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Portrait of Andrea Doria

Portrait of Andrea Doria by Sebastiano del Piombo (detail) - c.1520

Andrea Doria and Genoa

We enjoyed a few days in Genoa with friends – lovely sunny weather in late September. The interesting and extensive old town with its narrows streets and alleys near the old port contrasts with the large 16th and 17th palaces of wealthy Genoese families along the Via Garabaldi (originally the Strada Nuova). At the heart of the city are the cathedral of St Lorenzo and the Ducal Palace. The nearby Piazza de Ferrari separates the medieval centre from the 19th century city. There are plenty of bars and restaurants serving good value Genoese and Italian dishes.

The excellent ‘Galata Museo de Mare’ (Museum of the Sea) in the old port area is well worth a visit. Its 5 floors house a full size reproduction of a 16th Genoese galley, details about the voyages of Christopher Columbus with models of his vessels, a 19th brigantine, an extensive display relating to migration from Italy to the United States, videos about the history of Genoa, and much more, along with great views of the city from the roof.

Andrea Doria (1466-1560) was to become Charles V’s admiral and most trusted ally in Italy. Born into the old but impoverished Genoese family of D’Oria and orphaned at an early age, he worked his way up to the very pinnacle of power in Genoa. The area around the church of San Matteo is surrounded by several grand mansions built by the Doria family. Andrea Doria’s tomb is the crypt of the church.

In 1521 he commissioned the building of a large palace to the west of the city – the Villa del Principe. At the time its location outside the city meant that it was surrounded by beautiful gardens which stretched down to the sea. Emperor Charles V stayed here several times, the first being in 1529 on his way from Spain to meet Pope Clement VII for his coronation as Emperor. The villa is now hemmed in by major roads and railways but has pleasant gardens and contains many frescoes, paintings, tapestries and furnishings from the 16th century onwards.

Andrea Doria and Emperor Charles V

Initially a mercenary soldier, Doria later served in the Genoese fleet eventually becoming the city’s naval commander, fighting the Barbary corsairs (pirates) throughout the Mediterranean. In the early 1520’s he was employed and appointed captain general by the French king, Francis I, to fight Emperor Charles. However Doria became dissatisfied by the failure of Francis to honour his commitments to reward him and Genoa. At the end of his contract in June 1528 he ordered his vessels to abandon the French blockade of Naples, thus saving the city for Emperor Charles, sailed to Genoa, drove out the French and re-established the republic of Genoa under the protection of the Empire.

For over twenty years he effectively ruled Genoa, although he refused the title of ‘Doge’, and commanded the emperor’s navy. He took part in the campaigns against Tunis (1535) and Algiers (1541), commanded the fleet of the Holy League at the Battle of Prevesa (1538) and the Spanish-Italian fleet at the Battle of Ponza (1552), all part of Charles’ efforts to prevent the constant incursions of the Ottoman fleet under first Barbarossa and then Turgut Reis. He also led the Imperial fleet against the French (who were at times allied to the Ottomans), especially in their efforts to gain control of Corsica.

Genoa and the Doria family in particular did very well out of their loyalty to Charles. The city was awarded extensive trading rights and the merchant and banking families were able to benefit handsomely from the riches pouring into Spain from the Americas. When Charles was travelling from Spain to Italy, and sometimes on to Germany and the Low Countries, he sailed from Barcelona to Genoa. It is said that on one occasion Doria provided Charles and his company with a feast served on a silver service. In order to impress Charles when the meal was over Doria ordered that the service be thrown into the sea. What he did not tell Charles was that he had instructed fishermen to be ready to retrieve the silver the next morning. Nevertheless, Doria always aimed to protect Genoa’s independence. He resisted Charles’ efforts to get him to agree to have a citadel constructed in Genoa, since it would be garrisoned by Spanish troops.

Charles was very much aware of the importance to him of Doria and the Genoese alliance. In his Political Testament, written for his son Philip in 1548, he made clear that Genoa was his most important ally in Italy, both strategically and commercially, and that Philip should do all that he could to preserve and strengthen the influence of Andrea Doria. In 1547 Charles himself had ordered that a number of conspirators against Doria be executed and the son of Pope Paul III, Pier Luigi Farnese, Duke of Parma, who had supported the plot, was murdered. Charles had placed his alliance with Doria above that of good relations with the pope.

Richard Heath
Richard Heath
Richard Heath graduated in history from the University of Cambridge and was a history teacher for 35 years. He now enjoys travelling with his wife in their VW camper van, exploring historical sites and appreciating all that Europe has to offer.


  1. David Curp says:

    Dear Mr. Heath,

    You have done quite remarkable work with this website – I definitely will be directing my students toward your pages when I teach my modern Western Civilization courses again next year.


    David Curp
    Associate Professor
    Ohio University

  2. Tamiflu says:

    As the new ruler of Genoa, Doria eliminated the factions that had plagued the city and constituted a new oligarchic form of government composed of the city’s principal aristocratic families. (His reformed constitution for Genoa would last until 1797.) From 1528 until his death, Doria exercised a predominant influence in the councils of the Genoese republic. As imperial admiral he commanded several naval expeditions against the Turks, taking Coron (Koroni) and Patras (Patrai) and aiding in the capture of Tunis (1535). Charles V found Doria an invaluable ally in his wars with Francis and used the former’s services to extend his domination over the whole Italian peninsula.

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