This building, located in Genoa, Italy, displays the emblems of four cities: from left to right Florence, Genoa, Milan, Venice.

It is currently an university building, but I don't know how long it has been, nor what was it used for before.

What do these cities, and not other cities, have in common? I.e. what might be the reason for picking those cities?

  • they all are regional capitals, but so are many others
  • they all have universities, but so do many others
  • Genoa and Venice were marine republics, but the other two aren't
  • Florence has been an Italian capital, but the other three weren't
  • I bet they can all be considered big or important cities, but, again, so many others

In particular, it stands out there's no Turin, nor Bologna.

The date, unless I'm mistaken, is 1914.

  • 5
    Could it be something as simple as those four cities contributing money for the construction of this building?
    – Steve Bird
    May 3 '15 at 9:28
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not of historical significance. May 3 '15 at 14:47
  • 3
    @TylerDurden 1. the building is old enough for whatever-is-the-reason to be of historical significance, 2. if you don't know the answer, how can you magically know it is not significant?
    – o0'.
    May 3 '15 at 14:52
  • 3
    @TylerDurden the symbols on any building are supposed never to be random. It's usually either a family crest, or some relevant cities. Here in Genoa often you can see the symbols of the four marine republics, which makes sense and is historically significant. Sometimes you can see the symbols of Turin, which has been Italian capital, and again this makes sense. If it's the symbol of a family, it was likely that family's building. Now we have a building with four apparently random cities. Assuming thay aren't really random, then there's a reason, then that reason is significant.
    – o0'.
    May 3 '15 at 15:40
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    @MarkC.Wallace The building is apparently the Palazzo Eridania, early 20th century, but I am unaware of any historical significance.
    – Semaphore
    May 4 '15 at 13:03

Florence, Milan, Venice, and Genoa were the most important city-states of Renaissance Italy. This distinction is the chief attribute shared by these four cities.

Of course, that's a bit of an intrinsically subjective statement. There were several major players, and it is difficult to quantify something as nebulous as "importance". Nontheless this particular grouping is quite common. These four cities are pretty much universally regarded as occupying the heart of the north Italic city-state system.

For example:

As emphasised in different but complementary ways by such authorities as Braudel, Lane, and McNeill, this subsystem of city-states - centred on Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Milan - anticipated by two centuries or more many of the key features of the modern interstate system.

- Gill, Stephen, ed. Gramsci, Historical Materialism and International Relations. Vol. 26. Cambridge University Press, 1993.

The British urban historian Peter Clark:

By the close of the Middle Ages, the urban network of northern Italy was dominated by four city-states: Florence, Venice, Milan, and Genoa - often in fierce competition with one another.

- Clark, Peter. European Cities and Towns: 400-2000. Oxford University Press, 2009..

The Dutch professor Luchien Karsten:

The new system of city-states was mainly established in places such as Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Milan.

- Karsten, Luchien. Globalization and Time. Routledge, 2013.

The late French historian Fernand Braudel:

Quite clearly in the Mediterranean in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that centre was a narrow urban quadrilateral: Venice, Milan, Genoa, Florence, with conflicts and intertown rivalries as the relative weight of each city changed.

- Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Vol. 2. Univ of California Press, 1995.

As well as popular history writers:

Chief among the Italian city-states were Florence, Genoa, Venice, and Milan.

- Hazen, Walter. Renaissance. Good Year Books, 2004.

Such statements reflect the historic weight of these four cities, as the centre of their respective city states.

The building in question is the Palazzo Eridania, built in 1908 by the architect Richard Haupt. It is situated on Corso Andrea Podestà, 2. As far as I can tell there is no deeper significance in the choice of decorations.

  • 1
    Good catch, thanks! It totally makes sense, so I accept it's the most likely explanation!
    – o0'.
    May 4 '15 at 14:07

I am philosophically opposed to answering trivial questions that have no historical importance, but since this question seems to be "accepted by the community" and the only other answer is completely wrong, I guess I will do it.

The building in question is the former headquarters of the Eridania Society (meaning corporation), a beet sugar refiner which is now part of a large French-based conglomerate. The reason for having the shields of those four cities is because Eridania had business offices in those cities. For example, a World War I-vintage north-west Italian commercial register listed them as one of the "industrial companies" with a location in Venice, for example as shown below:

Eridania Society mention

Now that we have sussed out the earth-shaking reason for this company to have these decorations on its headquarters, I hope we can avoid repeating the process for the buildings of the other 100,000 industrial conglomerates in Italy and France and Britain and Germany and the rest of the world.

  • 3
    Just to make sure - did Eridania have offices in other major cities? May 4 '15 at 22:52
  • 2
    @FelixGoldberg Well, I know they were founded in Genoa by a bunch of prominent people in Genoa, so they definitely had an office there. And the Florence building became their headquarters. And they had the Venezia office as documented above, so that just leaves Milan, which I have not researched, but since Milan is the biggest industrial nexus in Italy, it would seem to be a pretty safe bet that they had a fourth office there. May 4 '15 at 22:55
  • 5
    Does the headquarters building in Florence have the four crests as well?
    – CGCampbell
    May 4 '15 at 23:00
  • 6
    Interesting take (despite the snobbish and silly preface). I'm investigating.
    – o0'.
    May 5 '15 at 7:53
  • 2
    Didn't they have offices in other cities? What about Romagna or Ferrera, where Eridania grew most of their sugar? May 9 '15 at 20:10

These four "city" states were the closest things that northern Italy had to "national" states during the Middle Ages. For instance, Genoa at one time controlled Sardinia and Corsica, as well as a small part of the Italian peninsula. Venice "girdled" the Adriatic Sea (and more), occupying parts of modern Yugoslavia, as well as much of the east coast of Italy. Milan was strong enough to have a "separate" (Ambrosian) Republic for a time. And Florence, despite its small size, was the center of the Renaissance under Lorenzo the Magnificent, who attracted Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli, among others. These "cities," and not others, were treated as "equals" (or nearly so), by foreign powers. For example, Florence's Catherine de Medici became Queen of France.

Sources such as this one identify Florence, Venice, and Milan as the hotbeds of the Italian Renaissance. Each of these cities attracted or produced major artists; Milan, Leonardo da Vinci; Florence, Michelangelo, and Venice, Titian. They were also leaders in at least one other major area of thought; Milan, banking, accounting and commerce, particularly the silk trade; Venice, science (e.g. it was the first Italian city to adopt the printing press) and shipbuilding; and Florence, political philosophy, e.g. that of Machiavelli.

Neither the above, nor other sources I've consulted include Genoa, which is why the question initially confused me. FWIW, I put Genoa in the "second" category with Turin and Bologna.

  • There was no central Guelph authority. It's a bit like saying that the Liberal parties in the UK, Canada and Australia form a "common rule" - they don't. May 11 '15 at 9:49
  • @FelixGoldberg: OK, took out reference to Guelphs.
    – Tom Au
    May 11 '15 at 13:21

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