The Padri del Comune (City Fathers) were one of the Offices (or Magistrates) to which the Government delegated specific policy areas, with its own budget and extensive jurisdictional powers, in some cases including capital punishment. It originated in the 13th century, with the task of providing for the management, maintenance and development of the port.
Given the importance of this Office for Genoa’s economy, new duties were gradually assigned to them, such as overseeing the drains and streams that flowed into the port, with the aim of preventing them from silting up, and the care of the aqueduct, which brought water to the city thanks to inventive hydraulic systems.
From the start of the 15th century, the date from which the documentation held in the Civic Historical Archive begins, the City Fathers were also in charge of the cleaning and maintenance of the city streets, of the supervision of unsafe buildings, of demolitions, and of the illegal occupation of public land (exterior stairs,
protruding guttering and ledges, shop displays) which threatened to make the streets, already narrow, dark and airless (due to the height of the houses) impassable.
Moreover, they safeguarded the environment and public health with precise instructions on the height of chimneys, on polluting craft processes, and on the work of pharmacists and doctors.
This Magistrate had considerable revenues which were used to finance public works. These included the Molo Vecchio with the gate wok by Galeazzo Alessi (Porta Siberia) and the Molo Nuovo, the Loggia della Mercanzia (Loggia of Goods), the Free Port, the extension of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, and urban development interventions in the heart of the medieval city, which led to the opening, in the 16-th century of Strada Nuova (now Via Garibaldi, also known as Via Aurea for the splendour of its buildings), of Strada Balbi in the 17th century, and of Via Nuovissima (now Via Cairoli) in the 18th century.
These streets, connected with each other and with the new Via Carlo Felice (now Via XXV Aprile) and Via Giulia (later becoming Via XX Settembre), provided a solution at the beginning of the 19th century to the problem of crossing the city with carts and carriages. In short, in terms of the cleaning, hygiene and town planning services entrusted to it, the Magistrate of the City Fathers took on a character similar to that of present-day city administration.
Il Magistrato dei Censori (The Magistrate of Goods)
The Office of Goods was responsible for regulating the retail trade of the basic necessities: wheat, bread, oil, wine, meat, fish and other provisions sold on the city market; it also carried out an extensive monitoring of craft production in general, and of certain products in particular, such as paper, which were the subject of lucrative export and therefore deemed to be fundamental, in order to ensure the consistent quality of the goods.
The office intervened in the legalisation of the units of measurement, and made sure traders did not adjust the instruments used to determine the quantity of goods bought and sold to their own advantage. They also monitored the quality of wine and bread, the quantities placed on the market, and set prices. Thus the Magistrate safeguarded the interests of that section of the population which, not owning property, was forced to turn to the city market for a living, and which, as the more politically unstable section, it was wise to protect from excessive hardship, in case it should lead to a revolt against authority.
The Goods Office also had the power to intervene in contracts between owners and employees and to set wages.
The institution of the Goods Office originated from the necessity of guaranteeing an adequate supply of basic necessities to those living within the city walls, despite ever-changing and often difficult circumstances. For
those goods deemed to be staples such as wheat, wine and oil, this duty was later entrusted to other Magistrates created specifically for the purpose.
The Office of Abundance and the Provisioners of Wine
Andrea Doria’s reform in 1528 established a Government based on a system of biennial Doges and on the Collegi dei Governatori e dei Procuratori (Boards of Governors and Procurators) and brought to power in Genoa a limited oligarchy founded on nobility and wealth. The reform was followed by a thorough parallel reform of the administrative offices.
The Republic of Genoa immediately distinguished itself with the establishment of Magistrate offices intended to play a key role in food and welfare policies, guaranteeing the city’s inhabitants basic foodstuffs at a fair price, thus ensuring public calm and political stability.
On the 24 January 1564, the ancient Officium Victualium was replaced by the Magistrato dell’Abbondanza, the Office of Abundance, with the aim of protecting the people from the then recurring threat of food shortages, ensuring an adequate reserve of wheat and other grains to place on the market in times of scarcity, to bring prices back to a normal level if they should start to rise excessively.
However, as wheat is prone to spoil, it was necessary to regularly replenish the supply. Initially, this was achieved by imposing its compulsory purchase on millers and bakers; in 1591 state bakeries were established, which used the wheat of the Abundance office to make bread to be sold in the city, thus ensuring turnover of the supply.
Meanwhile, in 1588, the Government of the Republic had established the Magistrato dei Provvisori del Vino, the Magistrate of the Provisioners of Wine, with the aim of guaranteeing the people a supply of wine while keeping prices as steady as possible, of at least partly eliminating taverns, which were deemed to be disreputable places and dens of sedition, and of ensuring substantial revenue from the heavy taxes on importation and consumption.
With the decree of 20 October 1582, a committee was formed within the Office of Abundance, tasked with keeping the city supplied with oil for common consumption.
Eleven years later the Magistrato dei Provvisori dell’Olio, the Magistrate of the Provisioners of Oil, was established, with the aim of more organically regulating the oil sector.
Captaincy of Voltri
The Captaincy of Voltri Collection is of particular interest among the documentation of the former City of Voltri, which was added to the City of Genoa Historical Archive in 1927, following the formation of Great Genoa. It is an extremely important source for the reconstruction of socio-economic events as well administrative and accounting activity for the Voltri region, from the 16th to the 18th century.
The surviving collection consists of 1061 archival units (529 volumes of manuscripts and 532 files of documents), which cover the years from 1570 to 1797, grouped in various sets of documents; some of the main sets include account books, compendia” and cartularies of the Captaincy and of certain communities (Sapello, Cerusa, Gatega, Chiale and Arenzano), “Diversorum” and “Criminalium” books (Books of various content – Book of crimes) from 1570 to 1794, relating to justice, the books of the Ufficio Censorum, (the body in charge of regulating and monitoring the retail trade), as well as a certain number of registers and files which cannot be grouped into a specific set, including a Liber Decretorum (Decree book, petitions to the government and their relative decisions from 1633 to 1790).