradually creating different forms of bank credit, financing public works and taking over the mint, which was in the vicinity of the building for a long time.
In 1570, responding to the needs posed by the new functions of the Bank, the building underwent radical expansion and renovation work that completely changed its appearance, incorporating the old structure into the new one. In those years, the Renaissance-style decorated façade, decorated first by Andrea Semino and then by Lazzaro Tavarone (1606-1608), was born as a symbol of the institution’s power.
The medieval plant and structures were brought to light by D’Andrade’s intervention at the end of the 19th century, when the Palace was completely restored after the decay due to Napoleon’s domination, which marked the end of the Bank of Saint George and led to the Palace being used first as a warehouse and then as a prison.
The restoration began after a long debate. The growth in traffic posed the need to build modern and adequate roads. At the same time, it was necessary to create a new directorate for port activities and find a suitable location to host it. Palazzo San Giorgio was an obstacle to the construction of a new road system, but at the same time it could become the appropriate location to host the new institution. In the end, the argument in favour of conservation and restoration, which began in 1890 and was directed by architect Alfredo D’Andrade, prevailed. After the restoration conducted by D’Andrade, Palazzo San Giorgio became the setting for some of the most important events of the last century. In 1904, it became the seat of the Autonomous Port Consortium, the economic and technical body governing the port established in 1903.
In 1922, it hosted one of the days of the International Conference of Genoa, bringing the ministers of the countries that had taken part in the First World War to the Palace.
During the Second World War, Palazzo San Giorgio was bombed, and the Renaissance part of the building was seriously damaged, both in terms of structures and works.
After the war, it was completely restored as we see it today. The last restoration of the paintings on the façade was carried out in the recent past (1992) by painter Raimondo Sirotti on the occasion of the Colombian Celebrations.
Today, it is the seat of the Western Ligurian Sea Port System Authority. From 1995 to 2016, it hosted the seat of the Port Authority of Genoa, the public body into which the Autonomous Port Consortium was transformed in 1994.