Historical Houses

Portofino, a World apart
June 2008

The Villa Durazzo in Santa Margherita Ligure.

Portofino Villa Durazzo Wedding

TheVilla DurazzoinSanta Margherita Ligure,the oldest residence on this coast was in the Middle Ages the monasteries. There were as guests important personages visiting the area. In the XVth century grand palaces of illustrious Genoese families and, later, especially in the XIXth century, elegant residences, successively turned into hotels, were built. This brief study takes us next into the environment where the personalities that constitute the third part of this publication reside. There is no intention to advertise for commercial purposes, an inappropriate objective for a study of this kind. We would instead direct our attention towards these splendid palaces for purely historical motives. Of some of these, we will note the causes of their construction, rise, development, and in some cases decline. We have no ambition to write anything new. We want to gather in one text a summary of what has been amply treated in a variety of works whose worth we refer to in the bibliography.

The Villa Durazzo

Corte, the small coastal center between Santa Margherita and the abbey of Cervara, was the site from which many ships set sail to help Genoa in its frequent skirmishes in the western Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. It would also serve as a point of departure for boats involved in the coral fishing at Tabarca along the coast of Tunisia. This locality always took pride in its individuality and in the existence of the ancient church of San Giacomo on its territory. Adding to this was the brotherhood of Saint Erasmus, patron saint of seamen. It was the Marchese Gian Luca Chiavari celebrated patrician of Genoa, honored by the Doge, who at the beginning of the seventeenth century erected on the ruins of the ancient castle of Corte a magnificent palace surrounded by a vast tract of land that extended to the two slopes of the peninsula that, on one part dominated the sea from Portofino to the island of Palmaria (Portovenere) and on the other the hills and mountains of the inland.

He connected Corte and Santa Margherita with a road that hadn’t existed before. As a result of the marriage of the Marquise Gian Luca’s daughter with the Marquise Geronimo in 1645, the palace passed to the Durazzo family. They made a sumptuous residence of it, furnishing it with the finest Genoese craftsmen. The palace would be used for receptions on the occasion of the fairs. Annual markets designed to expand commercial contacts between the various communities of the Republic and the surrounding towns were in fact instituted in that epoch. Evidently, trade fairs are older than one would imagine. One hundred and sixty years later, when another Gerolamo was Doge of the Republic of Genoa, the villa still belonged to the Durazzos.

I giardini di Villa Durazzo a Santa Margherita Ligure

The Villa Durazzo in Santa Margherita Ligure

It was Gerolamo Durazzo, a wealthy landowner in Santa Margherita, who, having Napoleon as his guest in his palace in Genoa, suggested the idea of building a military port at Corte, a part of Santa Margherita. Likely this project never became a reality. The last proprietor of the villa, ceded to the Centurion Princes in 1821, was Marcello who also sold the Palazzo Reale of Genoa to the Savoias. This old and venerable noble Genoese family (the Centurions), who for nearly seventy years maintained the tradition of the exclusive villa, were obliged by the changing times to rent the palace.

The genial Nicolò Maragliano transformed it in 1892 into an aristocratic hotel, the “Grand Hotel” where Queen Margherita of Savoia stayed in May 1904. The financial ruin of the last of the Durazzos and the passion for gambling by some of them compelled the family to let the whole property to Comm. Alfredo Chierichetti di Busto Arsizio in 1919. He divided the immense park into separate lots and rebuilt the old agricultural constructions transforming them into smaller charming villas. In 1973the city of Santa Margherita acquired the entire complex from the Chierichetti family and today a committee “Amici di Villa Durazzo” has been established whose interest is focused on the maintenance of the palace and the park and the search for and reacquisition of the furniture and artistic treasures.

Portofino, a World apart.