On the south side of Piazza San Gaetano is the Monumental Complex of San Lorenzo Maggiore. A 13th-century conventual complex owed to the Angevin dynasty, it was built on top of the macellum, the (Roman) city’s marketplace. It is one of only two self-guided underground tours in the Naples; here you can wander around without a guide (and without the crowds) to view crumbled archways and the remains of ancient shops. A stairway located in the complex’s cloister descends just seven metres below ground, landing on one of the narrow streets of ancient Neapolis. Here the centuries-old shopfronts of the macellum are as clearly recognisable as the structure’s characteristic diamond-shaped opus reticulatum and its successor, opus latericium. And, if you look closely, you’ll find a spattering of tuff stone blocks courtesy of the Greeks as well.
The church, is one of the earliest built by the Angevins. Charles I (1226 – 1285), the first monarch of the Angevins, replaced the ageing 6th century basilica dedicated to same saint with this French Gothic complex he commissioned for the Franciscans. The church retains a prominent place in Naples’ history: Charles of Calabria’s first wife, Katherine of Austria is buried here, her tomb the work of Tino di Camaino; Fiammetta stole Giovanni Boccaccio’s (1313 – 1375) heart in this church; Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374) stayed in the adjacent monastery; and for centuries, the complex served as a political meeting place.
Like its counterparts, San Lorenzo Maggiore was highly Baroquized” in the 16th and 17th centuries, so much so that the weight of the embellishments threatened the structural integrity of the building. Decades of renovations stripped away most of its ornamentation, returning San Lorenzo Maggiore to some version of its original gothic design. Two chapels were left in their Barouqe state however, the third chapel on the right – the Cacace Chapel and the Chapel of San Antonio in the transept, both the work of Cosimo Fanzago. Also in the transept, a precious section of the 6th century mosaic floor is visible under glass.