Doc mese aprile

The every-day echoes of a European war close to the Duomo

The document of April 2015

It is not only the edicts or the papers of rulers that tell us about History with a capital “H”: it is actually narrated by particular circumstances, which touch every aspect of life and society, as this interesting document conserved in the Archive demonstrates.

As we can see from the document, it is a Nota de commistibili stati impediti dalle parti del Genovesato per il corso d’anni tre a causa delle armate. (Note about foodstuffs held back from the region of Genoa for three years because of the armies).

This brief report, conserved in section 20 of the Historical Archives, titled Verzaro e Broglio, narrates the effects of the dramatic events that devastated Genoa between 1745 and 1748: the city was involved in the War of Austrian Succession, and had to defend its autonomy and prerogatives, caught between the Austrian army and the English fleet.

The conflict in the city made it difficult and at times impossible for the merchants of Milan to purchase what came to be known as the fruits of Genoa, in other words fish and other typical produce from the Riviera. And this is where the history of Genoa and that of the Fabbrica intersect.

The Fabbrica had, since the mid-16th century, managed the leases of the stalls and commercial activities that were the city’s most important central market in what is now Piazza Fontana, and was then Piazza del Verzaro, as we read in the chronicles of the 17th and 18th centuries. For example: “from dawn until two o’clock in the morning there is a constant trade of all kinds of foodstuffs, in such abundance that it is amazing to see the quantities of goods traded and it is wonderful to note the convenience of being able to find exactly what you need at any hour for any solemn or lavish meal” (Gualdo Priorato Galeazzo, Relatione della città e Stato di Milano…, Milan 1666)

The difficulty of finding produce because of the war that was waging around Genoa immediately had a serious effect on the earnings of some merchants. Finding it difficult to pay their rent to the Fabbrica because of it, they presented several appeals – all conserved in the Archives – including this Note, in which they listed in great detail all the differences that had occurred in the last three years in the quantity of goods sold and the related economic damage.

In the Note, we discover that until 1745, Genoa supplied the stalls of the Verzaro market with an abundance of cod, herrings and salted sardines (arenghi e salache), tuna fish in oil, artichokes (articciochi), cabbage, flowers, herbs, citrus fruit, almonds, pine nuts and plenty more. We also discover that the best-selling article was anchovies, with the merchants writing disconsolately that “it is impossible to find any, although it is the product these shops sell best, even if we have imported small quantities from Livorno at great cost, the damage of which can be imagined”.

These are just small details from a much large history, but they offer an interesting glimpse of aspects of the economic and social history of a city which, day after day, for six centuries, has entrusted its memories to the Fabbrica del Duomo Archive.