Cervara Abbey was built in 1361 by Ottone Lanfranco, a priest at the church of Santo Stefano in Genoa, on land owned by the Carthusian monks. It was dedicated to St. Jerome.
Later, Pope Eugene IV transferred ownership of it to the Benedictines of Monte Cassino (c. 1420) and had it restored. The monastery became a center for the spread of Flemish artistic influence in Liguria, with works such as the Cervara Polyptych (1506), by Gerard David, and an Adoration of the Magi triptych by Pieter Coecke van Aelst.
The monastery was elevated to the rank of abbey in 1546. In the same period it was fortified in response to the increasing inroads made by North African pirates. In the late 18th century, after the French conquest of Italy, the abbey was suppressed and sacked. The precious Cervara polyptych was split up and sold separately. Four panels are now in the gallery of Palazzo Bianco in Genoa, while the other three are in Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
In 1804 French Trappists acquired the abbey and opened a school there, but they remained only until 1811. The complex subsequently became the property of the Diocese of Chiavari and, in 1859, was put up for sale. Marquis Giacomo Filippo Durazzo, a member of the Genoese nobility, acquired it in 1868; three years later he donated it to the Somaschi Fathers. From 1901 to 1937 the abbey was entrusted to the French Carthusians and in 1912 was declared a national monument.
The abbey is now privately owned, and is open to the public for cultural performances, concerts, and visits in small groups by appointment. Also private events are hosted indoors and in the gardens, such as weddings, business meetings, and conferences.
The abbey has a consecrated church, a 16th-century cloister, the tower, the main body of the building and a beautiful garden. The abbey was rebuilt for the first time in the 16th century, with more work in the apse, while during the 17th century were changed from the high altar and the choir. In the 18th century were added more decorations in marble and complete painting of the walls.
The church has a Latin cross plan, made by striking apse angle that simulates the bowed head of Christ. The columns separating the three naves appear to be built with blocks alternating slate and marble, in the typical architectural style of Liguria, are actually two colors of brick covered with plaster.
During the recent restoration work was discovered a burial which in all probability is the archbishop of Genoa Guido Scetten, poet and scholar, fellow student and friend of Petrarch.
The abbey's altarpiece, the Cervara Altarpiece, was painted by Gerard David in 1506 and commissioned by Vincenzo Sauli, a Genoese official and banker. The original work, now dismantled, is likely to have been a three-tier polyptych including depictions of the Virgin and Child, two patron saints, the crucifixion of Jesus with the Angel Gabriel and Annunciate Virgin to either side, and God the Father.
It is located at the entrance of the complex, opposite the entrance of the Church. It was built in the 16th century to defend against raids by Saracen pirates, and despite his sighting function has the distinction of being set back from the monastery, it is considered a sign of respect and subordination to the sacredness of it.
The cloister is quadrangular in shape and two orders of levels. The marble decoration dates from an 18th-century restoration.
What was once the garden of the Benedictine monks is now the only monumental Giardino all'italiana or Italian Renaissance style garden preserved in Italian Riviera. It is unique in that it directly faces the sea. The feeling is that of being on the prow of a ship on the promontory of Portofino, almost completely surrounded by the sight of the sea and coast, with the Gulf of Tigullio, and the inlets of Paraggi and Portofino.
The Italian garden is simple, linear, and proportionate. The Garden Monumental is created with hedges of boxwood and refined achievements of topiary cones and cones surrounding the 17th century marble fountain depicting a putto.
Around the garden and the main building, terraces and gardens alternate framed pergolas, columns painted or brick, rare plants and blooms that steal exceptional attention depending on the season. A shaded courtyard takes its name from a very old and monumental wisteria vine (Wisteria sinensis).
The monks' orchard has been preserved and enhanced with a collection of citrus trees. On the side facing the mountain, it has been kept a traditional vegetable garden where the monks since the Middle Ages grew the 'simple' (plant varieties with medicinal virtues), medicinal plants and herbs of the promontory of Portofino, low box hedges and particles alternating crops such rare species of citrus in terracotta pots, as was customary in monasteries.
The Palazzo Colonna is a palatial block of buildings built in part over ruins of an old Roman Serapeum, and has belonged to the prestigious Colonna family for over twenty generations.
The first part of the palace dates from the 13th century, and tradition holds that the building hosted Dante in his visit to Rome. The first documentary mention notes that the property hosted Cardinal Giovanni and Giacomo Colonna in the 13th century. It was also home to Cardinal Oddone Colonna before he ascended to the papacy as Martin V (1417–1431).
With his passing, the palace was sacked during feuds, and the main property passed into the hands of the Della Rovere family. It returned to the Colonna family when Marcantonio I Colonna married Lucrezia Gara Franciotti Della Rovere, the niece of pope Julius II. The Colonna"s alliance to the Habsburg power, likely protected the palace from looting during the Sack of Rome (1527).
Starting with Filippo Colonna (1578–1639) many changes have refurbished and create a unitary complex around a central garden. Architects including Girolamo Rainaldi and Paolo Marucelli labored on specific projects. Only in the 17th and 18th centuries were the main facades completed. Much of this design was completed by Antonio del Grande (including the grand gallery), and Girolamo Fontana (decoration of gallery). In the 18th century, the long low facade designed by Nicola Michetti with later additions by Paolo Posi with taller corner blocks (facing Piazza Apostoli) was constructed recalls earlier structures resembling a fortification.
The main gallery (completed 1703) and the masterful Colonna art collection was acquired after 1650 by both the cardinal Girolamo I Colonna and his nephew the Connestabile Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and includes works by Lorenzo Monaco, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Palma the Elder, Salviati, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Pietro da Cortona, Annibale Carracci (painting of The Beaneater), Guercino, Francesco Albani, Muziano and Guido Reni. Ceiling frescoes by Filippo Gherardi, Giovanni Coli, Sebastiano Ricci, and Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari celebrate the role of Marcantonio II Colonna in the battle of Lepanto (1571). The gallery is open to the public on Saturday mornings.
The older wing of the complex known as the Princess Isabelle"s apartments, but once housing Martin V"s library and palace, contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, Antonio Tempesta, Crescenzio Onofri, Giacinto Gimignani, and Carlo Cesi. It contains a collection of landscapes and genre scenes by painters like Gaspard Dughet, Caspar Van Wittel (Vanvitelli), and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Along with the possessions of the Doria-Pamphilij and Pallavacini-Rospigliosi families, this is one of the largest private art collections in Rome.