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Genoa has dozens of historic city palaces, one more opulent than the next, but none that rival the Palazzo Reale. This palatial villa from 1643 was home to the 3 most powerful families in the city. Today, the Palazzo Reale is a famous museum with an impressive collection of 17th- and 18th-century furniture and art.
The Palazzo Reale stands on the Via Balbi, a seemingly inconspicuous street in the old city centre, wedged between the university and the harbour. But step inside number 10 and a whole other world opens up. The sober facade hides an impressive courtyard and an exotic garden with a fountain and palm trees. For centuries, this mansion hosted aristocrats, diplomats and royalty. If only the walls of the 23 rooms in this palace could talk...
Memorable parties and balls, diplomatic receptions and dinners for illustrious guests such as Napoleon Bonaparte – the Palazzo Reale has witnessed many important moments in the history of the republic of Genoa. The city palace was built in the mid-17th century for the Balbi family, who made their fortune in the textile and silk trade. From this new neighbourhood of La Strada Nuova, the wealthy merchants enjoyed great views of their ships in the harbour below. 50 years later, the Balbi family were forced to sell the mansion due to financial problems and another famous Genoa family moved in, the Durazzo family. This family expanded the city palace, adding many Baroque elements. In 1730, a Hall of Mirrors was added, modelled after the one in Versailles. In the 19th century, the palazzo served as the second home to the Dukes of Savoy, who at the time were also the Kings of Sardinia. Their presence earned the palace its name reale, ‘royal’.
The Savoy dynasty resided in the city palace until 1919. Most pieces in the current museum were owned by the family. In addition to chandeliers and Baroque furniture, the villa also displays more than 200 paintings, including a Tintoretto and 2 works by Antoon van Dyck. The rooms and salons have been mostly preserved in their original state and offer great insight into the life of an aristocratic family in Genoa. An antique wooden carriage still stands by the entrance and a cabinet door leads to a discreet altar. But the pièce de résistance are the colourful frescos on the ceilings that lend this villa its distinct Italian character.
Conclude your visit to the Palazzo Reale with a stroll on the rooftop terrace. This vantage point offers sweeping views of the harbour with its high dockside cranes and the monumental lighthouse, La Lanterna. As you look straight down, you will also enjoy a lovely view of the small palazzo garden. This perspective allows you to admire the mosaics around the pond. The black and white images have been created with pebbles called risseu, a local mosaic style often used in the churches of Liguria, the region in Northern Italy where Genoa lies.