Savona lived a period of great wealth and success between the end of the 1400s and the beginning of the 1500s, thanks to the arrival to the Vatican City of Pope Sixtus IV (the fourth), whose real name was Francesco della Rovere.
Sixtus IV was Pope from 1471 to his death, 13 years later.
His accomplishments as Pope included the building of the worldwide famous Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City and the creation of the Vatican Archives.
To Sixtus IV, who indeed commissioned the Sistine Chapel in Rome, we also owe the homologous Chapel that rises in the Historical Center of Savona, which was erected as a mausoleum to his parents.
The small replica of the Sistine Chapel is guarded in the chapel of the cathedral in the city center and, if one knows well the one in Rome, one can easily recognize Michelangelo’s style and subjects in its ceiling.
Julius II (the second), who called and commissioned other important artworks in Savona, such as the polyptych of the oratory of Nostra Signora di Castello, was the nephew of Sixtus IV and he became Pope in the early 1500s.
Thanks to the influence and protection of these two religious exponents, Savona enjoyed great importance and there are many works and buildings dated from that period which still can be admired today.
Pope Giulio II, whose real name was Giuliano della Rovere, had the same last name of Sixtus IV because they came from the same prestigious and noble Ligurian family of the Della Rovere.
In Savona, the oratory of Nostra Signora di Castello houses today the prestigious della Rovere polyptych, made by Vincenzo Foppa and Ludovico Brea. The work is dated from 1490 and it was indeed commissioned by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II. The polyptych, made in wood and enamel, was made for the high altar of the ancient Cathedral located on the Priamar fortress by the sea but, when a regional war between the cities of Genoa and Savona started, the precious polyptych was then moved from the fortress to the oratory, which still safeguards it today.
An oratory is not a real church because it has no priest and no religious services are performed in it, but it’s still a sacred place which benefits from belonging to the Church although it’s run by laic volunteers. The polyptych suffered a fire which didn’t damage it completely but the burst of heat darkened some of the characters depicted on it making them look darker and therefore somber.
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI (the sixteenth) ennobled the Shrine of the cathedral by placing a golden rose on the Altar of the Crypt and officiating a Mass in the Piazza della Vecchia Stazione (old station’s square), renewing the significance of the City of the Popes.