The Walls of the City

Cities have always faced the need to be protected from outer invasions by means of surrounding walls. Genoa’s outlet on the seaside was indeed a coveted place for many major powers. The old city centre was located on the hill of Sarzano; over the centuries the city expanded together with its walls, to a greater extent westwards, around the beach of the natural golf that nowadays corresponds to the port.
It then began to expand upstream, the walls expanding at the same time as the city. However, during this expansion, the houses of civilians reached and overtook the old walls.
Historians disagree on the number of the different city walls: either five or seven are listed.
No traces of the ancient walls remain; by contrast, some sections of the walls of 1155 and 1536 (in the area of the Porta Siberia) and most of the 17th-century New Walls still remain: the focus here is on the latter.

In the 17th century, for the first time, the construction of the walls did not closely envelope the houses, but was rather at a certain distance from them, so as to keep the enemy as far as possible from the heart of the stronghold. Their construction had become necessary when the Duke of Savoy, with the help of the French, invaded the stronghold of Genoa in 1625, thus threatening the city centre.
The 1536 walls, directly following the perimeter of the stronghold, were then obsolete, which is why it was decided to take advantage of the natural amphitheatre peaking in Mount Peralto.
The first stone of the New Walls was placed near the Lanterna on 7 December 1626 by the Doge Giacomo Lomellini, during a ceremony where a specially prepared medal was buried. Immediately interrupted, the construction resumed only in the autumn of 1629 with new measurements and tracks on the ground.
The execution was divided into several piecework batches. According to the relevant regulations, the natural contours of the land had to be exploited, so as to erect, where possible, the new walls from a cut in the rock. The Public Administration provided lime, wood, ropes and some work tools, such as picks, hammers, wedges, levers, and hoes. The use of gunpowder was not permitted. The results of this work can still be seen today in some areas, where the bare rock and chiselling still appear in the slope of the walls. Given the magnitude and significance of the works, all other projects were moved to the background; also, considering the urgency to complete the complex in the shortest possible time, blacksmith and workers were allowed to also work on holidays (except Christmas and Easter), “after attending the Mass”.
If the walls, as a whole, took advantage of the harsh surroundings for defence purposes, the same was not true in the area of the present Brignole. Located on the plain, this area was, in fact, a weak link: hence, that section of the walls was named the “Low Fronts”. An enemy army could have camped in the plain opposite or attack from the hill of Albaro. The solution was thus the reinforcement of the two existing bastions and doubling them. A moat was also added. Sorties were obtained along the walls, on the sides of numerous bastions, connected by flights of stairs. Some were later walled up, while others were used in the 19th century for the construction of the so-called “angular towers”. Still, they did not take to the non-existent underground passages that according to the legends would secretly connect the walls.
The New Walls had different names for each section. The Low Fronts, between the current D’Oria high school and the Brignole station, were followed by the Walls of Montesano (where today they start from, in Via Imperia), of the Zerbino (in the area of the Fieschine - Corso Montegrappa), San Bartolomeo (Genova-Casella train station), San Bernardino (at the gate of the same name), Sant’Erasmo (Villa Quartara), Chiappe or San Simone (end of the Zecca-Righi funicular railway), Castellaccio (until the next bastion of the “red house” of the Municipality), Sperone (until the gate of the Avvocato), Begato (until the Granarolo repeaters), Granarolo (until Via ai Piani di Fregoso), Monte Moro (until Tenaglia), Angeli (until Via San Bartolomeo del Fossato, also including the Walls of the Porta Murata), and San Benigno (now demolished, until the Lanterna). The ancient stairways on the walls still remain.

All bastions had a name; however, in the case of repairs or for other reasons, it was more convenient to also number them. Hence, in the mid-19th century, it was decided to place marble plaques on the outer walls of the reserves or on the parapets, on which to carve the numbers. Over 100 plaques were installed.

  • Domenico Fiasella, Cinta muraria
  • The central system