A HISTORICAL LOOK INTO NAPLES

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Piazza-del-Plebiscito

 

A HISTORICAL LOOK INTO NAPLES

 

The main city square or piazza of the city is the Piazza del Plebiscito. Its construction was begun by the Bonapartist king Joachim Murat and finished by the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV. The piazza bounded on the east by the Royal Palace and on the west by the church of San Francesco di Paolo, with the colonnades extending on both sides. Nearby is the Teatro di San Carlo, which is the oldest opera house in Italy. Directly across from San Carlo is Galleria Umberto, a shopping centre and social hub.

Naples is well known for its historic castles: the ancient Castel Nuovo, also known as Maschio Angioino, is one of the city’s foremost landmarks; it was built during the time of Charles I, the first king of Naples. Castel Nuovo has seen many notable historical events: for example, in 1294, Pope Celestine V resigned as pope in a hall of the castle, and following this Pope Boniface VIII was elected pope by the cardinal collegium, before moving to Rome. The castle which Nuovo replaced in importance was the Norman-founded Castel dell’Ovo (“Egg Castle”), which was built on the tiny islet of Megarides, where the original Cumaean colonists had founded the city.

Another Neapolitan castle of note is Sant Elmo, which was completed in 1329 and is built in the shape of a star. During the uprising of Masaniello in 1647, the Spanish took refuge in Sant’Elmo to escape the revolutionaries. The Vigliena Fort, which was built in 1702, was destroyed in 1799 during the royalist war against the Parthenopean Republic, and is now abandoned and in ruin. The Carmine Castle, built in 1392 and highly modified in the 16th century by the Spanish, was demolished in 1906 to make room for the Via Marina, although two of the castle’s towers remain as a monument.

Naples is widely known for its wealth of historical museums. The Naples National Archaeological Museum is one of the city’s main museums, with one of the most extensive collections of artifacts of the Roman Empire in the world. It also houses many of the antiques unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as some artifacts from the Greek and Renaissance periods.

Previously a Bourbon palace, now a museum and art gallery, the Museo di Capodimonte is another museum of note. The gallery features paintings from the 13th to the 18th centuries, including major works by Simone Martini, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, El Greco, Jusepe de Ribera and Luca Giordano. The royal apartments are furnished with antique 18th-century furniture and a collection of porcelain and majolica from the various royal residences: the famous Capodimonte Porcelain Factory once stood just adjacent to the palace.

In front of the Royal Palace of Napes stands the Galleria Umberto I, which contains the Coral Jewellery Museum. Occupying a 19th-century palazzo renovated by the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna regina (MADRE) features an enfilade procession of permanent installations by artists such as Francescio Clemente, Richard Serra and Rebecca Horn. The 16th-century palace of Roccella hosts the Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, which contains the civic collections of art belonging to the City of Naples, and features temporary exhibits of art and culture. Palazzo Como, which dates from the 15th century, hosts the Museo Filangieri of plastic arts, created in 1883 by Gaetano Filangieri.

Naples is the seat of the Archdiocese of Naples, and Catholicism is highly important to the populace; there are hundreds of churches in the city. The Cathedral of Naples is the city’s premier place of worship; each year on the 19th of September, it hosts the longstanding Miracle of Saint Januarius, the city’s patron saint. During the miracle, which thousands of Neapolitans flock to witness, the dried blood of Januarius is said to turn to liquid when brought close to holy relics said to be of his body.

Aside from the Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples has two other major public squares: the Piazza Dante and the Piazza dei Martiri. The latter originally had only a memorial to religious martyrs, but in 1866, after the Italian unification four lions were added, representing the four rebellions against the Bourbons. The San Gennaro dei Poveri is a Renaissance-era hospital for the poor, erected by the Spanish in 1667. It was the forerunner of a much more ambitious project, the Bourbon Hospice for the Poor started by Charles III. This was for the destitute and ill of the city; it also provided a self-sufficient community where the poor would live and work. Though a notable landmark, it is no longer a functioning hospital.

Underneath Naples lies a series of caves and structures created by centuries of mining, and the city rests atop a major geothermal zone. There are also a number of ancient Greco-Roman reservoirs dug out from the soft tufo stone on which, and from which, much of the city is built. Approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles) of the many kilometers of tunnels under the city can be visited from the Napoli Sotteranea, situated in the historic centre of the city in Via dei Tribunali. There are also large catacombs in and around the city, and other landmarks such as the Piscina Mirabilis, the main cistern serving the Bay of Naples during Roman times. This system of tunnels and cisterns underlies most of the city and lies approximately 30 metres (98 ft) below ground level. During World War II, these tunnels were used as air-raid shelters, and there are inscriptions in the walls depicting the suffering endured by the refugees of that era.

Of the various public parks in Naples, the most prominent are the Villa Comunale, which was built by the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV in the 1780s; and the Bosco di Capodimonte, the city’s largest verdant space. Another important park is the Parco Virgiliano, which looks towards the tiny volcanic islet of Nisida; beyond Nisida lie Procida and Ischia. Parco Virgiliano was named after Virgil, the classical Roman poet who is thought to be entombed nearby. Naples is noted for its numerous stately villas, such as the Neoclassical Villa Floridiana, built in 1816.

In 1995, the historic centre of Naples was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a United Nations programme which aims to catalogue and conserve sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of mankind. The UNESCO evaluation committee described Naples’ centre as being “of exceptional value”, and went on to say that Naples’ setting on the Bay of Naples “gives it an outstanding universal value which has had a profound influence”.

The city is situated on the Gulf of Naples, on the western coast of Southern Italy; it rises from sea level to an elevation of 450 meters (1,480 ft). The small rivers which formerly crossed the center of the city have since been covered over by construction. It lies between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields). The islands of Procida, Capri and Ischia can all be reached from Naples by hydrofoils and ferries. Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are situated south of the city, while the Roman ruins of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae, which were destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, are also visible nearby. The port towns of Pozzouli and Baia, which were part of the Roman naval facility of Port Julius, lie to the north of the city.

Naples has a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The mild climate and fertility of the Gulf of Naples made the region famous during Roman times, when emperors such as Claudius and Tiberius holidayed near the city as of 2012, the population of the commune di Napoli totals around 960,000. Naples’ wider metropolitan area, sometimes known as Greater Naples, has a population of approximately 4.4 million. The demographic profile for the Neapolitan province in general is relatively young: 19% are under the age of 14, while 13% are over 65, compared to the national average of 14% and 19%, respectively. Naples has a higher percentage of females (52.5%) than males (47.5%). Naples currently has a higher birth rate than other parts of Italy, with 0.46 births per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to the Italian average of 9.45 births.

Naples is noted for its numerous higher education institutes and research centres. Naples hosts what is thought to be the oldest state university in the world, in the form of the University of Naples Federico II, which was founded by Frederick II in 1224. The university is among the most prominent in Italy, with around 100,000 students and over 3,000 professors in 2007. It is host to the Botanical Garden of Naples, which was opened in 1807 by Giuseppe Bonaparte, using plans drawn up under the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV. The garden’s 15 hectares feature around 25,000 samples of vegetation, representing over 10,000 plant species. Another notable centre of education is the Instituto Universitario Orientale, which specialises in Eastern culture, and was founded by Jesuit missionary Matteo Ripa in 1732, after he returned from the court of Kangxi, the Emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty of China.   The San Pietro a Maiella music conservatory is the city’s foremost institution of musical education; the earliest Neapolitan music conservatories were founded in the 16th century under the Spanish.

The Academia du Belle Arti di Napoli located on the Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli is the city’s foremost art school and one of the oldest in Italy. Naples hosts also the oldest marine zoological study station in the world, created in 1872 by German scientist Anton Dohrn, and the world’s oldest permanent volcano observatory, the Vesuvius Observatory, founded in 1841. The Observatory lies on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, near the city of Ercolano, and is now a permanent specialized institute of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics.

Each of the 8,101 commune in Italy is today represented locally by a city council headed by an elected mayor, known as a sindaco and informally called the first citizen (primo cittadino). This system or one very similar to it, has been in place since the invasion of Italy by Napoleonic forces in 1808. When the Kingdom of the Two Sicillies was restored, the system was kept in place with members of the nobility filling mayoral roles. By the end of the 19th century, party politics had begun to emerge; during the fascist era, each commune was represented by a podestà. Since World War II, the political landscape of Naples has been neither strongly right-wing nor left wing – both Christian democrats and democratic socialists have governed the city at different times, with roughly equal frequency. Currently, the mayor of Naples is Luigi de Mgisris of the IDV party; de Magistris has held the position since the 2011 elections.

Naples is Italy’s fourth-largest economy after Milan, Rome and Turin, and is the world’s 103rd largest urban economy by purchasing power. Naples is a major cargo terminal, and the port of Naples is one of the Mediterranean’s largest and busiest. The city has experienced significant economic growth since World War II, but joblessness remains a major problem, and the city is characterized by high levels of political corruption and organized crime.

Naples is a major national and international tourist destination, being one of Italy and Europe’s top tourist cities. Tourists began visiting Naples in the 18th century, during the Grand Tour. In terms of international arrivals, Naples was the 166th-most-visited city in the world in 2008, with 381,000 visitors (a 1.6% decrease from the previous year), coming after Lille, but overtaking York, Stuttgart, Belgrade and Dallas.

Naples has an extensive public transport network, including trams, buses, funiculars and trolley buses. Three public elevators are in operation in the city – one within the bridge of Chiaia, one in via Acton and one near the Sanità Bridge. The city furthermore operates the Naples Metro, an underground rapid transit railway system which integrates both surface railway lines and the city’s metro stations, many of which are noted for their decorative architecture and pubic art. Suburban rail services are provided by Trenitalia, Circumvesuviana, Ferrovia Cumana and Metronapoli.   The city’s main railway station is Napoli Centrale, which is located in Piazza Garibaldi; other significant stations include the Napoli Campi Flegrei and Napoli Mergellina. Naples’ streets are famously narrow (it was the first city in the world to set up a pedestrian one-way street), so the general public commonly use compact hatchback cars and scooters for personal transit. Since 2007, Naples has been connected to Rome by a high-speed railway run by Treno Alta Velocita, with trains running at almost 300 km/h (186 mph), reducing the journey time to under an hour.

The port of Naples runs several public ferry, hydrofoil and SWATH catamaran services, linking numerous locations in both the Neapolitan Provence, including Capri, Ischia and Sorrento as well as the Salernitan province, including Salerno, Positano and Amalfi. Services are also available to destinations further afield, such as Sicily, Sardinia, Ponza and the Aeolian Islands. The port serves over 6 million local passengers annually,] plus a further 1 million international cruise liner passengers. A regional hydrofoil transport service, the “Metropolitana del Mare”, runs annually from July to September, maintained by a consortium of shipowners and local administrations.

Kathy Kiefer

 

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