The origin of a tower at the Cape of Faro is still uncertain, nor do we know who was the first creator, nor the year in which it was erected. The first news dates back to the year 1128 when a decree was issued to guard the tower of the Lanterna. The citizens of some hamlets of the Polcevera Valley – Torbella, Sassanedo, Porcile, Cavannuccia and those of Granarolo – had been designated to carry out this task, while others, those of Borzoli, Sestri, Priano and Burlo, exempted from this compulsory service were required to provide a bundle of wood each year to keep the fire of the lighthouse burning during the night. The tower was born above all as a military work, placed on the extreme limit of a rocky promontory that watched over both the Roman road that, to reach Genoa, had to deviate towards the sea turning around the hill of Promontorio, and the movement of all the boats that approached or tried to penetrate the port. The chronicles report that in 1318 – two centuries after that first document – during the war between Ghibellines and Guelphs, the latter closed in defense at Capo di Faro, but the Ghibellines managed to conquer the tower, starting to dig a “mine” in its foundations. In the five years that followed, the tower returned to the hands of the Guelphs, who restored it and in a second siege, to defend themselves even more effectively from the danger of mines, they built two ravelins on the sides. In 1507 Genoa was subdued by King Louis XII of France; in order to maintain control over the city, at the Cape of Faro it was decided to build a fortress that the Genoese called La Briglia: a brake on their anger and their desire for freedom. The military engineer in charge of the construction – a certain Paul Beusserailhe Lord of Espy – began the work by demolishing the old tower, but the Genoese with a good offer of gold coins convinced him to keep it in part, incorporating it within the walls of the new factory.
La Briglia then suffered the attack of the Genoese and was defended under the command of Vicar La Rochechouart, but on March 26, 1514 the Doge Ottaviano, in a last assault, forced the besieged to surrender and ordered the total demolition of the French fortress. During that siege, the upper part of the Lanterna was heavily damaged by the Genoese artillery.
Reduced to half its height, the tower remained unserviceable until 1543, the year in which its reconstruction was decreed.
The work of restoration and reintegration lasted little more than a year and was carried out by some Antelami masters, among whom a Donato from Balerna and a certain Bernardo da Cabio; leading the team of “piccapietra” (stone pickers) was the master Martino d’Arosio, the same one who was in charge of sculpting the balustrades in Finale stone, today unfortunately replaced with cement columns. When the work was completed, a memorial tablet was walled up inside, whose writing confirms the partial destruction of the tower during the siege <…QUEM MDXII IN OPPUGNATIONE ARCIS LANTERNAE TORMENTIS DIRUTA FUERAT>.
The Lanterna was also rebuilt, probably, as the Podestà alludes, at a higher height than the original tower. Another plaque on the north facade, perhaps walled up at the height where the remains of the half-tower reached, simply indicates the year 1544, when the work was completed.
Alizeri attributes the reconstruction project to Giovanni Maria Olgiati and in confirmation of this he cites a manuscript dated February 19, 1543 in which the Signoria says it is satisfied with his work; but at that time the work on the tower had certainly not even begun, so Alizeri is confused with the letter of gratitude granted to Olgiati for the construction of the bastion walls. The Podestà with a much more thorough investigation conducted on the books of the Fathers of the Commune under the title “Expense fabrices Turris capitiis faris” attributes almost all of the restoration work to the master of Antelamo Francesco da Grandria, perhaps assisted by Bernardino da Cabio. The tower, like the preceding one of the XIV century, was rebuilt following the same fourteenth-century architectural scheme of the two slender superimposed volumes of square plant. The upper part measures at the first gallery m. 7.10X 6.63 (29 x 27 palms) while the perimeter of the balustrade corresponding approximately to the base measures of the lower part is m. 9.45X9.87.Both in the lower body and in the upper one the total ratio including the double order of corbels and frames is about one to four, between width and height, so that they are two extremely pure volumes, well harmonized in their mutual proportion and clearly distinguished by the recurring motif of the double order of projecting corbels. While the first gallery is closed by a high full parapet, ending with a frame that seems to conclude the lower architectural part with a clear and dark shadow, the second one ends instead with an airy balustrade with simple double spindle columns, characteristic of the XVI century. Repeating the same party of the previous tower, also the Lanterna of the XVI century will have in the axis of each facade small single lancet windows very distant from each other: simple rectangular holes to give light and air inside. In the narrow central cavity, on the inside wall of the four perimeter walls that reach a thickness of about three meters at their base, a staircase climbs up, supported by rampant arches; as the book of “Expense” informs us, all the steps were made of Lavagna stone. In 1626 the tower of the Lanterna was chosen as the purely symbolic starting point of the Great Wall and to the north of it the first stone of that gigantic work was walled in; when it was completed in 1633, the tower became an integral part of the new fortifications.