Welcome, this is the page NAPLESWEB. English version of NAPOLISTORIA site.

Created by Andrea Brancaleone

This page is about the history and the monuments of the city of Naples.

The ancient writers have handed down old stories of mermaids : Partenope, Ligeia and Leucosia, defeated by Orfeo during a singing contest, and were turned into rocks.
The name of the city comes from the first mermaid.
Another story is that of Ulysses, who was not enchanted by the mermaids’ singing; they died by jumping off the cliffs of the gulf. One of them, Partenope, was believed to have been found on the islet of Megaride, where, later the Castel dell’Ovo was built.

The history of Naples.
The monuments.
The photos.
Italian site.

La città di Napoli: la storia ed i monumenti

Search inside the book written by Andrea Brancaleone (in Italian) "Umanesimo e Rinascimento a Napoli"

Search inside the book written by Andrea Brancaleone (in Italian) "Considerazioni su Ettore Majorana"



The ancient city.

Neapolis was founded by Cumaen colonists, who initially settled at Partenope, present day Mount Echia or Pizzofalcone, formerly inhabited by the Phoenicians and later in the VII century BC, by people from Rhodes. Having the original site been abandoned, which was then called Palepoli, that is old city, the new city, Neapolis, was founded in 470 BC.
It gradually welcomed newer and newer peoples and, upon the fall of Cumae by the hands of the Samnites, even Cumaen refugees.
The city was made up by decumani and cardines (these were the names later adopted during the Roman age), that is roads that intersect perpendicularly. This system was called ippodameus, from Ippodamo of Miletus, Greek architect of the V century BC who may have invented this type of urban structure.
Besieged by the Romans, it was, in the end, conquered in 328 BC and became Rome’s ally. In 90 BC it became a municipality, then colony during Claudius’ age.
Even during Roman domination, Naples kept its Greek customs and traditions, and the use of the Greek language. For these reasons the Romans, as always attracted by Greek customs in addition to the mild climate, started settling by the droves in Naples, making the city and nearby sites such as Baia, a residential area, a very popular place.
Many rich and famous people built elegant houses along the shores, in the actual town centre and on Posillipo and at Baia.
Massive walls surrounded the city, tradition has it that not even Hannibal was able to penetrate the city, finally giving up the siege.
Neapolitan Greco-Roman ruins in the present-day city are scarcely evident: the most impressive example of engineering is made up by what is called “Naples Underground”, which is actually a system of aqueducts and cisterns that, although originally built during the Greek age, was gradually enlarged in the following ages. This allowed in the end to supply water not only to the city itself, but even to the imperial fleet anchored out in Miseno. This network of conducts, which in part can still be visited, was used up to the last century.
Other examples of Greco-Roman architecture are found in the area of the ancient town centre: on Anticaglia street, brick arches can be seen which make up part of the ancient Greek theatre. Next to the Duomo (the cathedral), remains of Roman constructions can be visited.
In the Campi Flegrei (the Phlegraean Fields) area, instead, age-old constructions are more evident as well as actual world-renowned archaeological sites: Cumae, the amphitheatre of Pozzuoli, the Thermal Baths of Baia, just to name a few of the more important sites.
The Neapolitan Crypt, located behind the church of Piedigrotta, next to what tradition (even since the Middle Ages) presumes it to be the tomb of the poet Virgil, dug into tufa stone and over seven-hundred metres long, it was built during the Republican age by the architect Cocceio.
The latter, most probably, was the maker of the other cave, called Seiano, that connects Posillipo, where, as already mentioned, many of the patrician houses were located, with present-day Coroglio; thus allowing an easier journey for all those that were directed towards Pozzuoli and its port.
The Neapolitan Crypt, instead, was built to improve communications between the city of Naples and the Phlegrean area. It was used up to the end of the Nineteenth century.
As previously mentioned, many illustrious persons found dwelling along the coast since the Republican age, but more so during the Empire: the Romans loved their Termae and what better place than Naples, and especially the Phlegrean Fields, where there were so many natural thermal baths that grew in fame during the centuries, becoming places of treatment and holiday for politicians and intellectuals. Caesar, Cicero, Lucullus had their houses here; these places, celebrated by Virgil in the Aeneid, became more and more famous and magnificent, in the luxury of the villas and the fascination of the natural environment.
There was also the Villa of Publio Vedio Pollione in Posillipo, a very rich man, connected to Augustus.
He built his Neapolitan dwelling adapting it to the natural environment of the Posillipo hill; even the theatre connected to the villa was built adapting it to the natural slope of the hill.
In 476 Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman emperor, was imprisoned on the islet of Megaride (where the Castel dell’Ovo was later erected).
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Emperor of the East Justinian, sent his army guided by the general Belisarius, to conquer the city. The Byzantines succeeded in conquering Naples by penetrating through the aqueduct.
A few years later the Ostrogoths entered into the city, but later were turned back by the Byzantines who, starting from 553, spurred an incredible growth to the city holding out against the continuous attacks of the Longobards and constituting a bridgehead of Byzantium’s power in the Italian peninsula.
It was thus possible for the Neapolitans to obtain some autonomy from Byzantium, along with the right to name their own duke.
The connection between Byzantium and Naples grew gradually weaker however, until 763 when Duke Stephen declared the duchy of Naples independent from the Byzantium Empire. A thriving period followed for the city: the town-centre shifted from what was once the ancient Greek agora to the Roman forum, the area corresponding today to the churches of San Paolo Maggiore and San Lorenzo Maggiore, to the so called Monterone hill, that is the area corresponding to the church of Santissimi Severino e Sossio and the State Archives. Unfortunately, from what must once have been the ducal palace, no trace of ruins remain today.

The city through the Normans, Swabians and Angevins.

In 1139 the Normans, with Roger II, conquered the city.
In 1130 he was crowned king of Sicily, duke of Apulia and prince of Capua in Palermo, thus building a unified monarchic state in southern Italy.
It was William I (named “il Malo”) who reigned from 1154 to 1166 to give start to the construction of Castel Capuano, created as regal dwelling, to be used, many years later as courthouse.
Upon the death of William II (named “il Buono”) in 1189, Henry VI of Swabia took on to conquer the southern kingdom, Naples lined up with his rival Tancred, but was overcome by the Swabian in 1194.
We now come to 1197, year of the death of Henry VI, to see now another figure appearing on the Neapolitan scene, and that is Frederick II.
In 1220 Frederick II is crowned emperor and returns to the lands of the southern kingdom to bring order back to the chaos that sprung with the death of Henry VI; he reformed the structures of the state, was a cultured person, welcomed poets, scientists, and as far as the city of Naples is concerned, founded the University in 1224.
Upon the death of Frederick II, in 1250, his son Manfred attempted to recapture the kingdom; but the invasion in Italy of Charles of Anjou, and the victory of the latter in the battle of Benevento (1266), brought in the Angevins to Naples.
Many sites of the city remind us of the Angevins: from Castel Nuovo, thus called to distinguish it from the old royal residence of Castel Capuano, to the church of Carmine and Piazza Mercato, witness to the tragical story of the beheading of Conradin of Swabia, nephew of Frederick II, and last heir to the throne of Swabia, put to death on 29 October 1268.
Charles of Anjou was a wise sovereign; he favoured trade, protected artists and men of letters and beautified the city by building new churches and a new royal palace.
Once in the city, in 1266, Charles of Anjou found the royal palace of Castel Capuano lacking, so he decided to build a new residence outside of the city walls, towards the sea. For this purpose the area called Campus oppidi was intended, the area where Piazza Municipio now stands.
The construction work for Castel Nuovo, or, as was later named, Maschio Angioino, was entrusted to the French architects Pierre de Chaulnes and Pierre d’Angicourt, although Vasari attributes it to Giovanni Pisano.
The castle was different from what we see today; the successors of Charles made modification and enlargements. Robert of Anjou commissioned frescoes of the Palatine Chapel from Giotto, but unfortunately nothing remains today of the works of the great artist.
The entire area surrounding the Castel Nuovo experienced enormous growth: during the Angevin dominion the city enlarged this area, thus laying the basis for port development, with what was to be called Molo Angioino.
The Gothic churches built in this time were remarkable: from San Lorenzo Maggiore to Santa Chiara.
Robert of Anjou, who reigned from 1309 to 1343, succeeded King Charles. This sovereign too was protector of men of letters and brought together a considerable amount of books.
Upon his death, his niece Giovanna (Giovanna, or Joan, I of Anjou) ascended the throne. The assassination perhaps wanted by the queen, of the prince consort Andrew of Anjou, brother of King Louis of Hungary prodded the latter to move towards Naples at the head of his army. King Louis of Hungary plundered the city and executed the suspects of his brother’s killing, then returned to his country. Queen Giovanna designated as his heir Charles of Durazzo, and later, Louis of Anjou. Charles of Anjou took over the reign in 1371 and had the queen killed.
Upon Charles’ death, years of brutal fighting ensued for succession. In the end Giovanna (Giovanna or Joan II of Anjou Durazzo), sister of Ladislao - who was also son of Charles and crowned king at the age of fifteen but died at the young age of 38 - became herself queen.
There being no heirs, Joan of Durazzo adopted Alphonse V of Aragon, but then reconsidered. Alphonse, instead, did not renounce and besieged Naples.
In 1442 Alphonse V of Aragon made his entry into Naples: it is the dawn of a new era.

Aragons, French and Spaniards.

The first thing the new king does is building a tangible sign of his power right over the symbol of the old power. For this reason the triumphal arch was built in the entrance to the Maschio Angioino; it will give eternal glory to the new king and replace, in the memory of the people, the old dominators with the new who had just arrived.
The Arch, in resemblance to what the Roman emperors were accustomed to (we are at the beginning of Humanism and never as now was Ancient Rome felt so close), will show the triumphal entrance of King Alphonse into the city of Naples.
The name of the maker of the Arch is unknown, among the most accredited names were those of Luciano Laurana, Pisanello, Guglielmo da Majano and Pietro da Milano.
Alphonse had the Castel Nuovo restored by the Aragons architect Guglielmo Sagrera, which gave the building the appearance it has today.
The Aragon reign sees a period of peace and prosperity, in which Tuscan, Lombard and Catalan artists found themselves working together with local artists. And the exchange going on among the local and foreign artists turned out to be very profitable as new artistic techniques and forms were imported to Naples.
Porta Capuana, the tomb of Cardinal Brancaccio (the only Neapolitan work of Donatello), the palace of Diomede Carafa, are only a few of the examples of Neapolitan architecture in this period.
Very remarkable was also the growth of literary activity with the founding of the Pontanian Academy.
Regardless of all this, the Aragon dynasty did not succeed in avoiding defeat by the hands of the French troops of Charles VIII in 1495. Subsequently, following the battles among French and Spaniards for the dominion of southern Italy, in 1503 Consalvo de Cordova made his entrance into the city, taking over the city in the name of the king of Spain Ferdinand the Catholic.
The viceroy reign of the Spanish lasted from 1503 to 1707, during these two centuries, although having lost its independence, the city, with its trials and tribulations, experienced a period of enormous urban expansion. In fact, we need only remember the Spanish quarters and via Toledo, which take their names after, respectively, the lodging of the Spanish troops in Naples and the viceroy Pedro de Toledo, whom in his endeavours to promote city expansion to the west, had that great road built which to this day still bears his name.
Another grand work achieved in the city was the Royal Palace.
Building started in 1600; the project was entrusted to the architect Domenico Fontana.
After a brief interruption, from 1707 to 1734, of Austrian dominion, Charles III of Bourbon appears on the scene.

Bourbon Naples.

Don Carlo of Bourbon, son of the king of Spain Phillip V, brought Naples to the rank of capital of an independent kingdom.
He assumed the name of Charles VII as king of Naples, his reign lasting till 1759, when he had to succeed his step-brother Ferdinand VI on the throne of Spain as Charles III.
In 1759, Ferdinand IV succeeded King Charles on the throne of Naples.
During the reign of the two kings, but especially during that of Charles, many innovative thrusts were sought, forwarded by Enlightened thinkers. The feudal prerogatives of the church were affected as well as the property of certain religious orders that were confiscated by the State.
After the short experience of the Parthenope Republic in 1799, there ensued the period of French occupation (1806-1815) with the reign assigned to Joseph Bonaparte and, later, Joachim Murat.
The Bourbon restoration occurred in 1815, with the reign, which, from 1816, assumed the name of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
The Risorgimento movements of 1820 and 1848, are recalled, and lastly, conquest of the city by Garibaldi on 7 September 1860.
Through the plebiscite of 21 October 1860 the city was annexed to the Sabaudian kingdom.
From that moment on the history of the city merged with that of the rest of the country.

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The churches.

Even a short treatise on the churches of Naples cannot but start with the cathedral church. It was built on the site where in ancient times two temples dedicated to Apollo and Neptune stood. Already in the IV century the Basilica of Santa Restituta stood there, then, in 570, a church was built dedicated to the Saviour from the name of the bishop Stephen, who had wanted it. It was King Charles I of Anjou who wanted to build the new church, which was erected only later by his son Charles II, and it was inaugurated in 1315. It was later re-built by King Alphonse I of Aragon, since it was destroyed by a terrible seism in 1456. There were numerous remodellings in the course of the centuries. The facade, restored many times, was completely redone by Enrico Alvino in 1887.
The third chapel, to the right, is the so-called Treasure of San Gennaro: during the Plague epidemic of 1526 the people made a solemn oath to erect a chapel in honour of the holy patron saint; but construction could start only in 1608. The chapel holds the ampoules that have the miraculous blood of the patron saint of Naples.
To the sides of the Presbyterium is the Succorpo of San Gennaro, or Carafa chapel, the work of Tommaso Malvito, and boast of Neapolitan renaissance art.
The chapel of Santa Restituta, then, represents the most ancient Neapolitan basilica; legend has it that it was built by will of the emperor Costantino. Lastly, there is the old baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, belonging to the V century.
The visit to the churches of Naples continues with Santa Chiara: Robert of Anjou wanted it built at the beginning of 1300. It holds numerous tombs of illustrious personages, nobles and kings. Behind the great altar is found the monumental sepulchre of King Robert of Anjou, work of Giovanni and Pacio Bertini.
The Dominicans who, in 1231, enlarged a pre-existing church already dedicated to Saint Michael Archangel wanted the church of San Domenico Maggiore. The sacristy holds the arches containing the corpses of noble Aragons: there is also the one, now empty, that held the corpse of king Alphonse I, later brought to Spain.
The church of Gesù Nuovo stands now where there once was the palace of Roberto Sanseverino, prince of Salerno, built in 1470 by Novello da San Lucano. The facade, in diamond shape pointed ashlars, is previous to the church, being that of the palace of San Severino. Quite remarkable is, within the church, the Altare Maggiore, as well as the Great Fresco of the driving of Heliodorus from the temple, work of Francesco Solimene of 1725.
The church of San Lorenzo Maggiore was built by King Charles I of Anjou, who called in French architects, giving the church its typical gothic mark of churches found beyond the Alps. Since, later, the works were interrupted, upon their resumption many years later, construction was terminated by Italian architects.

The castles of Naples.

The Castel dell’Ovo was founded on the islet of Megaride. It goes back even before the ducal age to that of Ancient Rome, with the castrum lucullianum. According to a medieval legend, Virgil built the castle. During the Middle Ages, in fact, the Latin poet was believed to have great magical powers. It is told that he would have placed an egg in a cage and hid this egg in a secret place in the castle; the destiny of the manor and the same city of Naples were joined together: as long as the egg was intact the castle and the city were preserved from any type of misfortune and destruction. The original core of the castle was part of the luxury villa of the roman noble Lucullus, in 476 Odoacer imprisoned Romulus Augustulus there, the last roman emperor of the West. For many centuries there were convents and after the arrival of the Normans a fortress was built which after much remodeling, took on its present shape.
The Castel Nuovo was wanted by King Charles of Anjou and enlarged by Alphonse of Aragon (see historical part). When the Angevin king decided to build the new palace, a convent of Franciscan monks stood on the chosen spot. However they obtained, as compensation, an area where to build a new convent and a new church: thus was Santa Maria La Nova founded. Within the castle we find the Palatine chapel (1307) which had frescoes by Giotto, unfortunately today there is no trace of the works of the great artist. Alphonse I of Aragon had the castle restored by the Aragons architect Guglielmo Sagrera, which gave the Castel Nuovo the appearance it has today, with the five towers. The Triumphal arch, between the Guard tower and the Middle one, in remembrance of the conquest of the city by Alphonse I, is one of the best works of the Neapolitan Renaissance, together with Porta Capuana, the latter due to the mastery of the architect Giuliano da Majano.
William I wanted Castle Capuano and finished in 1154, it housed the courthouses from 1550 to 1995.
The Sant’Elmo castle stands on the Vomero hill and was built in 1329 by Robert of Anjou. Previously, however in its place there was a guard tower named Belforte.

The Kings’ palaces.

The Naples royal palace (see historical part) was built in 1600, during the viceroy reign of count Lamos don Ferrante Ruiz de Castro y Andrada, on the designs of Domenico Fontana. It was built with the intention to house King Phillip III of Spain during his visits to Naples; but this visit never occurred, and consequently the palace became the residence of the viceroy. Later, it was the residence of the Bourbon kings.
The facade of the royal palace holds cavities containing the statues of the kings founders of the dynasties reigning in Naples. Starting from the left we have Roger the Norman, Frederick II of Swabia, Charles I of Anjou, Alphonse of Aragon, Charles V, Charles of Bourbon, Joachim Murat and Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoia.
Charles III, who wanted the palace and the woods for his leisure during hunting, demanded the royal palace of Capodimonte.
Within the palace he wanted art collections of the Farnese collection preserved which he had inherited from his mother. Construction of the royal palace started in the beginning of 1738 and did not even stop in 1758, with the transporting inside of the precious collection. It continued through the reign of Ferdinand IV.

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