A new geopolitical world order confronted the Republic of Genoa and other Italian states at the start of the 16th century. The arrival of Europeans in the Americas in 1492 widened the spaces for commerce, but at the same time, required a strengthened political and diplomatic effort to stay ahead of the more powerful European nations. Within this environment, Genoa's political elite realized how important it was to welcome delegations of prominent people in politics and business to establish their political and economic authority.
At that time, the city did not have at its disposal a prestigious residence of representation to be able to satisfy these needs, since the city had been constituted as an aristocratic Republic thanks to the political transformation supported by Andrea Doria from 1528.
Palazzo San Giorgio and Palazzo Ducale, the public venues used at the time, were inappropriate for hosting significant dignitaries. Starting from the middle of the 16th century, the aristocracy made huge urban investments, transforming the face of the city and endowing it with a formidable array of new buildings with sophisticated and impressive architectural and decorative characteristics. The head of State in Genoa, the "Doge", had fewer powers than his counterpart in Venice – his reign lasted for only two years instead of the long-life mandate in Venice – so the aristocracy adopted the "hospitaggio" system. State visits were accompanied by responsibilities and honours, which were not always warmly accepted by the wealthy Genoese. This hospitality system was codified in decrees of the Senate of the Republic, which drew up lists, or "ruoli", of the buildings deemed suitable for hosting guests. This method is known as the System of the Palazzi dei Rolli, with initial documentation dating back to 1576. This date marks the establishment of the Leges Novae (or Laws of Casale), which instigated a truce between "old nobles" (who believed they belonged to the pre-republican feudal nobility) and "new nobles," who, thanks to the Dorian reform, were raised to the ranks of the aristocracy and allowed access to public office. The establishment of the "Lists of the Republic's Public Housing" represented the successful and final transition of the medieval municipal political regime into the republican one, in which the city's elite had to accept responsibility for Genoa's power and prestige.
Strict ceremonies and rituals governed the hosting of eminent personalities and their entourages in private palaces, which continued to change and evolve throughout the Early Modern Era.
The "bussoli" organized the Palazzi dei Rolli into a hierarchy based on the status of the host family. The "bussoli" were decided on three main factors: the grandeur and sumptuousness of the Palace, the guest's prestige, and the social and economic importance of the Palace's owner.
Over time, the Palaces could move up or down in the hierarchy based on a variety of factors, such as political changes, change of wealth, or simply a building renovation. These elements help to create a more accurate historical reconstruction of the lists of palaces contained in the "bussoli." They also help shed new light on the history of the most prominent Genoese families.. Some of these families managed to withstand the difficulties of the centuries, and even today, the buildings they built bear their names, such as: Doria, Grimaldi, Spinola, Lomellino.
In Genoa, when delegations were expected, the Doge chose a palace at random to welcome the guests, granting the host family a stipend from the Republic.
The treatment received was different according to the rank of the guests who stayed at the Palazzi dei Rolli:
- For the visits of the Pope and other rulers, including their legitimate firstborns, the Republic lodged and paid for the guests in full for the entire duration of the stay.
- For papal ambassadors and and apostolic nuncios, the state provided everything needed, but no funds were set aside for public entertainment.
- Other guests only had the house made available to them, but without public funds.
Many illustrious guests stayed in the Palazzi dei Rolli including: in 1656, Don Giovanni of Austria, son of the Catholic King, Philip IV of Spain; in 1663, the Cardinal d’Este and the Duke of Croque; and in 1739, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco III of Lorraine, future Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, who stayed at the house of the Magnificent Cesare Gentile.
A. Rossi, R. Santamaria - Superbe carte - I Rolli dei Palazzi di Genova, Polignano a Mare (Ba), 2018.