Browsing Category Napoli of the Past

San Martino Charterhouse and Museum – Gothic basement open to the public

By at February 10, 2015 | 11:52 am | 0 Comment


GothicbasementStarting from Saturday 24th January 2015 – every Saturday and Sunday at 11.30, with obligatory booking – the gothic basement of the San Martino Charterhouse and Museum will be open to the public.

The basement makes up the beautiful and impressive spaces of the foundations of the fourteenth-century Carthusian monastery, a building that began in May 1325 at the behest of Charles, Duke of Calabria, son of King Robert of Anjou.  An imposing and elegant work of engineering, with a succession of pillars and pointed vaults supporting the whole Carthusian structure, in the long corridors and in the open spaces, works in marble of the Section of sculptures and inscriptions are displayed – a collection that was formed through purchases, bequests, donations, disposals and deposits in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The exhibition includes about one hundred and fifty works in marble, distributed in the various rooms in chronological order (from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century) but also respecting the original contexts.  Among the sculptures in marble, the most important works of the XIV century, include: the sarcophagus of Beatrice del Balzo, obtained from the reuse of a Roman bath of the II-III century AD, the fragment of a female figure lying (perhaps Mary of Valois) from the workshop of the great sculptor-architect of Siena, Tino Camaino, the so-called Mother of Corradino (perhaps Mary of Burgundy, wife of Charles I of Anjou or more likely St. Catherine of Alexandria), and a pane in relief depicting Death and Franceschino di Brignale (1361), a unique allegorical votive built on the contrast between the sense of attachment to life and the inevitability of death.  Among the works of the fifteenth century, worth mentioning are the double tombstone, depicting a father and daughter, of the de Miro family (1413), created and designed still in the fourteenth century and, for the first half of the sixteenth century, the beautiful Madonna and Child from the Raphael culture.

The visit to the basement ends with a masterpiece by one of the main protagonists of European sculpture of the eighteenth century: the imposing and languid St. Francis of Assisi (1785-1788 approximately) by Giuseppe Sammartino and with a veiled Allegory (perhaps a Modesty ), probably carved by his student, Angelo Viva, evoking the famous sculptures of the Sansevero Chapel.  No less significant is the epigraphic collection, an archive of stone that testifies, with its inscriptions, facts of everyday urban life, the pages of history of the city through the centuries.

The basement is open every Saturday and Sunday at 11.30 with obligatory booking – e-mail (maximum 50 people).  In the case of bad weather, the visits won’t take place.

Entry is €6.00 and includes the whole Charterhouse and Museum.

For more information, click here.

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Unfired Clay Pots Found at Pompeii

By at November 7, 2014 | 12:13 pm | 0 Comment

The Special Superintendent for Archaeological Heritage of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae reported on 28 October 2014 that dozens of unfired clay pots have been found at Pompeii in the furnaces of the workshop of a potter in the area of the Necropolis of Porta Ercolano. They were discovered during  the course of recent research studies conducted by the Superintendency with the collaboration of the Centre Jean Bérard and of the École Française de Rome. A vast program of research, it was initiated over the last 10 years and most recently, has involved an area near the Necropolis of Porta Ercolano, immediately outside the city walls, with specific studies dedicated to the “Organisation, management and transformation of a suburban zone: amongst funeral space and commercial space”.

Boccalino a pareti sottili crudo rid
Photo courtesy of SSBA-PES-Pompeii

The objectives of this research are directed at documenting the artisan activities of the ceramicists of the period. The study of a furnace uncovered in 1838 is providing researchers clues as to the type of production and the start date of the activity, and helping them to  identify the various spaces and implements of the workshop (potter’s wheel, settling basins).

The discoveries, just a few meters from the furnace, were surprising. A level of lava from 79 A.D had confined and protected a dozen unfired pots – providing direct proof that the workshop was in full activity on that fateful day. There are thin-walled jugs, used for drinking or food containers, decorated with little incisions and engobed; the so-called “pignattini” described by the excavators of the 19th century in the excavation papers of the time.

ciotolina stracotta scoperta nella fornace grande
Photo courtesy of SSBA-PES-Pompeii

In the space adjacent to the furnace a work room for the turning of the pots with 4 pot lathes, jars containing the remains of clay, mud pots fallen from a shelf and a set of tools have been identified. Elements until now never documented and fundamental for the knowledge of working with ceramics and the techniques used by the people of the past in the “ars figulina” (of ceramic) during the 1st century A.D.

In a second workshop another two furnaces, also used for the production of thin-walled ceramics were found. One of smaller dimensions, of which remain, above all, the lower levels of the combustion room and where among the ashes, some fragments of pottery were discovered. The other, and so the third in the area, seems to be slightly older and also here they baked jugs and bowls with thin walls.

stanza di lavoro del vasaio con diversi fasi attestate
Photo courtesy of SSBA-PES-Pompeii

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Villa of Poppea – Confirmation of the Villa Overlooking the Sea

By at October 30, 2014 | 10:42 am | 0 Comment

Porticato Villa di Poppea

The Special Superintendent for Archaeological Heritage of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae reported on 29 October 2014 that studies have confirmed that the Villa of Poppea in Oplontis did in fact, overlook the sea. According to a SSBA press release:

It has long been presumed that the Villa of Poppea in Oplontis had spectacular views of the sea, with panoramic living rooms and terraces that spread across other levels under that of the main hall, already brought to light. Recent stratigraphic excavations conducted by the Superintendency in the area of the former Foglia Manzillo Windmill, to the south of the villa of Poppea and the Conte di Sarno Canal have confirmed this. The excavations were preceded by a phase of geo-archaeological type research, which made it possible to identify the areas to be subjected to stratigraphic surveys in order to better understand the development of the villa which at this point looked out on a high cliff overhanging the sea.

Porticato Villa di Poppea
Photo courtesy of SSBA-PES-Pompeii

In this first phase of the investigation, remains of terraces, and their respective retaining walls, a porch with columns found in the process of collapse and the first traces of mosaic floors and wall paintings came to light. Ongoing investigations are aimed at defining the architectural development of this side of the complex and to investigate the existence of a direct link between the villa and the sea, the presence of the tunnel visible in the southwest corner of the peristyle servile, apparently directed towards the sea to the south, until now hinted at.

Terrazzamenti della villa con affaccio sul mare
Photo courtesy of SSBA-PES-Pompeii

The villa of “Poppea”, grandiose in size, with the quality of the frescoes and sculptures in marble attributed to Poppea Sabina, the second wife of the Emperor Nero, presents the almost entirely excavated eastern part, while the west has not been fully brought to light, due to the presence of the modern road and a military building, the old Royal Arms Factory. The ongoing excavations are therefore an important part in helping to define more fully the structure of the villa and the surrounding area.

Affreschi Villa di poppea
Photo courtesy of SSBA-PES-Pompeii



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Changes in entry to state run museums and monuments

By at June 26, 2014 | 11:18 am | 0 Comment


The 19th June, the Minister for ‘beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo’, Dario Franceschini, announced that as of 1st July 2014, the ticket system for state run museums and monuments in Italy will change.  The changes will be as below:

  • ALL over 25s will have to pay for entry to state run museums and monuments, INCLUDING over 65 year olds.
  • The first Sunday of every month, entry to state run museums and monuments will be FREE – ‘Domenica al museo’ (‘Sunday at the museum’).
  • Two nights a year, ‘Una notte al museo’ (‘A night at the museum’) will mean night time openings and entry for €1.
  • Every Friday, the major attractions (Pompeii, the Coliseum, the Uffizi etc.) will be open for an extra 2 hours, until 22:00.

Tickets will still be free for under 18s and there will be discounts for 19 – 24 year olds.

For the full details, in Italian, click here.


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Unite the Two Bays: Landmark Agreements to be signed between Napoli and San Francisco During Mayor de Magistris Visit to the Bay Area

By at October 25, 2013 | 8:25 am | 0 Comment


Unite the Two Bays, an innovative project, fostering cultural, technological, and economic exchanges announces:


Naples (Italy) and San Francisco step up cooperation on human rights, technology and science.

Agreements to be signed at the Italian Consulate on Oct. 25, 11:00, in the presence of Naples’ Mayor de Magistris, Senator Leno, Assemblyman Ammiano and SF HRC leaders

(San Francisco, CA) Agreements to create new cooperation programs between Neapolitan and San Franciscan organizations in the field of technology and science will be signed at the Italian General Consulate at 11.00 on Friday Oct. 25, in the presence of Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris. Californian and SF City human-rights leaders will also attend to announce joint activites in the field of human rights and equal opportunities, which include negotiations for a pact between the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and the Naples Department of Equal Opportunities. The meeting will be convened a few hours before the joint performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem by SF Opera and Naples Teatro San Carlo at the War Memorial Opera House, the flagship event of the Year of Italian Culture in the US.

  • SF Human-Rights Commissioner Michael Sweet, SF HRC Director Theresa Sparks and Mayor Luigi de Magistris will announce their plan to negotiate a framework agreement for for the promotion of human rights between San Francisco and Naples. California Senator Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano will share their commitment to promote cooperation with Naples and Italy on the promotion and protection of human rights.
  • the Mind the Bridge Foundation, Campania Felix and Skillpoint Association will sign an Agreement to promote innovative entrepreneurship in Naples by financing fellowships to young Neapolitan entrepreneurs to study at the Mind the Bridge Startup School in San Francisco.
  • University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the University “Federico II” of Naples (UNINA) will sign an Agreement to organize biennial workshops alternatively in San Francisco and Naples, exchange of faculty, researchers and mutual staff development opportunities.

Open to community leaders and donors to the various programs outlined above, the meeting will provide an opportunity to local and international media to meet Mayor de Magistris and learn more of his plan to “Unite the Two Bays”. “Naples and San Francisco take the opportunity of the historical joint performance of Verdi’s Requiem, to bring the two bays closer together on business, technology and equal opportunities” said Mayor de Magistris. “Our two cities have a strong affinity, and not just because of their proximity to the sea and their maritime history, but also in light of their strong civil rights culture.” “We look forward to working with the City of Naples in order to fight discrimination and strengthen human rights,” said Theresa Sparks, Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

Where: Italian Consulate General in San Francisco, 2590 Webster St.


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The Four Days of Naples – September 27- 30, 1943 (Le Quattro Giornate di Napoli)

By at September 27, 2013 | 8:38 am | 4 Comments

Quattro Giornate

By Ann Pizzorusso

Quattro Giornate

By September 1, 1943,  Napoli had suffered 105 bombings resulting in over 25,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded and 100,000 apartments destroyed–further, Vesuvius had erupted and incomparable cultural and artistic patrimony had been obliterated. What was left of the city was decimated—smoldering ruins, no water, no food and a populace composed of women, children, the wounded and the elderly—the more able bodied had either fled or were fighting.

Quattro Giornate

On September 8, 1943 the Italians switched sides (Cassibile Armistice) leaving the Germans in an untenable position—having to change from allies to invaders in one day.  Almost immediately they turned from stern occupiers to defeated warriors. By September 9 they had already received their orders, Napoli was to be reduced “to cinders and mud” so that the arriving Allied forces could not use the port city as a strategic base.

Quattro Giornate

The random violence against the Neapolitans in the ensuing days and the chaos and uncertainty of the power structure was met with fear and desperation. So much so, that the Italian military generals, Riccardo Pentimalli and Ettore Del Tetto, who were responsible for protecting Napoli, abandoned it, fleeing in civilian clothing (they were later sentenced to 20 years in prison). The city, left unprotected, was now the target of the retreating military determined to follow orders and destroy it.

On September 12 the carabinieri fought successfully to save the vital telegraph building. In other clashes, the people of Napoli defended their city against the systematic destruction and looting. Each day, tensions were rising, with some of the most beloved and precious treasures of the city destroyed by fire–the University of Naples and the National Historic Archives. These acts of brutality struck home with a population battered, but still proud of their patrimony.

The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred on September 22, when a decree was issued that all males between 18-33 were to present themselves—to be deported and used for forced labor. Men were rounded up and brought to the stadium in the Vomero.  Meanwhile, people living within 300 meters of the coastline were ordered to evacuate within 20 hours– 35,000 families were now filling the streets wandering into exile while plans for blowing up the port were being finalized.

Quattro Giornate

Anthropologists have proved that spontaneous actions by people who have never had contact with each other can occur. So it comes as no surprise that on the evening of September 27, 1943 the people of Napoli, comprised mainly of women, children, the elderly and the wounded, would rise up in a spontaneous act of defiance to rid themselves of their captors.  There had been no meetings or action plans, but the air was charged with rebellion and the Neapolitans grabbed the moment. Clashes sprang up randomly around the city. Everyone from young to old participated.

Quattro Giornate

Children dove into the Gulf of Napoli to retrieve guns which had been dumped there, caches of weapons were distributed and knives, broom handles, toilets and furniture were tossed from balconies to block roads and deter the enemy. Napoli, having narrow and labyrinthine streets, was more easily defensible against large, unwieldy tanks. The underground cavern network also made it easy to get from one place to another, leading to successful surprise attacks.

Quattro Giornate

And so, it was this rag-tag population of war weary civilians which succeeded in defeating the best armored tank division in the war  in just four days; thus presenting a free city to the Allies who came to “liberate” it on October 1, 1943.

Quattro Giornate

The story of this triumph, for which the city was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor, was immortalized in the movie Le Quattro Giornate di Napoli (The Four Days of Naples) by director Nanni Loy. The film was nominated for two academy awards and none of the actors wanted their names cited in the ending credits as a way of honoring those who sacrificed so much for this city. The film is a masterpiece, a testament to the human spirit, a message that no matter how bad things get, there is hope and there is redemption. Wherever you live in the world, see this film– it will change your life.

September 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of this triumph and it is being commemorated around the city. President Napoletano is visiting to participate in honoring the city’s heroes, some of whom are still alive today, having fought as children.

Quattro Giornate

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Saint Restituta

By at September 26, 2013 | 2:28 pm | 0 Comment

Santa Restituta

Il Duomo is one of the primary destinations for any Naples visitor. The patron saint of the city, San Gennaro, is buried here and his blood is kept in an ampoule in a side niche. But, if you are in search of an odious woman, Il Duomo also pays tribute to Saint Restituta.

Not much is known about her life, except that she was born in North Africa near Carthage and was killed during Emperor Diocletian‘s Christian persecutions. Although some believe that San Gaudioso brought her remains to Naples, the colorful legends surrounding Restituta put her in the odious category.

Santa Restituta DuomoIn 304, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, a large number of Christians continued to gather in the city of Abitina to celebrate the Eucharist. Fifty of them, including Restituta, were caught, arrested, and dragged in chains to Carthage. There, they were sentenced to death due to her rebellion against paganism.

Legend has it that Saint Restituta was tortured and then placed in a blazing boat, but her body was left unharmed by the fire. Her boat landed on the shores of Ischia where a Christian woman named Lucina walked along the beach and found the incorrupt body of Restituta, who was now dead. Still today the Festival of Restituta is celebrated on the island of Ischia every May 16th to 18th and a church in her name also exists there.

At the Duomo an opulent nave is dedicated to the saint. Tucked away beyond it, the Duomo itself was built above the remnants of a paleo-Christian basilica from the 500’s A.D. This older basilica was dedicated to Santa Restituta. Today, you pay an extra fee to get into this one-room vestige where a bulbous dome sparkles with Byzantine tiles and a fresco of Saint Restituta remains intact against the wall.

A stereotype of women in Naples seems to be that they are expected to be mothers who raise children, remain mostly inside the home, and stay obedient to their husbands. But the large number of female images within the Catholic Churches throughout the city point to another aspect of women’s roles in Neapolitan history. In fact, Naples has over fifty official patron saints, at least twelve of whom are women. Saint Restituta presents a marvelous example of an African woman who stood up for her beliefs and made a strong political statement for her time. Consequently, she was brutally killed, only to be admired centuries later for her courage.

Places To See: Visit the Duomo in downtown Naples. You also can take a ferry from either Pozzuoli, the downtown Naples port of Molo Beverello or the Calata Porta di Massa port to the island of Ischia.

Related Posts

A Stroll Through History at Naples Duomo
Naples Festival of San Gennaro
Saturday Stroll – The Classic Tour of Centro Storico (Part 1)


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The Bourbon Dynasty

By at May 2, 2013 | 12:19 pm | 1 Comments


The opulent Bourbon dynasty ruled Naples from 1734 to 1861, not only bringing political stability and the civic ideals of the Enlightenment, but turning what had become a dilapidated city after two centuries of Spanish rule into a modernized metropolis.

In 1734, King Charles III of Spain from the house of Bourbon took over rule from the Austrians and was crowned King Charles VII of Naples. His first stop was to pay homage to the remains of San Gennaro, the patron saint of the city, whose blood is said to have liquefied immediately.

The Bourbon Dynasty, thereafter, initiated Enlightenment ideals. Herculaneum and Pompeii were discovered during King Charles VII’s rule and a flurry of archeological digs were commissioned, including the Grotta di Seiano. Well-known artists and writers also visited the city during this era, including Goethe, who was quoted as saying: “See Naples and die.”

The most stunning mark King Charles VII left on the city was his building projects, which still impress visitors. The Teatro San Carlo turned Naples into an epicenter of musical genius.

During the Bourbon era, Luigi Vanvitelli, who worked in the baroque style was one of the most celebrated architects in Naples. Before he left Rome, he worked on the construction of the Trevi Fountain and stabilized the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. King Charles VII called Vanvitelli to Naples, where the architect spent most of his life constructing the Royal Palace of Caserta. The palace marked the pinnacle of architect Luigi Vanvitelli’s career and emulated Versailles, especially with its opulent gardens.

King Charles VII had visions of grandeur, but he also wanted to wipe out poverty throughout the Kingdom. To that end, he commissioned Ferdinando Fuga in 1751 to build a structure that became known as the Albergo dei Poveri (House of the Poor). Work continued until 1829. Unfortunately, the mammoth building was used only for a short time and now, in the last few decades, has been under continuous renovation.


This was also a time when both mysticism and science gained prominence, as seen through the artwork commissioned by alchemist, scientist, and nobleman Raimondo Di Sangro in the Cappella Sansevero. Giuseppe Sanmartino sculpted the Veiled Christ in this chapel, considered one of the modern day “wonders of the world.”

In 1759, King Charles abdicated abruptly and left eight-year-old Ferdinand in charge. King Ferdinand IV of Naples had one of the longest reigns in European history. He was loved for his Neapolitan dialect and known for setting up a small stand each evening in the market to give away his hunted game or catch of the day. He also established the lottery and a silk factory (or, some maintain, his wife did). Ultimately, the project failed, but San Leucio still exists and continues to produce exquisite silk hangings for royal palaces. A community of silk weavers was established, described in 1798 as the Real Colonia dei Setaioli (the “Silk Weavers’ Royal Colony”). It should have become “Ferdinandopoli,” but the project collapsed upon the French invasion.

King Ferdinand also had Luigi’s son, Carlo Vanvitelli, design Casina Vanvitelliana, a hunting lodge in the Phlegraean Fields. Originally built as a resting place after his hunting and fishing, it was accessible by boat only, but now has a bridge going over the water.

The Parthenopean Republic in 1799 brought the Bourbon reign to an abrupt halt, but the Republic failed within a year and Napoleon’s French troops entered the city. A brother-in-law of Napoleon’s, Joseph Murat, took over. During his fifteen years of rule – before Napoleon’s defeat and Murat’s own execution by firing squad – he commissioned the Piazza del Plebiscito adjacent to the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) in downtown Naples.

Although work on the Palazzo Reale was first begun in 1600, the palace was only finished in 1843 after King Ferdinand re-took power. Inside, you can see an enfilade of Royal Apartments as well as the Teatrino di Corto built in 1768 for Maria Carolina on the occasion of her marriage to Ferdinand.

King Ferdinand returned to the throne in 1815 and he ruled until his death in 1859. Two years later, the Kingdom of Naples came to an end and the city unified with the rest of Italy.

Recommended Books

In the Shadow of Vesuvius

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San Giovanni a Carbonara: An Ancient Beauty

By at March 5, 2013 | 11:31 am | 0 Comment


by Antonella Bianco

A little known wonder. The name of this church refers to the fact that in this place, Via Carbonara, until the end of the Middle Ages, they burned the garbage of Naples, letting the water from the hills to the north (Sanità-Capodimonte) drag the sediments to the sea. The Church of San Giovanni a Carbonara was built on land donated by the noble Gualtiero Galeota to the Augustinian Friars, who began to build the church in 1343. Completed in the early 15th century by King Ladislao D’Angiò, he transformed it into the Pantheon of the Angevins.

San Giovanni a Carbonara

The church is reached by an elliptical double staircase dating to 1707, the brainchild of Ferdinando Sanfelice, a great architect who transformed the stairs into a dramatic architectural element.

San Giovanni a Carbonara

Inside, we find a single nave, latin cross church with side chapels that preserves its original gothic structure, especially in the sanctuary. In the apse, stands the tomb of Ladislao, the King of Naples, which features loggias, niches, sculptures, and allegorical figures such as the four virtues at the base. The monument is adorned by statues of Ladislao and his sister Giovanna II. Eighteen meters high, it is topped by a king on horseback wielding a sword, something that is rarely seen in a church.

San Giovanni a Carbonara  San Giovanni a Carabonara

The side wall of the altar houses the Crucifixion by Vasari and behind the apse and the tomb of the King, is the splendid octagonal chapel Caracciolo del Sole, with frescoes depicting the stories of the Virgin and scenes of life as a hermit.

San Giovanni a Carbonara  San Giovanni a Carbonara

Also in this chapel is a Tuscan style tiled floor in many lovely shades of blue.

San Giovanni Carbonara

On the side of the chancel is the chapel Caracciolo di Vico, done in pure Renaissance style. A circular chapel, it is full of arches, columns, niches, sarcophagi and statues of the leaders of the family Caracciolo.

San Giovanni a Carbonara

Opposite the entrance to the church is the altar of Miroballo, started in the 16th century by Jacopo della Pila and completed by Tommaso Malavito. It cointains an impressive group of statues and is decorated with scenes of San Nicola’s life, the Virgin with Child by Michelangelo Naccherino and the statues of San Agostino and San Giovanni Battista.

San Giovanni a Carbonara

To the left of the entrance, the Somma Chapel was erected between 1557 and 1566. Designed by D’Auria and Caccavello, the lower part of the altar is the work of D’Auria, while Caccavello did the tomb of Scipione di Somma located in front of the entrance to the chapel.

San Giovanni a Carbonara

San Giovanni a Carbonara is so rich, special, and ancient, and of the hundreds of churches in Naples, even if its facade is a bit of a detractor, it is the queen of refined beauty.

Visit San Giovanni a Carbonara


‘Writing is travel without the nuisance of luggage’

A journalist and sociologist of communication, Antonella Bianco was born in Naples in 1984. At the age of six, she won an international literary prize for children, and she started to cultivate her passion for writing. Among her many professional experiences in journalism over the past decades, she worked for the national newspaper Il Resto del Carlino. She also worked for the television program Salotto in periferia, a political discussion program with studio guests. She is currently collaborating with the website Napolivillage, and also proof reads texts and collections.

A lover and practitioner of swimming and archery, she especially likes sport journalism, writing about: water polo, basket and several other minor sports. Contact Antonella at

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Written In Stone – A Journey into the Hellenistic Necropolis of Neapolis

By at September 13, 2012 | 2:31 pm | 0 Comment


I’m reading the recently released Capri: The Island Revisited at the moment. It is the revival of a book originally entitled Capri that was written by an American, one John Clay MacKowen in 1884. It was publisher John Churchill’s chance encounter with the book in the library in Capri that brought about its resurrection, which I’ll write more about that at later date. For now, let’s just say that the very first chapter of MacKowen’s original text, Chapter 1 – Geological, reminded me of a chance encounter with a similar subject I had earlier this summer.

Through the caves and holes formed by the action of the sea alone… Nature has written the history of Capri’s emergence from the sea…

Like resident expert Ann Pizzorusso does in her Earthscape Naples Series, it was MacKowen’s ability to read Capri’s geological history in the island’s natural formations that captured my attention. Much in the same way that the human story is written into the subsoil, though to some degree, the evidence of that may be more difficult to find, read and interpret. A millenia of geological, environmental, and man-made changes have chipped away at it, built over it, and in some cases washed away all traces of it. But if you know where to look, know what you are looking for, or as fate may have it, happen upon it after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shakes up the city, you might just discover one monumental chapter etched into the subsoil.

And in the case of my recent visit to the Hellenistic Necropolis of Naples, I found that history was not just etched into the subsoil. It was literally carved into the stone.

Now if you’ve been to the Colosseum or the Forum in Rome, or even to Napoli Sotterenea or the archaeological excavations under San Lorenzo Maggiore, you might want to readjust your expectations. Uncut, uncensored, and not quite ready for prime time public consumption, this is one site that requires keen powers of observation, elaboration and the ability to learn to read the stones like an archaeologist. But for those willing to venture here, your journey will be well rewarded.

A work in progress, this site will have you crouching on your knees, your hands searching for a toe hold on walls carved some 2400 years ago. And it will leave you with the sensation that you’ve crawled down Alice’s rabbit hole into the bowels of ancient history and into a place so intimate, so sacred, that only the most callous observers will escape unscathed.

Vestibule of the Ipogeo dei Togati

Found less than 15 meters below a non-descript palazzo on a tiny alley in Naples Rione Sanità district, it was uncovered during a structural analysis after the 1980 earthquake. Just a stone’s throw from the childhood home of Naples prince of laughter, Totò, these funerary tombs are just a small part of the Hellenistic Necropolis of Neapolis. A humble excavation to be sure, it nevertheless provides a monumental window into Naples Grecian past.

Ipogeo dei Togati

Descending into the basement of the palazzo, we enter into the Ipogeo dei Togati where we are immediately confronted with the bottom portion of a high-relief sculpture. The legs and feet of two draped figures thought to represent a funeral scene. From the Italian adjective togato, meaning gowned or robed, it is the draping on this sculpture that gives the hypogeum its (modern) name.

Carved into Naples tuff rock, this sculpture is just a glimpse of the magnificent tombs the Greeks constructed to house the remains of the city’s aristocratic families. Built into Capodimonte Hill along the north axis leading from Porta San Gennaro, these tombs were of high quality architectural and artistic merit, executed in a style reminiscent of their homeland.

The Ipogeo dei Togati and the nearby excavation, Ipogeo dei Melograni, which requires descent down an unlit staircase with only the aid of a flashlight are but a small part of  the Hellenistic Necropolis of Neapolis that were discovered just 30 years ago. But discovery is just one part of the equation.

Ipogeo dei Melograni

It is only through men and women of passion that these discoveries are elucidated, propagated and passed on to future generations.

Men and women like John Clay MacKowen who chronicled his 20 years of research in his book Capri, John Churchill who happened upon it, dusted off the moth balls and revived it, Ann Pizzorusso who tirelessly studies Naples geology and brings her findings to us via the Napoli Unplugged pages, and one Carlo Leggieri who has made it his life’s mission to be the steward of one of Naples least known, yet most instructive archaeological treasures.

To protect, conserve, restore and promote this monumental chapter in Naples history, it is only through his cultural association Celanapoli, that we, the few who know about it, get the opportunity to read the tea leaves, interpret the stories written in the stones and pass on our knowledge to all those who are willing to listen.

Visit the Hellenistic Necropolis of Neapolis


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