Savona is an Italian municipality of 60.087 inhabitant, capital of the homonymous province in Liguria. It is a small and human-sized city that can be easily explored on foot. Savona is the third largest city in Liguria by population, after Genoa and La Spezia and has a nice variety of surprising places to visit! Let’s begin our tour in full of history Savona!
Fortress of Priamar
The fortress of the Priamar of Savona is an imposing military complex that dominates the city center at the port. Built between 1542 and 1544 by the Genoese population as part of the interventions aimed at the final subjugation of the city of Savona by the “Superba”, and enlarged several times, it takes its name from the hill immediately overlooking the sea on which it stands, where the finds the first housing settlements date back to the Bronze Age.
This is the most important fortification in all of Western Liguria which currently has a very complex shape due to the many and different historical phases of construction and expansion.
It was a prison where Giuseppe Mazzini was imprisoned among others. After decades of neglect, it has been restored and is currently home to various cultural activities. Today it is an open-air theater in summer and a museum, or rather two: the Archaeological Museum of Savona and the Pertini Museum.
The Brandale Tower and Palazzo degli Anziani
The Brandale Tower, also called Campanassa, was presumably built around the middle of 1100, was the main of the 50 towers of the city walls which, thanks to the large fires lit on the top, served as lighthouses.
The ancient Torre del Brandale, rests on Gothic archivolts that form the entrance to the historic center of Savona from the Old Dock. The name Brandale probably derives from “brand” (light, bonfire) even if some make it derive from Pope Gregorio VII of the Aldobrandeschi family. Purchased by the Municipality in 1305, it became the seat of the Podestà and in 1349 the first bell was installed to call the people to Parliament. In 1552 the tower was lowered by about 25 meters, because it prevented the view between the stronghold built on the Priamar and the Castello dello Sperone. In 1668 the bell was replaced, and again in 1919, and in 1931, when the tower was returned to its original height and the new bell was purchased with a popular subscription.
The Tower was lowered by the will of the Genoese between 1544 and 1552 (like the nearby towers). It was brought back to its original height with a restoration work completed in 1933.
Palazzo degli Anziani was built on the square near the tower in 1300 to house the Abbot of the People. For the number of finds contained, it is considered a real lapidary museum, with inscriptions, marble reliefs, coats of arms and stone friezes from buildings that have been destroyed over time. On the cornice of the tower, there are 12 coats of arms representing the families who succeeded each other in the leadership of the city
Torre Leon Pancaldo
The Torre Leon Pancaldo or Torre della Quarda, commonly called “Torretta”, is a medieval tower located on the port of Savona and is considered the symbol of the city. Formerly called Torre della Quarda, it is mentioned for the first time in a document of 1392 and was part of the city walls to protect the city, in a strategic position for the defense of both the adjacent Quarda gate and the port.
After the destruction of the walls by the Genoese in 1527 the tower remained isolated and in the following centuries it underwent a series of alterations. In particular, the entrance side, which was once to be opened and covered by a barrel vault, was walled up and the inside of the tower was divided into several floors.
The turret is decorated with a fresco by Filippo Parodi from 1662 which depicts the patron saint of the city, Madonna della Misericordia. Below the effigy, there is a couplet by Gabriello Chiabrera, “In mare irato in subita procella invoco te nostra benigna stella”, which has the particularity of having the same meaning both in Italian and in Latin.
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is one of the most prestigious monuments in the city of Savona, as its name also indicates, indicative of the client relationship that binds it to the homonymous – and much better known – Sistine Chapel in Rome. Both buildings are in fact due to the will of the Pope himself, Sixtus IV (1471-1484), and both constitute testimony to the patronage of that pope and cardinal nephew Giuliano Della Rovere, who was later raised to the papal throne with the name of Julius II ( 1503-1513).
The singular reason to erect this chapel in the name of a pope also derives from the fact that Savona gave birth to numerous popes over the centuries, making it a city of reference for this position and for the Italian Catholic faith over time.
The decision to erect this chapel took place between 1481 and 1483 at the behest of Pope Sixtus IV in order to become a mausoleum to house the tombs of his parents, namely Leonardo della Rovere and Luchina Monteloeni, both originating and living in the city of Savona. Farther on, he was the last descendant of the Della Rovere family in his Ligurian branch, namely Francesco Maria, to order its reconstruction between 1762 and 1764. It was decided to cover the interior with stucco and paintings, work of local artists. He adapted it to the tastes of the time by decorating it with splendid stuccos in shades of green, yellow and ocher, in perfect rococo style.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is the main place of worship in the city of Savona. Its position is very central, and the beautiful Sistine Chapel also belongs to its complex.
The cathedral of S. Maria Assunta was built in 1589-1605 (with a nineteenth-century facade); inside, leaning against the counter-façade, a late 15th century marble crucifix and a baptismal font obtained from a Byzantine capital, with carved barriers; the pulpit of the Evangelists is remarkable (1522) and even more the carved wooden choir (1500-15).
In the chapel to the right of the major, we find the Madonna enthroned with the Child and Saints Peter and Paul, a masterpiece by Albertino Piazza, and a sixteenth-century marble relief depicting the Presentation of Mary in the temple.
It is a very interesting to visit for the immense artistic value of the relics of St. Valentine the martyr, the Cloister and the wooden choir commissioned by Pope Julius II.
The Cathedral measures 61 meters long and 39 meters wide, its facade is in full Baroque style.
Savona Ceramics Museum
The Savona Ceramics Museum is a permanent exhibition dedicated to Ligurian ceramics, in particular Savonese and Albissolese, with a thousand works, ranging from the fifteenth century to the contemporary.
It is one of the most important ceramic art museums in the world: with over a thousand works it certifies the relationship that for six centuries has combined the territory of Savona and Albisola with artistic creations of particular beauty, refinement and taste.
The fifteenth-century building of the Monte di Pietà was founded as the seat of the museum, founded in 1479 by the Pope of Sixtus origins Sixtus IV and subsequently restored, with a design intervention aimed on the one hand to preserve and enhance the pre-existing historical parts and, on the other, to provide a new public usability.
The museum is on four floors, in a path it introduces us to the exciting world of ceramics: from the 15th-16th century tiles (“laggioni”), to the majolica with a style influenced by oriental porcelain, Baroque tradition, eighteenth-century decoration, technological progress of the nineteenth century, to the artistic transformation of the twentieth century to reach the design of our days.
The route of the Ceramics Museum is divided into 4 areas in the rooms of the Monte di Pietà.
The conspicuous collections, for over 1000 pieces, are divided into single collections, followed by sectors structured by chronology and variety.
Villa Cambiaso) is a refined seventeenth-century holiday home, located in Savona in an area once just outside the city.
The palace has origins in the fifteenth century and was raised and deeply restored in 1655. At the end of the eighteenth century the property passed from the Ferrero family (extinct) to the Spinola family, then to the Colonna family in 1800 and finally in 1842 to the son of Bianca Maria Caterina Colonna: Gaetano Cambiaso.
In 1796 the palace was occupied by French troops which caused some damage. On the night between 10 and 11 April Napoleon Bonaparte slept there. The doors of the villa also opened for Pius VII, imprisoned in Savona by Napoleon himself between 1809 and 1812.
The villa is largely frescoed, in particular the party room decorated by Domenico Buscaglia at the end of the 19th century. The furniture and fixtures are in wood carved by Genoese craftsmen, while the polychrome leaded windows come from Florentine workshops.
In the main entrance there is a fountain attributed to Bernini and the main floor was the scene of the stop for Benito Mussolini’s gala dinner. The rear part of the building is surrounded by a beautiful Italian garden of 2500 m2. Today it is a multipurpose center used for exhibitions and concerts.
Sancturary of Our Lady of Mercy
Among the churches in Savona, the splendid Marian Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy stands out, located about 6 kilometres from the city. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the complex developed around the church built in 1536 on the site of the apparition of the Madonna to Blessed Antonio Botta, designed in Renaissance style by Antonio Pace Sormano.
After the alleged apparition, the Sanctuary of Savona was built, dedicated precisely to Our Lady of Mercy, and hospices for the elderly and orphanages were built nearby, many of which operated until the second half of the twentieth century (a hospice for the elderly remains active).
In the crypt there is the statue of the Madonna della Misericordia, as it is commonly called, crowned by Pope Pius VII after being freed from his Savonese captivity, which had begun in 1809.
The sanctuary is a typical example of early Italian Baroque, although with an anomalous structure: it is in fact built on three levels, nave, crypt and presbytery, in memory of the Romanesque cathedral destroyed by the Genoese to build the Priamar Fortress.
The three-door baroque facade is the work of Taddeo Carlone, with three niches where the statues of St. John the Baptist, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist and the Virgin are placed.
On 17 May 2008 the sanctuary received the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Savona and Genoa.