Genoa’s Porta Soprana (also known as Porta Sant’Andrea) is one of the many openings in the extensive city walls, and has come to be one of the symbols of the proud Maritime Republic – whose seven centuries of freedom (1096-1815) can be summed up in a string of traditional epithets like “The Proud”, “The Mistress of the Seas”, and “The Republic of the Magnificent”.
The monumental Porta Soprana is one of the few surviving gates remaining from the so-called “Barbarossa walls”, built between 1155 and 1159 and named after the Swabian Emperor who, during his Second Italian Campaign in 1158, captured Milan and demanded taxes from Genoa. True to her nickname, “The Proud” refused. As explained in the “Annali del Caffaro” – an old book of chronicles on Italian cities’ origins – “Since antiquity, Roman Emperors had granted and confirmed that the people of Genoa would be perpetually free from any taxation: they had to remain loyal to the Empire, and had to defend the sea from Barbary pirates, but were not to be burdened otherwise.”
The “Annali” continue telling the story in an epic tone, mentioning the new city walls: “all men and women, never resting day or night, had carried stones and sand so that the walls had progressed so much, in only eight days, that no other city in Italy – even the most laudable – could have done the same…”
A plaque above Porta Soprana still celebrates Genoa’s pride and independence:
Sono munita di soldati, circondata da mura mirabili… Se porti pace, puoi toccare queste porte. Se cerchi guerra, triste e vinto ti ritirerai… (“I am defended by soldiers and surrounded by amazing walls… If you come in peace, you may touch these doors. If you come looking for war, you will retreat sad and defeated…”).
Words that would sound grandiose and arrogant, if history had not confirmed they were completely true.