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© 2004 Jeff Matthews & napoli.com

Around Naples in English

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: Jeff Matthews

Krupp, Alfred; Capri (2)

Friedrich "Fritz" Alfred Krupp (1854-1902)—the "Cannon King" and bearer of a name tenaciously associated with German industry and militarism—was taken with Capri and is, in a sense, still present on the island in the trail that bears his name, the Via Krupp, a spectacular footpath leading down the sheer south side of the island to the sea. 

Krupp made his first visit to the island in 1898, on his doctor's orders. This otherwise practical man became the incurable romantic on the island, palling around with local fishermen and sitting in small taverns listening to Neapolitan songs. He also indulged his amateur passion for marine biology by assisting the great German naturalist (and founder of the Naples Aquarium), Anton Dohrn, who was doing research in the Bay of Naples. 

Other than marine biology, 'Fritz' devoted much of his time on Capri to a grotto that had been the abode of a 16th century religious recluse, one Fra Felice. Krupp turned the cave into a "pleasure palace," replete with golden keys for the gates, keys that he gave to his close friends on the island, young fishermen, waiters, etc.  He referred to his grotto as the "holy place of a secret fraternity,"  thus doing little to allay rumours about the nature of the pleasure being pursued by himself and his young male friends. Krupp built a path to the cave and then offered to expand it  to lead from the certosa (a 15th-century monastery)  down to the Marina Piccola, the small harbor. The project was accepted by the island authorities, and it was this path that became the Via Krupp. It was finished by the spring of 1902. A few months later, apparently driven to it by the scandals surrounding his alleged perversions on Capri, Krupp, ruler of the giant German industrial dynasty, this richest man in Germany, died by his own hand. 

(Fritz left the world's most impressive munitions factory to Gustav von Bohlen-Halbach,  his daughter Bertha's husband. A few years later, Gustav  built the largest artillery piece in history  to lob shells into Paris from 50 miles away in WWI. That weapon was  nicknamed "Big Bertha," which tells me more than I really want to know about life in the Bohlen-Halbach  household!) 

As for the Via Krupp, it  is currently closed. It is not a recent problem. It was a difficult path to build, and there have always been problems with falling rock. Nevertheless, for over sixty years, it was  kept clear by the practical  expedient of a man on the end of a pulley going down the side of the cliff and  knocking down dangerous bits of the cliff face before they fell.  Authorities, however, decided that it was no longer worth the expense to keep the trail free, and they closed it in 1978. 

It is now awaiting a decision on just how to make it safe. There have been a  number of plans. One called for  covering the rock-face with the same type of metal netting that one sees in similar terrain all over the world (and on Capri, itself, on the cliff-face as you wind up the road to Anacapri). Another involved the application of that 'natural-looking' concrete spray (the kind that generally draws comments like, "Say, that  almost looks  real, doesn't it?"). Finally, some wanted to build a sheltered passageway, a tunnel, along at least parts of the trail, to protect hikers from falling rock. 

It is really a two-fold problem. One involves the safety of the trail itself. That is hard, but not that hard. They did it for decades. Two is somewhat more intricate. It is the perception that the Via Krupp is  somewhat of a metaphor of not only the entire island, but  of similar places that depend on a tourist economy throughout the world. Paul Fussel's term 'pseudo-place' comes to mind, a description of  those formerly small towns and villages that today have the sole function of luring in tourists and selling them things. Many are worried that Capri has becomeor is becomingjust such a 'pseudo-place', a process that will only be accelerated by applying  concrete or building sheltered passageways along the island's most famous path. 

It's a hard compromise to find. Certainly, one should not fall for the myth that before the Isle of Capri was invaded by hordes of tourists, it was  some idyllic gem set in the sea, a paradise for inhabitants and visitors alike. Our impression of Capri as the "Isle of Pleasure" has been formed largely by foreigners who had enough money to enjoy the island on their own terms, and who, it might be noted, were greatly resented by the local population, farmers and fishermen whose harsh lot improved only with the beginning of tourism on Capri at the turn of the century. On the other hand, the Via Krupp has always been a strange combination of nature and the hand of man, somewhat like Japanese Bonsai. Maybe a bit a falling rock isn't such a bad idea. 

Aquarium, villa comunale (2)

Elia Mannetta, the engineer from Baltimore who built the new aquarium in Genoa, will be in Naples in a week or so to help decide if the city of Naples needs a new aquarium and, if so, where to put it. There are three candidates: (1) in San Giovanni a Teduccio, a suburb of Naples just to the east along the coast; (2) Bagnoli, where a new aquarium would fit in nicely with the pedagogical ambitions of the Science City exposition and fair grounds as well as with a general rejuvenation of the area after decades of decay; (3) in the Villa Comunale, where a new aquarium would take the place of the older one, the Anton Dohrn Aquarium, in place since the 1870s. Choice number 2, Bagnoli, is probably the strongest candidate. 

Very few Neapolitans would like to see the Villa Comunale dug up and closed again (as it was a few years ago for restoration) or see the current aquarium demolished. It fits in with the general old-fashioned atmosphere of the park—classical statues, fountains, gazebo/bandstands, etc.—though that, too, has changed a bit since the recent overhaul. Not only did they chop down a lot of trees ("Diseased," some said…"My brother–in–law needs firewood," said others) but they replaced a number of 19th–century metal scrolls and curlicues along the fence with more modern bulletoid metalwork that has already midwifed an entire repertoire of suppository jokes. 

(For a sepate entry on the Villa Comunale.) 

Mercato, Piazza (2); Carmine (church and square)

I am looking for a word—"psychotactility"?— to describe that sensation you get when you lay your hands on something ancient—part of a Greek wall, say, in Naples, and close your eyes and suddenly feel that you are in touch with the ancient Greeks. ("Ulysses? Is that you? Can you hear me?" It's ok to talk during these episodes. The people near you will just think you're using a hands–free cell–phone.) That sensation doesn't happen to me very often. Well, all right—it has never happened; I just thought it would be nice to have a word for it. 

One place it really doesn't happen is in the middle of  a squalid parking lot that used to be one of the most important sites in the city. I tried again today, and all I "felt" were the cars. ("Mr. Ford? Mr. Daimler? Are you there? Curse you!") I am referring to Piazza Mercato—"Market Square," the setting for a number of episodes of extreme interest in the history of Medieval Europe. 

The square is at  the easternmost point of the old medieval wall along the coast (see this entry) where the Carmine Castle used to stand. The historic old church, Santa Maria del Carmine (also called Carmine Maggiore) is just off the square. It is still in use and the75–meter belfry is still visible from a distance even amidst newer and taller buildings. 

For such a noteworthy church, its pedigree is obscure. A document from 1589, the Cronistoria del Convento, by one Padre Moscarella, says that the church was founded in the 12th century by Carmelite monks driven from the Holy Land during the Crusades, presumably arriving in the Bay of Naples aboard Amalfitan ships. Other sources place the original refugees from Mount Carmel as early as the eighth century. Whatever the case, the fact remains that by 1268, the date of the execution in Piazza Mercato of Conradin, the last Hohenstaufen pretender to the throne of the Kingdom of Naples, at the hands of Charles I of Anjou, the church and adjacent monastery were well established. The square, itself, had become the largest market place in the city, having replaced in importance the ancient market in the heart of the old city, itself. 

With the execution of Conradin, the square also became the place for official executions and would remain so for many centuries. It was the site of the grisly Bourbon executions of Republican revolutionaries in 1799. It was for centuries a general gathering place, watering hole and focal point for celebration as well as rebellion. In 1647 the square was where trouble broke out between rebels and royalist troops during Masaniello's Revolt and a last-stand rallying point for Bourbon forces resisting Garibaldi's move on Naples in 1860. 

All of that history was ploughed under during the great Risanamento—Urban Renewal—of Naples around 1900. The new port road was put in, the old castle demolished, part of the monastery, itself, torn down, etc. Whatever else the merits of the Risanamento were, it shifted the center of the city well away from the port and to the west. The new straight road through town, Corso Umberto, divided the city in half. The port half—Piazza Mercato—decayed terribly over the decades. It was also subjected to aerial bombardment in WWII. The area is just now coming back to life—unfortunately with the worst imaginable mishmash of architecture. 

The Church of the Carmine continues to thrive and serve the needs of the faithful in the area. The old monastic premises adjacent to the church now serve as a shelter for the needy and homeless. The church is home to two remarkable religious relics: One, the painting of the "Brown Madonna," said to have been brought by the original Carmelites; two, a figure of the Crucifixion in which the crown of thorns is missing. Legend says that the crown fell as Christ's head moved when the building was struck by a cannon ball in 1439. 

Yet, as I said at the top of this entry, there is very little of all that still hanging around in the air, if you will. The square is now a totally anonymous and grimy parking lot. 

Cars (1)

There really is no place to park a car in Naples anymore. Double-parking is so common that traffic cops look the other way. They have a difficult time drawing a firm line in the sand on this issue since most of the beaches, too, are strewn with illegally parked cars. You may get a ticket if you triple-park and swing open the driver-side door into passing traffic, thereby causing some poor kid on a motor–bike to slam into you and go flying over the door. ("But he wasn't wearing a helmet," you can always argue. And he probably wasn't.) Sometimes cars are towed, but it seems to be random. There isn't as much bad feeling over towed cars as one might think because if you come out of your house and find your car gone, you naturally think that it's been stolen. That's an ineluctable force of nature in Naples. No sense getting riled up over that. 

A gentleman put "a modest proposal" in the paper the other day. A decade ago, the city cleared out Piazza Plebiscito, the large square in front of the Royal Palace in Naples. It has been returned to its natural, wide–open, pristine state—spacious, clean, and eminently walk-aroundable. The gentleman points out that "wide open spaces" are all right for the Wild West and Asian steppes but we are human beings, not buffalo, and such an area is not natural in the least wide-open space in western Europe, Naples. 

Let the cars return, he argued. Bring those thousands of vehicles back from the parallel, quantum Naples that they are star–gated to every morning and let them park here in the real Piazza Plebiscito where they belong. Certainly, nothing could be worse than the presence of various works of "art" that take up space in the square a lot of the time, from castles made of Coca–Cola cans to mountains of salt to this year's display of 100 bronze skulls. Why not—in keeping with "Art for the masses" ambitions of the city—put on a permanent display of parked cars as "mobile installation art"? Then, instead of slurping coffee and holding maps of the city upside-down, visitors to our fair city can put in some quality tourist time by admiring the kaleidoscopically changing colors—Matisse, eat your heart out!—of  the square as cars putt about looking for spaces, or by deconstructing the semiotics of the Hittite tridents, runes, alchemical emoticons and gypsy logoglyphs that serve as hood ornaments. 

Names of kings

Astute student of history that I am, I have figured out why monarchies have not been doing too well, lately. It has nothing to do with sweeping historical processes such as the Enlightenment or Hegelian Dialectics or the guillotine. Quite simply, kings don't have really good nick-names anymore—or 'bynames,' as they are properly termed. 

In the history of Naples, there is only monarch with a fine, regal by-name:  Alfonso the Magnanimous (1396-1458, photo), the one who wrested the Kingdom of Naples from the Angevins in 1442. Other than that, Neapolitan monarchs have been stuck with trifling nicknames. Ferdinand IV (later Ferdinand I) (1751-1825) had two: Re Nasone and Re Lazzarone. The first one means King Big Nose (Naso+ the augmentative suffix –one). The second requires some explanation: Lazarus is the patron saint of lepers, and, by extension, all miserable outcasts.  Neapolitan members of the "great unwashed peasant masses" were thus called "lazzaroni". In an age of rigid social stratification, it was not a derogatory term—it was a description. Ferdinand was a notorious simpleton and vulgarian, and he enjoyed hanging around with the common folk down at the port. He was popular, and both names were terms of endearment bestowed on him by the Neapolitan masses. He was, thus, the Great Unwashed Peasant King; it was an expression of solidarity with the people, and he took no offense at that term or the one about his nose. 

His grandson, Ferdinand II (1810-1859), was nicknamed "Bomba"—bomb—as a  result of his bombardment of Messina during the political unrest in 1848. And his son, the last King of Naples, Francis II was known as "Bombalino"—Little Bomb. All of these example were nicknames, not by–names—not Someone THE Something. 

There hasn't been Anyone the Great in a long, long time: Alexander, Alfred, Peter, Frederick, Katherine and, of course, Charles the Great (commonly known by the Frenchified version, "Charlemagne"). Now that was a name fit for royalty! I bet you could call them that, too. O, Great One!  Your Greatness! O, Generous Dispenser of Greatosity!  or maybe, simply, Oh, Great!  They couldn't possibly have minded. 

Or Leo the Wise and Charles the Noble. Those were names! "Yes, Your Wiseness"; "You Bet, O Noble One!" —and in the case of our Neapolitan, Alfonso,  "Count on it, Your Magnanimosity!"  Those old rulers knew that 21st–century history students would have attention spans roughly equal to the reign of Harvey the Short Lived, and would not be remember complex items like Vth or IIIrd or XXIst, so they tacked on little memory boosters. 

Charlemagne's grandfather wasn't taking any chances on not being remembered. He was called Charles Martel —Charles The Hammer! Imagine that! The Hammer! When they were choosing Dark Age kings in the eighth century, they went right around the group: 

"OK, which one of you guys wants to be king? Robert IV?…Got any experience, Bob? Junior League jousting coach, huh? Let's see …" 

Then suddenly from the gloom in the back of the tent comes that rich Dark Age baritone of command: 

"They call me 'The Hammer'!" 

Forget 'Will you open the envelope, please.' End of discussion, right there. I'm not so sure you could actually call him that, though. I mean, do you really want to pal around with someone called The Hammer? What happens if this guy has some Thor-like flashback and starts flailing about in a fit of Royal Peevishness? You get one tankard too many of the Good Grape into someone called The Hammer and you can put some serious dents in Ye Olde Royal Happie Hour, and that's the sooth. His son was Pepin the Short! O, Great One! —definitely. Your Wisehood!—yes. And maybe even, under specially contrived circumstances, O, Most Hammering One!  But, Hey, Shorty!—I don't know. 

A bit on either side of the year 1000 we have Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat, Charles the Simple and Charles the Pious. I recall that two of those terms refer to the same person; thus, one of them was either The Bald & Fat, The Fat & Pious, The Pious & Simple, The …let's see… carry the 2 … well, you can work out the rest. 

And what can you say about Louis the Child? If I am intercalating all the leap years in my Dark Age calendar correctly, this guy was an adult whom they called "The Child". Go figure. "Is'm widdle queenie's gweat big kingie-boo? Yes'm is!"  On that note, maybe we'd have to ask Mrs. Ethelred the Unready about the real story behind her husband's name. 

Pietrarsa (railway museum); Trains (2)

Unfortunately, one of the most interesting museums in Naples is still closed for extensive repairs.The Railway Museum of Pietrarsa is one of the most complete in the world. It is located on the premises of the former metal foundry of the Kingdom of Naples, a facility that produced most of the boilers for locomotives and steam-driven ships in the kingdom in the first half of the 19th century. 

The museum  contains original engines as well as scale models incorporated into a display of the history of trains in Italy. The displays include the Bayard, the first locomotive in Italy. It started its run from Naples to Portici on October 3, 1838. With the unification of Italy, the construction of steam boilers was taken over by industry in the North and Pietrarsa was relegated to the role of a repair facility. It served in that capacity until the 1970s when the facility was rendered obsolete by advances in diesel and electrical technology. It opened as a museum in 1989. 



Conservatory, Music (1); San Pietro a Maiella

I got a note from a woman in France the other day asking me if she could use my snapshot of the statue of Beethoven located on the premises of the Naples Music Conservatory. That gave me an excuse to wander down to that part of the city and have another look at the place. The conservatory is right near Piazza Bellini and a long street, via San Sebastiano, known simply as the "music street" because every shop on it sells musical instruments. It's always a pleasure to walk by the conservatory and listen to the sounds of students practicing. The statue of Beethoven, indeed, broods prominently in the courtyard of the conservatory. I had the opportunity to take another photograph for the young woman and to learn that the statue is the work of  the prominent Calabrian sculpture, Francesco Jerace. 

Popular Neapolitan etymology suggests that Naples is where the term conservatorio was first used to mean 'music school'.  Originally, however, a conservatorio was where they conserved young, unmarried women with children as well as orphans; thus, a 'conservatory' was a shelter or orphanage. There were so many orphans being trained in music in these church-run orphanages that the transfer of meaning came about rather naturally over time. 

These music conservatories in Naples go back to the mid-1500s when the Spanish rulers set up schools to train young singers on the premises of four monasteries in the city: Santa Maria di Lorento, Pietà dei Turchini, Sant'Onofrio a Capuana, and I Poveri di Gesù Cristo. They enjoyed a considerable reputation as  training grounds not only for young children to be trained in church music, but, eventually, as a 'feeder system' into the world of commercial music once that  opened up in the early 1600s. 

In 1806, with Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, Joseph, installed as the king of Naples in what would be a decade of French rule of the kingdom, monastic life in the kingdom was drastically reorganized and the four monastery music schools were consolidated into a single building, the Church of San Sebastiano.  In 1826 that  consolidated conservatory was moved to the present site, the ex-monastery, San Pietro a Maiella). The conservatory (still bearing the inscription 'Royal Academy of Music' over the entrance) is still an important music school in Italy. It houses an impressive library of manuscripts pertaining to the lives and musical production of composers who lived and worked in  Naples, among whom are A. Scarlatti, Pergolesi, Cimarosa, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti.  The historical museum has a display of rare antique musical instruments. 

The conservatory and adjacent church (photo, above) are both part of the old San Pietro a Maiella monastery complex, built at the end of the 13th century and dedicated to the monk Pietro da Morone, who became Pope Celestine V in 1294. Celestine subsequently became the only Pope to abdicate, an event that also took place in Naples, in the Maschio Angioino, the Angevin Fortress. At least in Dante's version of the afterlife, Celestine resides in Hell. The Divine Comedy places him just past the gates of Hell among the Opportunists --(in John Ciardi's translation)-- "...the nearly soulless whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise...[and in reference to Celestine]...I recognized the shadow of that soul who, in his cowardice, made the Grand Denial...".  (To play the Pope's advocate, I remind you  that Dante was really upset at the fact the Celestine, by quitting, left the door open to the subsequent Pope, Boniface VIII, corrupt and, in Dante's view, responsible for much of the evils that befell Dante's city of Florence.)

This interesting mosaic is found as part of the floor tiling within the church.

floor tile imageThe building is a square Gothic-style church; after a fire in 1407 it was restored and enlarged by the addition of two chapels and the relocation of the facade. The number of interesting art works within include a chapel by an anonymous artisan that tell the story of Saint Martin, and the numerous frescoes above the choir.  The marble altar is from 1645 and is by Cosimo Fanzago. The church was redone in Baroque style, as evidenced by the paintings of Mattia Preti inserted into the ceiling of the central nave. They depict the Story of the life of San Celestino and Santa Caterina of Alexandria and were done in 1657-59. The church is on a street of the same name near Port’Alba, within the bounds of the old Greek city. 

The life of the conservatory has always been bound up with that of another great musical establishment in the city of Naples, San Carlo Theater. (Click here to read about San Carlo.) 

Horse's head

I am always amazed to find something original in better condition than the copy. I thought that was why they made copies—because the originals were in such terrible danger of deteriorating. That is why I set out to find the building in Naples called, popularly, ‘the house of the horse’s head’. 

Technically, the name is Palazzo Santangelo (also known as Palazzo Diomede Carafa) named for the representative of the Aragonese court who erected this building in the middle of the 15th century. It incorporates part of an earlier structure from the 1200s. It is one of the most interesting Renaissance buildings in Naples, containing elements of Florentine and Catalan architecture. The rectangular stone facade, marble portals and wooden door are all original. Worn by time, but still visible, are twelve niches depicting members of the Carafa lineage. The ‘Santangelo’ name of the building goes back to the person who bought the building in 1813 and restored it, as well as making it a repository for works of fine art, many of which, unfortunately, have  gone missing over the years. It is on via San Biagio dei Librai, also known as "Spaccanapoli". It is the bottommost of the three parallel east-west streets that make up the historic center of Naples, those streets that are laid over the old Greek and Roman roads. The building is a block east of the large square named Piazza San Domenico Maggiore. (See #22 on the map of the historic center.) 

I had heard that there was a copy in the courtyard of a bronze horse’s head, a gift to Carafa from Lorenzo the Magnificent.  Much popular superstition has formed around the statue over the years: for example, merely bringing sick animals into the presence of the statue was said to work miraculous cures!  Naturally, the original statue would be lost, destroyed, ravaged by time or otherwise not at my disposal, so I had to find the copy. 

This "Hercules," a copy of the famous original in the
National Museum next door, is in the same train station.

In my heart of hearts, I think I was hoping to find peasants bringing their sick goats and sheep to be healed. Alas, the building was an absolute mess. It was in the agonizing process of being restored. There was scaffolding on every wall in the courtyard; bricks were strewn about; and everything was covered with fine powder blown off the piles of plaster and cement. General construction debris was everywhere. But the horse was there. The head was mounted on the back wall of the courtyard at about eye-level, but it was barely visible beneath a rickety framework of pipe-and-wood scaffolding; there was an overturned wheelbarrow in a pile of stucco nearby. The statue was covered in grime and had become totally non-descript. 

I expressed my disappointment to a gentleman standing nearby. I wondered when all the work would be done. Hard to say. Probably a long time. Why didn't I go see the original? The original? Sure. Up at the National Archaeological Museum. It's on display, you know. I didn't. 

Indeed. I found the real horse's head, but not exactly where the gentleman said it would be. The city—ever onward in its campaign to bring art to the people—has moved this original gift from Lorenzo the Magnificent next door  to the new Museum stop of the Metro line—a train station. Thus, as you trot down the stairs to get your train, you look up over the entrance and there it is, encased behind protective plastic. It is truly splendid and I shall return. I have a goat that is not feeling too well. 

Donn'Anna, Villa

There is much confusing, popular lore about this dreary building, located on Via Posillipo as you start up that road from the Mergellina boat harbor. It is called "Villa Donn'Anna" and if you ask residents of the area, everyone is quick to tell you some variation of the theme that this is where Queen Giovanna had sex orgies and murdered her lovers. No one seems to be certain whether the Queen in question is Giovanna (1326-1382), daughter of Charles, Duke of Calabria, or another Giovanna, sister of King Ladislao. The first one had her husband murdered and was accused of other foul deeds, as well.  She looks like a good candidate to be the evil queen, at least in the opinion of Italy's greatest historian/philosopher of the 20th century, Benedetto Croce

To make matters even more confusing, one Dragonetto Bonifacio is said to have built the villa in the early 1400s, but there were apparently two persons by that name at the same time in Naples! 

The building is on the site of the so-called "Rocks of the Siren" and, indeed, was originally called "La Villa Sirena". It changed hands a number of tims and finally was inherited in 1630 by the woman whose name it now bears, Anna Stigilano, who then married the Spanish viceroy of Naples. She had the building redone by the great architect, Cosimo Fanzago, in the 1640s and, since that time, the building has been called Villa Donn'Anna. 

San Bartolomeo

If you wander into the small maze of streets between via Medina and via Depretis just west of Piazza Municipio, you will find via San Bartolomeo. On this street is a tiny church —now closed— called Santa Maria della Graziella. The church is on the site of the original opera house of Naples and was opened as the San Bartolomeo Theater in  1621. It, thus, got in on the beginnings of opera, begun a few years earlier in Florence and turned into a full-blown commercial venture in Venice in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Early opera was even termed "musica Veneziana"—Venetian music—in the Italy of the day, and it was not long before productions of this delightful new music from the north were being performed in Naples. 

San Bartolomeo was destroyed by fire in 1681 but rebuilt at great expense almost immediately, so important was its cultural contribution to the life of the city. The theatre was the site where much of the great music of the Neapolitan Baroque at the turn of the eighteenth century was performed for the first time—music of Alessandro Scarlatti and Pergolesi, for example. By the early decades of the eighteenth century, however, the theater had decayed so badly that the new monarch from Spain, Charles III, decided that a new one should be built. When San Carlo was opened in 1737, the old San Bartolomeo was closed and rebuit as a church. The architect who turned the theater into a house of worship was Angelo Carasale, the same man who designed the new theater of San Carlo. 

Incoronata, church

The Church of the Incoronata is on via Medina just a few yards from Piazza Municipio. The church gives you a good idea of how the city has changed over the centuries. It is the oldest church in that part of Naples, stemming from the 14th century, and is, in fact, the only building from that century left standing so close to the main square. It is named in honor of the coronation of Queen Giovanna I, which event took place in 1352. There is some debate as to whether the church incorporated part of an earlier building, a Hall of Justice. In any event, beginning with the Angevins in that century, the street level adjacent to the church underwent a gradual building up, especially in the early 1500s, when extensive trench and moat building at nearby Maschio Angioino produced vast amounts of land fill that was then used to raise the street level. The modern road is well above the old street level and entrance to the church. To enter the church today, youhave to go down some steps. All other buildings on via Medina on both sides of the street are at the higher street level. 

To add insult to injury, the entire church became the basement for a building constructed over it in the 1800s. There are photographs of that hybrid piece of architecture that show the outlines of the original arches barely visible beneath the more modern façade. Restoration was started in the 1920s. The building no longer functions as a church, but is, rather, a historical monument. It was "adopted" recently by a local school and the school children participate in taking care of it. When the restoration of the building was complete a few years ago, indeed it was the school kids who ran the opening exhibit and contributed most of the photos, sketches, and accounts of the history of the church. 

Bourbons (5), royalty (3); Savoy (3)

After more than a half–century of all around bad feeling and, recently, much constitutional debate, members of the ex–royal family of Italy, deposed by popular referendum in 1946, are once again allowed to place foot on Italian soil—as private citizens, of course. 

On Saturday, Victor Emanuel of the House of Savoy (son of the last king of Italy), his wife Marina Doria, and their son Emanuel Filbert (photo) will visit Naples. They had announced their intention to donate a sound system and furnishings for a new auditorium to the public shelter for the homeless in Naples that bears the name of Victor Emanuel II, this Victor Emanuel's great-great-grandfather and the first king of united Italy. The city of Naples has refused the gift: "They're just private citizens like anyone else. There won't be anything official, no reception, nothing like that," said City Hall. 

(This, of course, begs the question of why a private citizen cannot donate a stereo and some chairs—indeed, whatever he wants—to a home for the needy.) It remains to be seen how that will play out. (I am betting the city caves in and takes the gift.) Privately, of course, they will be well received at the Savoy Club in Naples, no doubt by some of the very people (a bit older now) who voted for the monarchy and against the institution of a republic in 1946 (the monarchy carried the vote in Naples, 10-to-1). 

A small demonstration is planned by those nostalgic for the really ex-monarchy, the Bourbons, whose Kingdom of Naples was absorbed kicking and screaming into a united Italy in 1860. The neo-Bourbon Movement of Naples is apparently going to stand around and hold slightly rude placards. Says Gennaro de Crescenzo, head of the organization: "The Savoys meant the end of Naples as a capital and the beginning of its decline—the beginning of the so-called 'Question of the South' in Italy, the failure of our factories, the beginning of emigration from the south, the plundering of Neapolitan coffers, and the massacre of loyalists—who were defined as "bandits". 

Procida (1)

Modern-day travelers in the Bay of Naples can sail by and miss the Isle of Procida as easily as the Greeks did three-thousand years ago. Even from the vantage point across the bay on the Sorrentine coast or the heights of Capri, the isle of Procida rides so low in the water that in bad weather it is hard to spot. At best it looks like a smudged extension of the mainland. Approaching it dead on from the south, you may not even recognize it as separate from the neighboring island of Ischia. 

Procida has an equally low figurative profile: compared to the other islands in the bay, Ischia and Capri, the island is relatively unfrequented by tourists. And certainly, after the flood of English and German that accosts your ears on those other islands, you get the distinct and accurate impression that on Procida, Italian is the native language. 

Tourist brochures about Procida usually read something like this: 

Of the islands embracing the Gulf of Naples, Procida has best succeeded in preserving its original, genuine beauty, unpolluted nature and simplicity of life. This tiny isle, cradled in clear and shining waters, is a precious jewel case inbosoming natural sceneries of exquisite green shades, colors of bygone ages, iridescent views, and a wealth of marvelous sights of a primitive and wild grandeur. The natural harbors abound  with fishing boats, reminders of the ancient traditions cherished by the inhabitants…

And so on. Native Procidians are almost embarrassed by that kind of language. After all, they pride themselves on not being a tourist Mecca. They are mainly farmers and sailors. They work for a living and have many of the same problems as working people anywhere else. 

The most prominent physical feature of the island is the medieval fortress, the so-called “Terra murata,” set high above the sea on the eastern approach to the main  harbor. It has, over the years, gone from being a fortress to a penitentiary to what it is today, a monument open to the public. Besides the main harbor, there are two smaller harbors, Coricella, set right below the imposing ex-fortress, and Chiaiolella, a small natural harbor at the southern extreme of the island. Here is where you can believe the tourist brochures—these two tiny harbors are truly peaceful and picturesque. 

Also worth a visit is  the neighboring islet of Vivara; flanking Procida to the south-west and  connected to it by a bridge, this crescent-shaped remnant ridge of an ancient volcanic crater is now a nature preserve. It is also the site of recent archaeology that has uncovered fragments of Mycenaean pottery, left by Greeks who were there many centuries before the  "original" Greeks colonized the bay. 

(Also see this entry.) 

Murolo, Roberto; Neapolitan Song (3)

The large double–door entrance to via Cimarosa 25 in the Vomero section of Naples was half–closed this morning, as is customary when someone in the household passes away. And—as is customary—a small white card was affixed to the door. It was written by hand and read, succintly, "For the death of Roberto Murolo". He was 92. It was, perhaps, the only non–violent thing that could have happened in Naples yesterday to push today's visit to the city by the ex–royal family of Italy, the Savoys, out of the headlines. And it did. 

There are three main reasons why one–thousand miles of Italians—from the Alps to Sicily—know something about the culture and language of Naples. The first reason is the great playwright Eduardo de Filippo, on many a literary critic's "short list" of Those Who Should Have Got a Nobel Prize But Didn't." The second reason—on a more popular (and more vital) level—is Italy's greatest film comic, Antonio de Curtis, known simply as "Totò". The third reason is Roberto Murolo, the gentle and erudite chronicler of Neapolitan music and the best–known singer in the twentieth century of the "Neapolitan Song" 

If Murolo had simply been content to remain a guitarist and singer, he certainly would have done very well, but he was born to more than that. His father was the highly–regarded dialect poet Ernesto Murolo, part of the long tradition of dialect literature that included his own contemporary, Salvatore di Giacomo, and reached back through the 18th–century libretti of the Neapolitan Comic Opera to the 16th–century Pentamarone by Giambattista Basile, and beyond. Thus, Roberto Murolo was very aware of being part of that tradtion, and his great contribution to the music of Naples is a scholarly one. He dedicated years of his life to researching, collecting and documenting Neapolitan music and in 1963 published what amounted to a musical encyclopedia of the music of Naples, a 12 LP set containing songs from 1200 to 1962, all carefully documented and explained and all immaculately sung by Murolo, himself. He sang in the precise pronunciation of a literary language, quite different from the uneducated "street sound" that one often associates with the term "dialect". 

Murolo is not the reason that Neaplitan songs such as  'o sole mio and Funiculì–Funilulà are known abroad. That goes back to yet an earlier generation, the years at the turn of the century when so many Neapolitans emigrated and took their music with them. Interestingly, however, Murolo was part of the post–WW2 generation of Neapolitan singers who resisted the onslaught of American popular music and helped keep the traditional music of his native culture from becoming passé

Although he became less active with advanced age, Murolo never really retired. He took part in the 1993 version of the annual Festival of Italian Popular Music in San Remo with a song entitled "L'Italia è bella," a song against racism and xenophobia. And while "cross cultural" music is run of the mill today, Murolo was doing that as long ago as 1974, when he sought out and sang with the great Portughese performer of Fado, Amalia Rodriguez. Murolo was an inspiration to the "friendly rivals" of his own generation such as Sergio Bruni and to the younger generation of singers such as Massimo Ranieri and Pino Daniele, both of whom published tributes to Murolo in the paper this morning. As with the passing of Eduardo de Filippo in 1984 and Totò in 1967, there is a very real sense of loss in Naples today.