Making a city more livable for its residents, more accessible for its tourists is no easy task. Harder still in an ancient city like Naples. Developing modern infrastructures that accommodate contemporary needs while respecting the historic fabric of the city is a balancing act. Much more expensive than new development, it requires a great deal of respect for the past and an innovative vision for the future.

Throughout Naples we find many excellent examples of this. All four of the city’s medieval castles are in contemporary use housing everything from art museums to city offices and providing spectacular backdrops for jazz concerts, theater productions, wine tastings, and more. Ancient single family palazzi have been subdivided into apartments and condominiums, historic villas transformed into house museums, and tiny single room bassi have been converted into shops, hair salons, and wine bars.

But what does one do with a huge cavernous structure burrowed into the hill of Naples earliest settlement?

Transform it into a modern parking garage at the edge of one of the city’s most cosmopolitan districts, Chiaia.

A short walk to the district’s shopping streets and wine bars, Parcheggio Morelli is also centrally located to the sites around Piazza del Plebiscito, Piazza Vittoria and Villa Comunale, and Castel dell’Ovo, Borgo Marinari and Naples Seafront, Lungomare.

A thoroughly modern structure, it was sculpted into the bowels of Grotta del Chiatamone. An ancient cave burrowed into Monte Echia, Grotta del Chiatamone recalls some of the most defining periods in Naples history. The Greco-Roman cult of Mitra, the 17th century Carmignano Aqueduct, an escape route built for a Bourbon king, a WWII air raid shelter, and a mid 20th century impound lot.

One of the largest cavities in the Neapolitan underground, it reaches 40 meters in height in some places. Taking full advantage of this, the garage’s architects designed a seven level structure with four levels above ground and three below connected by a circular ramp.

It’s 20,000 square meters of space provides long term and short term parking options that include spaces for motos, 230 hourly parking spaces that can serve approximately 2000 cars a day, and 250 private boxes.

Construction of Parcheggio Morelli started in April 2009 after the National Group Quick, No Problem Parking acquired the structure. Working around the clock, a Neapolitan team completed construction in less than two years and the garage was inaugurated in March 2011.

Open 24 hours a day, Parcheggio Morelli is equipped with a state of the art video survelliance system with some 120 cameras. Other services include clean and well maintained restrooms, bicycle rentals, an Alcohol Test Point, an electronic information point, and electronic ticket machines that accept payment by cash, credit card and bancomat.

 
Restrooms at Parcheggio Morelli
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Bicycle Rental at Parcheggio Morelli
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At the center of the structure, a glass elevator overlooks a central gathering area known as Agorà Morelli.

The most stunning part of the garage, Agorà Morelli was clearly designed with respect for this ancient cave. A 500 square meter multifunctional space, it is available to rent for private functions such as exhibits, workshops, conventions, musical events, and photo and TV shoots.

Beyond the Agorà Morelli is the entrance to the Bourbon Tunnel that takes visitors some 500 meters further into this cavern. Carefully restored and maintained by the Associazione Culturale Borbonica Sotteranea, it was reopened to the public in October 2010. With the opening of Parcheggio Morelli, the Bourbon tunnel now offers visitors two entry points, one on Monte di Dio and its new entrance at Parcheggio Morelli.

The 2011 reciepeint of the European Parking Award for Innovation, Parcheggio Morelli is an attraction in its own right. But it was with a large measure of skepticism and a tiny glimmer of hope that I made my first visi. What I found astonished me. One year and several visits later, I’m still amazed.