Cathedral of San Lorenzo

Cathedral in Genova

Cathedral Of San Lorenzo
CC BY-SA 2.0 / VillageHero

The Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the most significant church in Genoa, possesses an irresistible charm, emanating from its facade adorned with alternating black and white bands, the commanding bell tower that overlooks the historic center, and the intricate details that collectively shape this structure into an authentic architectural gem.

Its origins trace back to around the year 1098, initially constructed to replace and subsequently surpass an earlier basilica dating back to the 5th or 6th century. Over time, the cathedral was expanded and enhanced with grand and exquisite forms. Dedicated to San Lorenzo Martire, the cathedral safeguards the remains of the city’s patron saint, San Giovanni Battista, brought to Genoa following the conclusion of the First Crusade.

The cathedral’s walls, adorned with artistic depictions, have sparked numerous legends and curiosities. One such anecdote recounts a poignant memory of wartime atrocities: within the cathedral’s right aisle, an exact replica of an unexploded bomb is preserved. This grenade was fired in 1941 by the British Royal Fleet during one of the most devastating assaults on Genoa throughout the Second World War.

As you complete your exploration of the cathedral, it’s highly recommended not to overlook the Museo del Tesoro, accessible from within the cathedral and located in proximity to the Museo Diocesano.

Historical Evolution of Cathedral of San Lorenzo

Originally a basilica, the San Lorenzo Cathedral transitioned into a cathedral during the 9th century, replacing the Twelve Apostles basilica, which had been dedicated to the bishop of Genoa, San Siro, in the 6th century. During that era, the structure resided beyond the city walls.

Through the relocation of the cathedral and the construction of protective walls, the San Lorenzo area transformed into the heart of the city’s growth and evolution. Serving as a crucial focal point during the Middle Ages, the parvis of San Lorenzo emerged as a pivotal stage for social and political activities in a city that lacked conventional squares.

Pope Gelasio I consecrated the cathedral in 1118, marking the commencement of its Romanesque-style reconstruction financed by city taxes, military endeavors, and Crusades. In 1133, the cathedral assumed the role of the archbishop’s seat in Genoa.

A fire in 1296 resulted in partial restoration, prompting the reconstruction of the remaining section in the Gothic style. Between 1307 and 1312, the majestic facade boasting alternating white and black stripes was finalized, while the counter facade was embellished with frescoes, and the interior colonnades were rejuvenated with new capitals and the incorporation of false matronea. The robust Romanesque elements were thoughtfully retained, in line with the prevalent practice in Genoa. Across the 14th and 15th centuries, the cathedral underwent further enrichment through new altars and chapels. Notably, the splendid chapel located in the left aisle, which safeguards the remains of San Giovanni Battista, stands out as a remarkable masterpiece of 15th-century art.

In subsequent years, the cathedral witnessed additional architectural embellishments, including the construction of small loggias in the towers of the facade, following the tenets and contours of Mannerist architecture.

During the mid-16th century, under the guidance of the city judiciaries, architect Galeazzo Alessi from Perugia undertook a comprehensive redesign of the structure. Although his endeavors were confined to the reconstruction of the aisles’ roofing, the floors, the dome, and the apse area, it wasn’t until the 17th century that the cathedral’s final form emerged. This phase saw the advent of gilded stucco that adorned the apse, complemented by late Mannerist frescoes depicting the “Stories of Saint Lawrence” by Lazzaro Tavarone.

A restoration initiative in the late 19th century aimed to highlight the medieval elements that now characterize the cathedral’s appearance.

The Cattedrale di San Lorenzo holds a position of paramount importance within Genoa, with its walls recounting numerous legends and intriguing tales.


The Cathedral of San Lorenzo appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Genova!

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Visiting Cathedral of San Lorenzo

Address: Cathedral of San Lorenzo, Piazza San Lorenzo, Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy
Duration: 20 minutes

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