Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) started life as a large patrician residence, first built by the Balbi family between 1643 and 1650, and then by the Durazzo family, who extended it between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries. When the Savoy family bought it, in 1824, it became the Royal Palace.
The palace is one of the largest seventeenth-eighteenth century architectural complexes in Genoa and its reception halls are decorated with frescoes, stuccos, paintings, sculptures, furniture and fittings belonging to the noble and royal families who lived there. Some of the most important names in Baroque and Rococo decorative art frescoed the vaulted ceiling of the living rooms and galleries.
Among the more than one hundred paintings on display in the rooms are works by the greatest seventeenth-century Genoese artists. Other works on display are masterpieces by Anton Van Dyck, Tintoretto, Guercino, Luca Giordano, Ferdinand Voet and Bassano. The origins of Palazzo Reale lie in the seventeenth century when it was commissioned by the aristocratic Balbi family. On 4 February 1643, Stefano Balbi, an accomplished financier, presented the project for the imposing building that would rise opposite San Carlo Church. He entrusted the project to the architects Pier Francesco Cantone, Michele Moncino and Giovanni Angelo Falcone. The seventeenth-century building was limited to what is today the central section and the rooms were decorated by some of the most esteemed Genoese artists, such as Giovan Battista Carlone and Valerio Castello, as well as Angelo Michele Colonna and Agostino Mitelli from Bologna.
The palazzo changed ownership in 1679 when it was acquired by Eugenio Durazzo. In addition to redecorating most of the rooms, the new owner started new construction works. These included the east wing, the decoration of the long façade on Strada Balbi and the reconstruction of the Teatro del Falcone. In the first half of the eighteenth century, the building took on an entirely scenic layout, with the construction of the two staircases, the large U-shaped terrace and the extension of the courtyard of honour.
The Galleria degli Specchi (Hall of Mirrors) dates back to this time, for which the galleries of the Palazzo Colonna and Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome and the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles were the inspiration. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Durazzo family suffered economic problems and the building was put up for sale. The first to be interested was Napoleon Bonaparte but in the end, in 1824, it was bought by Vittorio Emanuele I, King of Sardinia.
Plans were immediately drawn up for important restoration work and the apartments were converted to the new needs of the royal family. Over the course of a few decades, a covered passage was built connecting the palace on Via Prè with the Regia Darsena (Royal Dock). Reconstruction work was carried out to fit out the Sala del Trono (Throne Room), the Sala della Udienze (the Audience Chamber), the Salone da Ballo (Ballroom) and a noble apartment on the first floor.
The apartments of the King and Queen were on the second noble floor, in the east wing. The west wing was the apartment of King Carlo Alberto’s second son, Prince Ferdinando di Savoia, Duke of Genoa.
The Savoy administration commissioned the most respected professors of the nearby Accademia Ligustica (Ligurian Academy) for the décor. In 1821, Carlo Felice had purchased an important collection of paintings for the gallery, which was running low on works due to their being removed by the last cash-strapped Durazzo heirs, and by the transfer of works to Turin ordered by both Carlo Felice and Carlo Alberto.
Palazzo Reale changed owners for the last time in 1919 when King Vittorio Emanuele III ceded it to the Italian State.