Historical Houses

Portofino, a World apart
April 2008

Villa Spinola in the Portofino Bay.

Portofino Villa Spinola Sovrano di Malta

We include the Villa Spinola, foto above, among the grandiose residences of the Portofino Coast even though technically from an administrative standpoint it is not a part of it being instead in the city of Rapallo.

However, as I have already noted elsewhere, it was constructed right on point where Portofino Coast begins and thus I have elected to consider it. The point of Pagana has always constituted the border between Rapallo and the western part of the gulf. In the sisteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the danger of incursions by pirates, whether from the Barbari Coast, France, or Spain, was at its highest, the Republic furnished the coast with a series of strategically positioned guard towers. They were also used to block any unauthorized landings not checked for contraband.

Two of these towers, very important for their position, were the towers at Praggi and point of Pagana. Later, the Republic decided to construct little forts at these points. They spent lots of money on these forts but they were never really made use of. Once constructed, they would often go without military garrisons to man them. Probably, even in those days there existed a kind of financial speculation on public works! The task of controllingfor illegal landings could have been perfectly well by the towers already in existence. In 1601 the Orero family who, as one would surmise by their surname, came from the town of Orero in the Fontanabuona valley. They weren’t part of the nobility but were quite well-to-do and managed to acquire the land of the point of Pagana.

After the death of Francesco Orero, the first proprietor of the “villa”, in 1609, his sons Francesco and Bernardo inherited the property and shared it together until 1641. The construction of the palace was begun in this period. On this date the property, bordering the parish of San Michele of Pagana, already included the lands on the three sides facing the sea and the road above. Corresponding to the actual Villa Spinola, the borders have not changed since those times. Francesco Orero, the son, died in Pagana on July 24th 1644. He is buried in the church of San Michele and there we find his portrait, on his knees in the famous canvas of Van Dyck.

“The Crucifixion” one of the major treasures of the parish of San Michele of Pagana. It was recently part of the grand Van Dyck exhibit at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa. It is interesting to note that the great Flemish painter who, as is well known worked a great deal in Genoa dedicating himself primarily to portraiture, was only able to realize this religious work outside of Genoa. It appears thVan Dyck had been in a kind of ext. from Genoa in Pagana for some mi chief involving a beautiful aristocrah, lady of Genoa. With the sons of Francesco Orero, Gerolamo and Dionisio, the family fel. into ruin. The land and the villa wert passed on to the marchese Pier Francesc Cattaneo and at his death in 1728 h his brother Paolo Maria. From the Cattaneo family, ownership of the property shifted through a series of family relationships until it found its way to the Spinola family who hoisted the family banner. Prominent on the banner was the design of a wine tap which symbolized the generosity of the family’s founder, known for his chivalry and the generosity with which he offered wine to his guests.

With the Spinolas the villa and park were greatly improved. The inside of the palace, with the furnishings still well conserved, is rich with valuable fixtures and furniture. The grand park with its tall thick trees boasts an exemplary Lebanese cedar over a hundred years old. Visitors can pass under its aerial twisted roots. The villa was host to many famous persons, among whom were the princes Giovanni and Ferdinando di Borbone of the Kingdom of Naples. In 1920 the Treaty of Rapallo between Italy and Yugoslavia on the question of Fiume was signed in the villa. Since then it has been called the “Villa of the Treaty”.

The last owner of the Villa Pagana,
Admiral Franco Spinola, died on June 20 1958. In his will of 1955 he had left the villa with the park and the old fort to the Grand Maestro of the Sovereign Order of Malta with the condition that the Order provide for the maintenance and conservation of the property as it has always been. His wish has in fact been carried out. His brother donated the existing furniture. The actual Gran Maestro, after the death of S. A.E. Fra Angelo di Moiana di Cologna, is Andrew Bertie, a Scotchman who, during the summer holidais, lives in the palace with his court and hoist up the flag of Malta Cross.

Portofinowhat else?