Castel Nuovo (also known as the Maschio Angioino) towers over the port in downtown Naples. Charles I of Anjou ordered its construction, which began in 1279. He called it the “New Castle” to distinguish the palace from the older Castel Capuano and Castel dell’Ovo. Throughout the centuries, the castle underwent many renovations. Today it has a trapezoidal plan made up of tuff stone walls with five cylindrical towers.
To understand the history of Naples is to know that after the fall of the Roman empire, the region didn’t have a national identity, but rather was owned by many foreign monarchs, including the Normans, the Spanish, the Austrian Habsburgs, and the Bourbon French. The two most notable influences on Naples’ structure and architecture today continue to be Spanish and Bourbon.
Spanish rule, beginning at the time of the Italian Renaissance, spanned almost three hundred years and Castel Nuovo remains a strong reminder of this period. In 1422 King Alfonso I moved his capital from Barcelona to Naples and renamed this part of his region “The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.” While he retained Spanish customs, traditions, and language, Alfonso also supported the arts, the philosophical movement of humanism, and launched numerous building projects within Naples. The nobility also at this time rediscovered the ancient city center and built palaces within the Quartieri Spagnolo (Spanish Quarter or Spaccanapoli) of the city. The narrow streets with high-rise palazzo along Via S. Biagio Dei Librai and south in the Centro Storico still look as they did during this time. Alfonso also made renovations to the Castel Nuovo and took up residence here.
Wandering into the castle, you first enter the grand courtyard. Going up the stairs, the Baron’s Hall touts a dome vaulted ceiling and noble seating. The room is so called because in 1486 the barons plotted against King Ferdinand I of Aragon, but were arrested in this space instead, after being invited by the king to celebrate his grand daughter’s marriage. The hall is still used for civic meetings.
Ancient ruins have also been found underneath the castle and you can walk through the Armory Hall where the floor is made of glass. Beneath your feet, you can view rubble that might have been the swimming pool of a Roman villa.
There’s also a bronze door in the upstairs rooms of the Museo Civico, which still has the cannon ball embedded in it. This is the original 15th century door of the castle, which was taken as war booty by the French and then later returned.
And finally, search for the mythical trap door where Queen Joanna II dropped her lovers to be eaten by “sea monsters,” possibly crocodiles. Queen Joanna I also lived inside along with Robert the Wise. Petrarch was also here.