It was early on one of the mornings of my short exploration of Genoa that I wandered into Piazza Bianchi, a relatively small open space, but after the narrow streets and alleys of Maddalena it would be a welcome break for claustrophobics. Scouting around for objects of interest I spotted a large rectangular building behind me with large arched windows, a style which seemed at odds with the rest of the Genoese cityscape. I might have paid it more attention, but I was distracted by the benches running along its sides where booksellers would later set up for the day.
Any chance of the building regaining my focus was lost when I spotted the church of San Pietro in the square, which is a pity because this, had I know it at the time, was a particularly important structure. Perhaps if I’d read the street sign properly and realised this was not Piazza Bianchi (White Square) but Piazza Banchi (Benches Square) and the money lenders who originally occupied those benches, gave us the word “bank”. Within the 16th century building was the original stock exchange of the city, before it moved to the grand edifice that dominates Piazza Ferrari now.
The object that drew me away from the Loggia dei Mercanti was a church, a church set at the top of a flight of stairs, which isn’t unusual in itself, there are lots of large churches with imposing stairways leading to the main entrance (Genoa’s cathedral of San Lorenzo for one). What struck me about this church was firstly the iron railings enclosing the stairway and the gate required for entry, but then I noticed why the church was raised up. It was the first floor of a building where the ground floor had been divided into shops and other commercial units. Significantly one of them was still a gold merchant. Perhaps there was a metaphor here of the church rising above mammon.
Rent from the trade carried on in these units had originally paid for the construction of the Loggia but also for the church itself. No surprise to see a for runner of a Private Finance Initiative in a city contributing to the origins of modern banking.
Still after 25 years of working for one, banking only holds so much appeal, so onto the church itself. Though it had it’s predecessors on the site, the present building was begun in 1572 to replace a structure burnt down in the conflicts between the supporters of the Pope and those of the Holy Roman Emperor that characterised much of Italian medieval history.
The exterior facade was never completed so we have more of the painted architectural features that are so common in the city. Beneath the portico the frescoes crumble and fade, but they aren’t the greatest feature of the church. Unlike some of the Technicolor marvels that will appear in later posts the interior of San Pietro is predominantly white, as if to give greater emphasis to my mistaken understanding of the piazza’s name. The stucco and marble are outstanding (no pun intended) though sadly here too there are signs of neglect.