May of the Monuments is in full swing, so we decided to head down around Centro Storico to take a peek into another Roman Thermal Complex and Domus and visit a few of Naples’ many churches along the way. Oh yeah, and we also had to shop for dinner.
Our Saturday stroll started on the 140 bus that took us from our apartment in Posillipo to the top of Borgo Santa Lucia, the point on Via Santa Lucia nearest the port and Piazza Plebiscito.
Hopping off the bus, we headed toward the piazza and as we got closer to it, we couldn’t help but notice all the police activity. A swarm of policemen in full regalia, dozens of police cars and buses… even a helicopter was sitting in the piazza. Not to worry. As we found out later, the Polizia di Stato were celebrating their 158th anniversary and were showing off their equipment, forensic science capabilities and doing hands on displays for passers-by and school kids. Some great jazz was playing over the loudspeakers providing a fitting and enjoyable soundtrack to our slow walk across this enormous piazza.
We grabbed the R2 bus outside Galleria Umberto, which surprisingly wasn’t packed on a Saturday morning, hopped off at Via Duomo, and began the trek up the hill towards Via dei Tribunali. We stopped for a couple of graffe (sugar doughnuts) and some fresh squeezed orange juice (spremuta) at a little cafe and got out of the sprinkling rain. Once the rain stopped, we continued strolling up the hill. Along the way, we noticed an art show in a chapel, San Severino al Pendino, and stopped in to see some excellent work by some local artists. The Signore who was watching over the exhibit didn’t know if we could buy any, but let me tell you, there was a piece by Raffaele Magie that was excellent and would have found its way onto my living room wall if he did know.
Before we knew it we were turning onto Via dei Tribunali. Dodging cars and motos and the now pouring rain we made our way along this narrow cobblestone alley, the main decumanus of ancient Naples. Our first stop took us to Pio Monte della Misericordia, a charitable institution that was founded in 1601 by a group of young Noblemen, to see Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy.
Our next stop, the Roman Thermal Complex under the Bank of Naples on Via dei Tribunali, very near to Castle Caupano. This excavation was being presented by Gruppo Archeologico Napoletano, the same organization that presented the Archaeological Thermal Bath Complex at Via Terracina that we visited last Saturday. As luck would have it, Antonio Cammarota, the English speaking guide who showed us around last week greeted us with great big smile. We had a wonderful tour with Antonio, and without getting into the specifics, let me just say that it was surprising to see again another example of the archeological treasures that Napoli hides under her surfaces. See the translation of Gruppo Archeologico Napoletano’s document The Urban Thermal Complexes of Ancient Naples for all the details about the complex.
After spending an hour or so with Antonio (thanks for the little sandwiches and tea!), we were on our way to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata Maggiore. On our way there (see how easily distracted we are), we found a store called Lomax next to Castle Capuano that sold food products from South America, Africa, Poland, Romania and Russia. We wandered around the store without a clue for 20 minutes or so just checking out all the neat food and spices that they had to sell.
Entering the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata Maggiore, we were immediately met by three young girls who wanted to guide us through the complex. Many of Naples local schools have “adopted” monuments during May of the Monuments, and these three eager raggazze were ready to show us everything. We passed on the church tour but met them later to see the Ruota, the Wheel of the Esposti. The Church is absolutely gorgeous! The altar reaches to the heavens, the Cupola even higher, and a feeling of peace falls over you the minute you sit down. Dating to the 14th century, the church was completely redesigned by among others Luigi and Carlo Vanvitelli in the 1750s. An interesting blend of Baroque and classical elements it has a single nave with three chapels on each side. The most striking feature of the church was how bright and airy it was, it was almost as if it had been done in a thousand shades of white.
Founded as a charitable institution in the 14th century, the church has always served as an orphanage, taking in babies abandoned by poor families and mothers who had secretly conceived them. Up until the 19th century, babies were anonymously left with the church through a “drop box” if you will, a wooden revolving wheel into which the child was placed from the street outside the church and the wheel turned inward to the church where the child would be recieved by the nuns. The child was immediately washed and baptized in the same room, and before being entrusted to a nursing mother, a leaden medal showing a registration number on one side and the image of the Virgin on the other was put around their neck. Everything the nuns knew about the child, including the clothing they were wearing was recorded in a book in case the parents wanted to reclaim them later. The abandoned babies were known as Madonna’s Sons, Children of Nunziata, and many took on the surname Esposito, which comes the verb esporre and the past participle esposti, meaning to be exposed, put out, or displayed. The wheel system was abolished in 1862 throughout Italy because it was also being used to abandon teenagers. Cramped into the wheel’s tiny space, many suffered permanent malformations.
Leaving here, we were off to Porta Nolana Market (like I said, we had to get dinner). This market is considered the best fish market in Naples. The fish and shellfish you find here are fresh and cheap. Making our way through the crowds, we picked up some pesce spada (swordfish), vongole (clams) and cozze (mussels). Taking our bounty, we were off to catch the bus home.