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© 2004 Jeff Matthews & napoli.com

Around Naples in English

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: Jeff Matthews


I have not spent much time in Gaeta, about 60 miles north of Naples. I recall that it has fine beaches and a picturesque waterfront. It is also an important military naval port. As the northernmost coastal city in the old Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples), Gaeta does have some interesting episodes connected with it. It is probably most familiar for the fact that it was the site of the last stand by the Bourbon army against the Italian forces of Victor Emanuel II. After leaving Naples, the last defenders of the Neapolitan Bourbon dynasty took refuge in the fortress of Gaeta (photo) and withstood a siege and withering bombardment that lasted from November 1860 to February 1861, at the end of which they surrendered, and the modern nation-state of Italy was born. (See, also, the entry on Maria Sophia of Bourbon.) 

But there is another episode, not too many years before that and also connected with the political movement to unify Italy. In the "What-If" game of history—always as delightful as it is irrelevant—the unification of northern and southern Italy into a single state perhaps did not have to unfold the way it did. What if King Ferdinand II of Naples had sent forces in 1848 to join the northern armies in the First War of Italian Unification, a campaign to liberate parts of northern Italy from Austria? That might have brought about an Italian confederation of sorts with no invasion of the south necessary at all a decade later. 

Actually, Ferdinand did, indeed, send an army to join the battle against Austria, but he recalled it. There are a number of reasons for that, foremost of which is that he knew that an Italian confederation would be setting up the eventual invasion of the Papal States, the large chunk of church land in central Italy that effectively stood in the way of unifying the peninsula. Ferdinand was not prepared to be part of that eventual invasion. Also, Pope Pius IX had refused to commit Papal forces and moral support to the campaign against the Catholic nation of Austria. (Obviously, the Pope also realized that a united Italy would sooner or later mean the end of the Papal States and the 1000-year-old "temporal power" of the Vatican.) Thus, Ferdinand withdrew the forces of Naples from the war, and the north went it alone in 1848 and took a beating. 

(Again in the What-If game, Ferdinand's son, Francis II, took the throne of Naples a decade later and refused a similar chance to form a coalition with King Victor Emanuel of Savoy, who proposed an Italian peninsula shared by two separate states, north and south, plus a smaller version of the Church State. That was the last chance to obviate Garibaldi's invasion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.) 

Part of the broad revolutionary conflicts that swept Italy—indeed, much of Europe—in 1848 was the proclamation of the Roman Republic. It was the result of a successful uprising, fomented by Mazzini's Young Italy movement, to overthrow the Pope (not as the head of the faith, but as the king of the Church State). The Republic lasted, officially, from February 9 to July 3, 1849 but Pope Pius IX had left Rome in November of the previous year to escape possible violence against his person. (Republican agitators had already murdered the Pope's Prime Minister). The Pope went to Gaeta, where he was under the protection of the king of Naples. From his refuge in Gaeta, Pius IX called on the Catholic nations of Europe to help restore him to his See and to restore the temporal power of the Church, which the Republicans had declared defunct in one of their first proclamations. 

That is precisely what happened. A broad coalition of Neapolitan, French, Austrian, and even Spanish troops (who landed at Gaeta) surrounded the Roman Republic, and not even the resourceful Garibaldi (involved in the defense of the city) could hold out against all that. The fighting was furious, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Pope returned to Rome in April of 1850 where he and his state would be protected by French troops until 1870 when Rome finally succumbed to the forces of the new Italy. 

The Church of San Francesco in Gaeta was built (on the site of an earlier monastery) by Ferdinand II to honor the brief presence of the Pope in Gaeta. As well, the San Martino museum in Naples has on display a painting by the Flemish artist, Frans Vervloet showing "The Pope Greeting the Multitudes in Gaeta". For a short time, then, I guess Gaeta was the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. 


Samnium, the Little Empire that Couldn't

From the 6th to 4th centuries b.c. Samnium spread from coast to coast in central Italy. This map is on the belfry in the main street of the city of Benevento, the ancient capital of Samnium. 

By the year 1000 b.c. the great Indo-European migrations had spread along a broad front all the way from northern India to the Mediterranean and Western Europe, leaving in place on the Italian peninsula dozens of related tribes: Apuli, Lucani, Umbri, Campani, Marsi, Volsci, Falisci, Hernici, and so forth. Some of them are still remembered in geographical names on the map of modern Italy, and one of them, in particular, stands out: the Latini, a portion of whom by two or three hundred years into the millennium had settled on the Tiber river. Much later, when these "Romans," as victors always do, wrote the history of their conquests, they hung condescending tags on many other peoples of the peninsula the Fat Etruscans, the Undemanding Umbrians, and so on. To at least one people, however, the Romans affixed a term that showed respect, even fear: belliger Samnis, the Warrior Samnites. [For a separate item on "The Ancient Peoples of Italy," click here.]

If you head into the rugged terrain east of Naples, to Benevento, you enter an area called Safinim by its Oscan-speaking inhabitants of 500 b.c. and Samnium by Latin-speaking neighbors a few hundred miles to the north. Today, you will notice something very interesting on the tower in the main street. On one side there is a map of the Duchy of Benevento, the Lombard state that lasted from the fall of the Roman Empire to the coming of the Norman Kingdom of Naples in the 11th century. On the other side of the tower is a map of pre-Roman Samnium. There is nothing, whatever, to tell us that the area was ever part of anything called The Roman Empire. This "oversight" is, perhaps, a holdover from enmity that led to long bloody wars and even genocide, before this tough race of mountain warriors, the Samnites, in their stand against Rome, eventually went the way of the Etruscans, Greeks, and Carthaginians. 

The Samnites were immigrants to the area, replacing the Opici (or Osci--Oscans), who, however, have given their name to the large family of languages spoken by many Indo-European inhabitants of Italy at the time, including the Samnites, the Sabines to the north of Rome, and the Campanians of this area. Oscan was related to Latin as, approximately, Spanish is to Italian, or English to German. The Samnites, themselves, had no written language until 425, when they penetrated western Campania and came in contact with the Greeks of Neapolis and subsequently adoptedand adaptedthe Greek alphabet. 

Setting aside the special cases of the earlier Etruscans and Greeks, 400 b.c. marks the beginning of various attempts by competing peoples in Italy to gain an upper hand. At that time, Samnium was already made up of a Samnite League of four peoples, the Caudini, Hirpini, Caraceni and Pentri, and their territory was bigger than any other contemporary state in Italy. Although these people were generally landlocked between the mountains in today's eastern Campania and the plains of Puglia on the other side of the peninsula, at the point of their maximum expansion they actually controlled coastlines on both sides. They were bounded by Lucania in the south and Latium in the north. The first official dealing between the Samnites and Romans that we know of was a treaty they signed in 354 b.c., most likely a pact in the face of what were still formidable threats from the Etruscans as well as the ferocious Celts, who had sacked Rome a few years earlier. 

By the middle of the 4th century the Romans were already enjoying some local success at consolidation. In 338 they had dissolved the Latin League, making other member peoples part of the Roman state in what had now become a Greater Latium of sorts. To the south, however, they were totally unable to play the sister peoples of Samnium off against one another. The Samnites were resistant to the outside world and content to hole up in the mountains, building their characteristic polygonal fortifications on the heights and living in a social system based on tribal communities. They hunted and herded, existingsubsistingon the sparse soil and by barter. As warriors, their army was organized into cohorts and legions, much like the Romans, and they also used cavalry. Some speculate that the Romans borrowed the idea of those gruesome gladiatorial fights to the death from the Samnites, who at the time of their first face-offs with Rome already had the reputation of being merciless fighters who took no prisoners. 

These were two stubborn peoples on a collision course. In retrospect, the Romans were more expansive (the irresistible force) and the Samnites more interested in digging in (the immovable object). Eleven years after the signing of the treaty, the first Samnite War broke out. It was over land in Campania. After two years of fighting it was a standoff, and the combatants agreed to renew their earlier pact. Rome, however, had gained northern Campania in the deal and become as big as Samnium. 

The real struggle for the future of the peninsula began in 327 when the Samnites took over Naples with the help of an internal Samnite faction. The treaty between Naples and Rome swiftly brought the future empire builders into the fray, and for six years the second war between Rome and Samnium see-sawed back and forth in a series of indecisive border raids. In 321 the Romans tried to break the stalemate by heading into the heart of Samnium towards its most important city, Malventum (later rechristened "Beneventum" by the Romans, changing the name of the town, thus, from "ill wind" to "good wind"). They marched straight into an ambush at the Caudine Forks near there. They were bottled up at both ends of a valley and picked to pieces by the Samnites on the slopes. The Romans surrendered and were disarmed and humiliated by being made to pass beneath an arch, or yoke, as a symbol of their defeat. It was one of the most devastating defeats in the annals of Roman military history, and 2,300 years later the memory of it is still fresh in the modern Italian expression, le forche Caudine, as in "that was his Caudine Forks"his downfall, his Waterloo, to use another appropriate military metaphor. The Samnites, however, despite their bloodthirsty reputation, let their Roman prisoners go in exchange for Rome abandoning its colonies on the border of Samnium. (The Samnites would later discover that it doesn't pay to be nice to sore losers.) 

The Romans spent the next five years signing treaties with southern Italian peoples, such as the Lucani, ensuring that in future conflicts Samnium would be surrounded. The Romans also rearmed, and hostilities in this Second Samnite War resumed in 316. Samnium thrust towards Rome, putting that city, itself, under threat of invasion. This was more or less the highwater mark of Samnium. Their attention was diverted, however, by Roman victories in the south and by a no-show on the battlefield by Samnium's potential allies from the north, the Etruscans. Peace broke out in 304. The Samnites returned to their mountain fortress, but they remained very powerful and unyielding foes. 

Round 3 began a few years later. The last great threat to potential Roman domination of the peninsula came at the battle of Sentinum, near modern Ancona, in 295. Again, the allies of Samnium were elsewhere when it countedyet the Samnites came close. It was a massive battle, in which a Samnite victory might have changed the history of Western civilization. "Coming close," however, counts in horseshoesnot at Marathon or Gettysburg. After 290, the Samnites were never again a match for the Romans, and that date traditionally marks the beginning of true Roman expansion.

What is commonly called the "Pyrrhic War" was also a fourth Samnite War. It lasted from 284 to 272 and entailed Pyrrhus of Epirus coming to Italy to protect the enclaves of Magna Grecia from the ambitious Romans. The Romans, themselves, viewed the affair as more than just another Samnite war because now other peoples on the peninsula were resisting the looming Roman hegemony. The Samnites sided with Pyrrhus, who, however, went home after paying a prohibitively high price for a victory at Beneventum. He has left us the expression "Pyrrhic victory," shorthand for, "With victories like this, who needs defeats?!" He also left the Samnites holding the bag. Their league was dismembered and they were made officially "allies of Rome," itself Roman shorthand for, "We don't trust you enough to make you Roman citizens, but you belong to us." The mountain warriors were now rapidly heading for the footnotes of history. 

When Hannibal invaded Italy, the Samnites were split among themselves on whether or not to help him help them get rid of the Romans. Indeed, the first defeat of Hannibal on Italian soil was actually inflicted by an army of Samnite soldiers in 217; yet, Samnium continued to be regarded by the Romans as hostile, and potential trouble. The Samnites later confirmed this by joining all the wrong sides in the Social War and the Civil War, the enormous civil disorders at the beginning of the first century b.c. As with Hannibal and Pyrrhus, the Samnites had again picked losers, and in doing so incurred the wrath of the winners, principal of whom was the Samnite-hating Roman general, Livius Cornelius Sulla. 

In the year 82 b.c. the history of the Samnites as a historically distinct people came to an end when Sulla decided on a "final solution". He felt that Rome would never know peace as long as a cohesive Samnite people existed. He led a campaign into the mountains of Samnium to root out and exterminate the Samnites wherever he found them. Then he defeated them at one last pitched battle and slaughtered the thousands of Samnite prisoners. The remaining inhabitants of Safinim were dispersed. 

As a historical curiosity, plays in the language of the Samnites, Oscan, were still put on in Rome as late as the first century a.d. Also, Oscan writers are said to have strongly influenced the great flair for satire in Latin literature. There are, today, even some apparent Oscan influences in modern Italian. There is a Samnite museum in Benevento and a formidable archaeological site (photos, above) at Pietrabbondante, still a remote town on the northern heights. But it isn't much, really, to remind us of a people who once gave the future Caesars a real run for their money, and of whom the Roman historian Livy respectfully wrote, "only death could conquer their resolution". 


Agriturismo is not what it used to be. Throughout Italy, that term refers to the small off-the-beaten-track farm partially converted to an inn, a place for guests to wander in, enjoy a home-cooked country meal, stay a night or two, and maybe even go out and look at the horses and goats. This combination of dude ranch and bed-and-breakfast remains most common in central Italy, but over the last 15 years in the idyllic setting of, say, the hills of the Sorrentine peninsula or in the Cilento region south of Salerno, the idea has taken hold—the small country road, the farmhouse, the orchards, the old wooden mill out in front for display with other antique farm tools handed down from the proprietor's father and his father before him (photo). Indeed, I have stayed in such places, myself. They really do exist. 

Or did. The carabiniere corps known as NAS (Nucleo Antisofisticazione) is in charge of quality control of products meant for human consumption. They are the ones that check the chemicals in food, the purity of drinking water, the hygienic conditions in slaughterhouses, etc. In places that take guests, NAS also checks the hygienic and safety conditions.  NAS has just issued a report on the state of agriturismo in Italy. The news is not good. Of the 617 establishments checked, 184 of them had violations, some of them serious enough to warrant punitive legal action. Violations were disproportionately high in southern Italy—Campania, Abruzzo, and Calabria—and included faulty sanitation, improper ratio of guests to available space, lack of safety measures, poor conservation of food and improper slaughtering of animals for meat. 

A number of establishments did not even seem to be agriturismo in the accepted sense of the term. They were little more than restaurants or hotels that had decided to cash in on our societal yearning for—and lemming-like summer rush to return to—the good old days. These places were by a main road, say, and just decided to hang their agriturismo shingle on that one tree out in the parking lot. I have not given up on the quest for the perfect, small family-farm with the authentic cheese, wine and bread, the one with the scythe from 1840 mounted over the fireplace. Nor should you give up, but if it has a blinking neon sign, alternating blue and yellow for "agri-" and "-turismo," keep driving. 

Bourbons (9)

Maria Sophia, the Last Queen of Naples
Victors write the history books and inevitably give short shrift to the losers. In this case, the victors—the unifiers of Italy in the years 1860-70—have described that process as an unstoppable fulfillment of Italian destiny. They certainly have not spent much time on one loser, Maria Sophia (1841-1925), the last queen of Naples, a woman whose life reads like one of those novels that young girls—maybe in 1900—used to read furtively in convent boarding schools late at night when the nuns thought everyone was asleep. 

By the age of 19, Maria Sophia had been a queen, lost her kingdom, rallied soldiers around her in the hopeless defence of a lost cause, and had had men —even her enemies—writing reams of romantic slush about her. She was "the angel of Gaeta" who would "wipe your brow if you were wounded or cradle you in her arms while you died". D'Annunzio called her the "stern little Bavarian eagle" and Marcel Proust spoke of the "soldier queen on the ramparts of Gaeta". She was intelligent, lovely, and headstrong; she could ride a horse and defend herself with a sword.  She was everything you could ask fora combination of Amazon and Angel of Mercy. 

Maria Sophia was from the royal Bavarian house of Wittelsbach and was the younger sister of the better-known Elizabeth ("Sissi") who married Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. In 1859 Maria Sophia married Francesco II of Bourbon, the son of Ferdinand II, King of Naples. Within the year, with the death of the king, her husband ascended to the throne and Maria Sophia gave up the frivolous court pursuits of a princess and took on the full-time responsibilities as the queen of a realm that was shortly to be overwhelmed by the forces of Garibaldi and Italian unity. 

To avoid bloodshed in the major city of Naples, the king and his army retreated to Gaeta (photo, left) to make what turned out to be a last stand. In late 1860 and early 1861, the forces of Victor Emanuel II  lay siege to the stronghold of Gaeta and eventually overcame the defenders. It was this brief episode that gained Maria Sophia the reputation that stayed with her for the rest of her life. She was tireless in her efforts to rally the defenders, giving them her own food, caring for the wounded, and daring the attackers to come within range of the fortress cannon. She refused the chivalrous offer from the attacking general that if she would but mark her residence with a flag, he would make sure not to fire upon it with artillery. Go ahead and shoot at me, she said; I will be where the men are. In one lighthearted episode—if anything at all can relieve the horrors of a four-month siege—she assembled the men on the seaside rampart, had them turn around, pull down their trousers and "moon" the attacker fleet. She was worshipped unto idolatry by her men. 

King Francis II, the last King of Naples
The defense was in vain. There are many accounts of the Bourbon defense of Gaeta, written at the time or shortly thereafter. Among the most interesting is Journal du siège de Gaëte by the Belgian journalist, Charles Garnier (published in Brussels in 1861). The author was in the besieged fortress town for the duration, his daily journal entries running from November 4, 1860 through February 14, 1861. His diary of the siege is an entirely sympathetic account of heroism in the face of certain defeat; it is grim in the details of constant bombardment, disease, and hunger, yet upbeat in the description of the optimism of the defenders, who were cheerful enough to dress up for carnevale and scurry about with artillery shells landing nearby. The account skimps on personal descriptions of King Francis and Queen Maria Sophia, "so as not to place vain ornaments at the foot of the pedestal for which the Bourbons of Naples are destined." Yet, the few details are kind, describing how the Queen placed her own food at the disposal of the wounded, and so forth. Garnier's last image of the Queen is after the surrender, as the French ship, Mouette, leaves Gaeta to carry the royal family into exile: "The queen remained by herself at the prow, leaning on the railing and contemplating the cliffs of Gaeta." When it was over, the Bourbon officers and men could choose to go home or even take leave and then return to be part of the new all–Italian army. 

Interestingly, the defense of Gaeta was not the last gasp of the Bourbons, militarily speaking. That honor goes to the fortress of Messina in Sicily and, in the northernmost part of the kingdom, the hill-top fortress of Civitella di Tronto near the Adriatic. They surrendered on March 15 and March 20, respectively, over a month after the King and Queen of Naples had left Gaeta.

Maria Sophia and her husband went into exile in Rome, the capital of what for 1,000 years had been the sizeable Vatican States--a large chunk of central Italy. By 1860, however, the "Patrimony of Saint Peter," as it was also called, had been reduced to the city of Rome, itself, as the armies of Victor Emanuel II came down from the north to join up with Garibaldi, the conqueror of the south.

Throughout the decade of the 1860s, Rome was a hotbed of what was then called "legitimism"—those who resisted the waves of revolution that shook Europe in the mid–1800s, revolution that was eventually responsible for the death of absolutism and the rise of constitutional government throughout the continent. Stopping revolution and returning to an older order had happened before in Europe. After all, Napoleon had been overthrown in 1814 and the subsequent Congress of Vienna had, indeed, restored "legitimacy," returning kingdoms and fortunes to their previous owners. Maybe it could happen again—that thought was no doubt foremost in the minds of the royalist soldiers and adventurers who made up what amounted to a small "foreign legion" in Rome and who gathered around the ex–king and queen of Naples.  King Francis set up a government in exile in Rome that enjoyed diplomatic recogntion by most European states for a few years as still the legitimate government of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Bourbons of Naples even had the sympathy and support of the Pope, himself the absolutist king of the Papal States, who had considerable support throughout Europe in his denunciations of the "–isms" of revolution: socialism, communism, republicanism, and anarchism. Indeed, the Pope's own legitimacy had been restored in 1849 when the united armies of  Catholic Europe answered his call for help, overthrowing the short-lived Roman Republic and restoring the Papal State. 

The defeat of the Bourbons of Naples, their subsequent presence in Rome for 10 years, and the soon-to-be outrageously farfetched hopes for yet another general counter-revolution to restore the "legitimacy" of the old order in Italy—all this was very much discussed in the press of the day. An article by William Chauncey Langdon entitled "The Last Stand of the Italian Bourbons" appeared in The Atlantic Monthly for November 1884. The author is writing 25 years after King Francis and Queen Maria Sophia took up residence in Rome after the fall of their kingdom and only 15 years after the fall of the Papal state, when they were forced to leave Rome for elsewhere. He comments first on their defeat at Gaeta, then on "legitimist" sympathies, and then on the presence of the Neapolitan royal family in Rome during the 1860s:

… The week subsequent to the entrance into Naples, Francis II., defeated on the Garigliano and at Capua, took refuge, with his young Bavarian queen and younger brothers and sisters, in Gaeta, where he was at once besieged by Generals Cialdini and Menabrea. On this last promontory between the Neapolitan and the Papal States young Bourbon royalty stood gallantly at bay… "

… It is strange—or at least it seems so to us now—that many of the Americans and English at the time resident in Rome not only were sceptical of the ultimate success of the Italian revolution, but even sympathized with the old regimes which were then, one by one, giving way before it. The enthusiastic new-comer was quietly assured by the better informed old resident that the apparently rising tide would soon ebb again, as in 1849; and that the inevitable reaction would re-establish more firmly than before the thrones now placed in seeming jeopardy…

…Pius IX. welcomed the late royal family with somewhat ostentatious hospitality…The shadow of a court gathered round them there…and during the rest of the winter and in the spring which followed they were not infrequently seen driving in the Villa Borghese or on the Pincio. The young queen ever won upon the kindly interest and sympathy of every one who looked upon her almost girlish figure, her fair face and placid brow, and who thought what it must be to be the wife of an exiled king of Naples. Francis sat silent, gloomy, saturnine…

…a last glance at this hapless pair, thus passing out of history, is found in the following extract from a journal description of the ceremonies at St. Peter’s on Thursday of Holy Week…

"At the lavanda, — that is, the formal pontifical foot-washing, —I remained long enough to see first the pilgrims come in…With the queen we were all pleased. She is perhaps not beautiful, but very bright and interesting, — a face full of spirit. Near Francis were, apparently, his three brothers, every one of whom was better looking and had a better expression than the king. His four or five young sisters also were, all but one,  pleasing-looking girls…” 

...These last Bourbon royalties of Italy remained in Rome for some years, vainly hoping and attempting to create a favorable occasion for stirring up a reaction, or at least a conspiracy of one kind or another, in the late kingdom of the Two Sicilies…At last, one by one, they left Rome for Austria or for Bavaria. Bourbon rule in Italy was at an end forever…

Even earlier than the above excerpt, another item from the popular press contains one person's memories of Maria Sophia. The article was entitled "Royal Exiles and Imperial Parvenus." It was signed only by "An Englishwoman" and appeared in an American magazine, The Galaxy, in the issue for October 1872—just two years after the Papal State fell once and for all to the forces of Italy, and the ex-King and Queen had moved elsewhere. Her perceptions [slightly edited, here below] of the last queen of Naples are, clearly, mixed:

The Palazzo Farnese in Rome was, when I knew it in 1863, the refuge of that modern Joan of Arc, the ex-Queen of Naples… She seemed to me the most lovely vision I had ever seen. Her dark hair…reached half way down her back, and seemed ready to burst the wide-meshed net that confined it. Her eyes and color added to the sprightly, bewitching beauty of her face, and her carriage was absolutely the most willowy and graceful I ever saw.… Physically brave and enduring she certainly was, having been fearlessly and boyishly brought up, inured to exercise, accustomed to adventure, and fond of all athletic exercises. But there the dream of Joan of Arc must end; the high moral resolve, the far-seeing grasp of mind, were utterly wanting… So fair a shrine, but so feeble a lamp within! It was a pity to see her thus. She was seldom in Rome, and only came in occasionally to receive her husband’s subjects and the “distinguished foreigners” who wished to be presented to the “heroine of Gaeta.” 

Pope Pius IX blessing the troops before the last defense of the Papal States.
In 1870, Rome fell to the forces of Italy; the Papal States shrank to a few acres on the banks of the Tiber, and the King and Queen moved into exile elsewhere. The king died in 1894. Maria Sophia spent time in Munich, and then moved to Paris. Her activities were, however, far from over. Maria Sophia, herself, said that even if she could never get her kingdom back, she could at least get revenge. 

Italy in the mid-1890s was not a stable nation. The north was shaken by domestic unrest, including one famous episode in 1898 in Milan in which the army brutally put down what the government feared—or said it feared—was the beginning of an anarchist revolution to destabilize and then fragment the state. (That "revolution" was apparently not much more than a bread riot by the unemployed.) There was, at the time, a large anarchist movement in Europe, those who remembered the failed Paris Commune of 1871 and who were ready for another try. That movement centered in Paris, and many of the anarchists gravitated to the informal court of the ex-queen of Naples. After all, they both had a similar aim: destabilize Italy. 

Frontpage after the murder of the king
It was rumored that Maria Sophia was involved in the assassination of King Humbert in 1900. She knew the anarchists who recruited the assassins. That is not evidence of anything, of course, but it certainly fed the rumor mills of united Italy for a few years—the ex-queen helping to commit murder (!) out of some deranged desire for revenge on those who had taken her realm. During World War I, she was actively on the side of Germany and Austria in their war with Italy. Again, the rumors claimed she was involved in sabotage and espionage against Italy in the hope that an Italian defeat would tear the nation apart and that the kingdom of Naples would be restored. 

All of that was rendered moot by the great political and social changes in Europe between the time of her role as a "modern Joan of Arc" in 1860 and her death in 1925: Her own Kingdom of Bavaria was taken up into a united German Empire; Italy became, irrevocably, a single nation state; some four million Italians (most of them from the south, the ex-kingdom of the Two Sicilies)  emigrated to America between 1880 and 1920 (the possible relationship between the unity of the nation and massive emigration is fascinating, but a topic for another time); and European nations were devastated by the Great War. She lived to see Mussolini take power in Italy and to see Hitler make his first move in Germany. (Maria Sophia was still active enough in her 80s to stand at the window of her apartment in Munich and look at anarchists and police battling in the streets. She wanted "to see if young people of today still have the stuff they had when I was young.”) 

The wealth and privilege in Maria Sophia's life were, to a certain extent, overshadowed by personal tragedies. Her only child by her husband died in infancy. Also, thanks to Armand de Lawayss, a Belgian count and officer in the foreign forces holed up in Rome, she had twins in 1862. Both of them survived and both were taken from her by her all-wise, scandal-conscious royal Bavarian relatives. It is not clear that she ever saw them again, except once or twice, briefly and under supervision. In the late 1890s, her younger sister, Charlotte, died heroically while trying to help others from a burning building. Shortly thereafter, in 1898, her older sister, Elizabeth, the wife of Franz Josef, the last Austrian emperor, was stabbed to death by an anarchist. 

Maria Sophia died in Munich in 1925. The January 20, 1925 edition of il Mattino, the largest newspaper in Naples, the ex-capital of her ex-kingdom—65 years (!) after she had ceased to be relevant to the affairs of southern Italy—still saw fit to devote two full columns to her on the front page beneath the banner headline, "Maria Sofia, ex-queen of Naples, is dead." The write-up was almost totally positive, dwelling on the queen's personal courage, anti-traditionalism, and generosity. It pointed out how she visited and consoled Italian prisoners of war interned in Germany during WW I, and how she made sure—to the very end of her life when she, herself, was not well-off, financially—to maintain pension payments to the last of her personal servants, a man who had served her in Gaeta 65 years earlier. The paper made no mention of any supposed connection between her and Italian anarchists nor supposed involvement in a plot to assassinate King Humbert in 1900. The article, in a single negative note, said that Maria Sophia had been responsible for "organizing banditry in the 1860s in the south." (The term "banditry," as used in that context, may be read as code for "armed resistance by Bourbon troops and sympathisers who refused to surrender to the forces of the new Italy.") Other than that, the paper praised her with "She was one of those European princesses who, with her great gifts, would have had another destiny but for the dramatic events of her times."

She, her husband, and their only child found their last resting place in 1984 when their remains were brought to Naples and interred in the Church of Santa Chiara.

There is a considerable bibliography on the last days of the Bourbons of Naples, but I am not aware of an original English-language biography of Maria Sophia. Some Italian biographies are: 

  • Una Regina contro il Risorgimento. F.Castiglione. Pietro Lacaita Editore. Roma.    1999.
  • Maria Sofia, ultima regina di Napoli, A. Tosti. Milano. 1947; 
  • Maria Sofia; l'eroina di Gaeta. A. Mangone. Grimaldi. Napoli. 1992; 
  • Regina del Sud, A. Petacco. Mondadori (Milano). 1992.
  • One interesting book—because it was written in 1905, while Maria Sophia was still alive—is Maria Sophia, Queen of Naples: A Continuation of "The Empress Elizabeth" by Clara Tschudi. The original is in Norwegian. An English translation by Edith Harriet Hearn exists. It is a sympathetic portrayal of Maria Sofia and leaves off right after the personal tragedies involving her sisters. 

    Paisiello, Giovanni (1740-1816)

    If remembered at all today by the average concert-goer, Paisiello is the one who wrote "the other Barber of Seville" (in 1782 --which might make Rossini's Barbiere from 1816 the "other" one. But history knows best, I suppose.) Paisiello was born in Taranto and attended the S. Onofrio music conservatory in Naples from 1754 to 1763. He composed opera for northern Italian theaters at first and then returned to Naples in 1766 where he wrote both comic opera and opera seria for the various music theaters, including San Carlo.

    In 1776 he accepted an invitation from Catherine II of Russia to be her maestro di cappella, becoming one of a number of Italian composers in the late 18th century to move north and take on the daunting challenge of teaching the tone-deaf czarina something about music. (Another Neapolitan to do so was Domenico Cimarosa.) It was in St. Petersburg that Paisiello composed The Barber of Seville, a comic opera based on one book of a trilogy by Beaumarchais (pen name of Pierre Augustin Caron, 1732-99). (Mozart's opera on the other comic masterpiece from the same trilogy, The Marriage of Figaro, is from 1786.) Interestingly, modern Russian musicians are likely to think of Paisiello rather than Rossini if you mention The Barber of Seville; Russian companies still perform it and even travel abroad with it. One such company from Moscow performed it to splendid reviews in Naples in the late 1980s. 

    Paisiello was clearly not happy in Russia and returned to Naples where he became the favorite composer of King Ferdinand as well as the official court composer. His Barbiere was performed in Naples in 1783 and developed into a mainstay of the Neapolitan comic opera form. He received a regular salary in return for composing music as needed by the court. He then suffered some sort of a mental breakdown and his output slowed considerably. Henceforth he devoted much of his artistic energies to religious music, and in 1796 he was appointed maestro di cappella of the Naples Cathedral. By that time, it is fair to say that he was one of the best-known Italian composers of his day, an honor perhaps shared with his Neapolitan contemporary, Cimarosa. 

    The political events of the 1790s touched Paisiello just as they did Cimarosa. Paisiello, the King's favorite, did not flee from Naples to Sicily with the royal family when revolutionary forces, supported by the French army, proclaimed the Neapolitan Republic in early 1799. He stayed behind and, like Cimarosa, composed music for the Republic. When the Republic fell, Paisiello's role was scrutinized and he was pardoned. He left for Paris at the request of Napoleon who commissioned various works from him, including music used in Napoleon's coronation as emperor in 1804. 

    When the French army then invaded Naples and sent the royal family packing once again to Sicily, Paisiello again stayed on, first as composer to the court of the new king, Napoleon's brother, Joseph, and then Joseph's replacement, Joachim Murat. He was undoubtedly the privileged musician in the Naples of his day, enjoying the favor of the monarch as well as, from afar, that of the emperor, himself. At Bonaparte's ultimate departure from the scene in 1815, King Ferdinand, again on the throne of Naples, granted an amnesty to former supporters of the French. This included Paisiello, who died in June of 1816. 

    At least once fictional representation of the life of Rossini, an Italian film from the 1930s, puts Paisiello at the first performance of Rossini's Barber of Seville. The performance was a disaster due to roughneck Neapolitan hecklers who did not like the idea of the young northerner, Rossini, reworking one of their favorite Neapolitan comic operas. In the film, Paisiello apologizes to Rossini for the behavior the public. There is no real historic evidence that the episode ever took place, but it's a good story. 

    San Paolo Maggiore

    The Church of San Paolo Maggiore is on via dei Tribunali, one of the three original  east-west thoroughfares of the Greek city of Neapolis. As such, it is a simultaneous lesson in the history of Naples, the history of Neapolitan architecture and the history of at least a bit of religion. The church stands above a spectacular stairway, and, in the form you see today,  was built at the end of the sixteenth century. However, it was erected on the ruins of a preexisting eighth-century church built to celebrate a Neapolitan sea victory over Saracen invaders. [For a separate item on early Christian churches in Naples, click here]. That church, in turn, was built on the site of —and even incorporated part of the structure of— a Greek Temple dedicated to Castor and Pollux. There are still two columns of this temple left intact within the present-day church, anachronistically connected to a late 16th century facade. It is precisely this out-of-time aspect which is so characteristic of Neapolitan architecture. There is  fascinating and undeniable  confusion, especially in the original center of the city; perhaps this is an unavoidable phenomenon when 2,500 years of architecture have to coexist. 

    The most important  work of art within the church is the sacresty with the fresco done in 1690 by the great Neapolitan painter of the Baroque, Francesco Solimena. Other works, such as the fresco of The Dedication of the Temple of Solomon are more recent in the history of the church, dating back to the first years of Bourbon rule in the 1730s. 

    Conservatory, music (2)

    I don't know when scientific soundproofing came of age—all those foam baffles, ceiling tiles, fabric panels, and clouds. (I have even had sound engineers tell me how effective and cheap it is to use good, old-fashioned cardboard egg cartons.) But I have had the misfortune of practicing music in large, old rooms—cavernous spaces that used to resound only to the shuffling sandals of monks—in institutions that are more willing to spend money on modern electronics than on a few square yards of anything at all to put on the walls, ceilings and floors to dampen sound. The echo in such places is a disaster, doubly so if there are two of you trying to practice. (For more than two, the disaster becomes logarithmic, and the scale becomes Richter, not B-flat, measuring major and minor soundquakes of cacophony.) 

    When you walk by the music conservatory in Naples, you hear the sounds of instruments wafting out over the street from practice rooms on the premises, a monastery that was converted into a music school in the early 1800s. I have not been inside the building to see students practicing, so I don't know what they have to put up with. I hope it is better than this description by Charles Burney (1726-1814) an English musical historian. He wrote an important 4-volume History of Music as well as accounts of his travels. I found the following in Musical Italy Revisited by Sigmund Levarie (MacMillan. New York. 1963.) The author cites as his source, Charles Burney: Musical Tours in Europe  (ed. Percey A. Scholes. 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1959). The original source is apparently Burney's (photo, above) The Present State of Music in France and Italy, published in 1771. The reference is to the Conservatory of St. Onofrio, one of the original music schools in Naples before they were combined into one facility. It was on the premises—as they all were, at the time—of a monastery. 

    Burney’s description, dated Wednesday, 31 October 1770: 

    This morning I went with young Oliver to his Conservatorio of St. Onofrio, and visited all the rooms where the boys practise, sleep, and eat. On the first flight of stairs was a trumpeter, screaming upon his instrument till he was ready to burst; on the second was a french-horn, bellowing in the same manner. In the common practising room there was a Dutch concert, consisting of seven or eight harpsichords, more than as many violins, and several voices, all performing different things, and in different keys: other boys were writing in the same room; but it being holiday time, many were absent who usually study and practise there together. 

    The jumbling them all together in this manner may be convenient for the house, and may teach the boys to attend to their own parts with firmness, whatever else may be going forward at the same time; it may likewise give them force, by obliging them to play loud in order to hear themselves; but in the midst of such jargon, and continued dissonance, it is wholly impossible to give any kind of polish or finishing to their performance; hence the slovenly coarseness so remarkable in their public exhibitions; and the total want of taste, neatness, and expression in all these young musicians, till they have acquired them elsewhere. 

    The beds, which are in the same room, serve as seats for the harpsichords and other instruments. Out of thirty or forty boys who were practising, I could discover but two that were playing the same piece: some of those who were practising on the violin seemed to have a great deal of hand. The violon-cellos practise in another room: and the flutes, hautbois, and other wind instruments, in a third, except the trumpets and horns, which are obliged to fag, either on the stairs, or on the top of the house. 

    There are in this college sixteen young castrati, and these live up stairs, by themselves, in warmer apartments than the other boys, for fear of colds, which might not only render their delicate voices unfit for exercise at present, but hazard the entire loss of them for ever. 

    The only vacation in these schools, in the whole year, is in autumn, and that for a few days only: during the winter, the boys rise two hours before it is light, from which time they continue their exercise, an hour and a half at dinner excepted, till eight o’clock at night; and this constant perseverance, for a number of years, with good teaching, must produce great musicians. 

    Trianon Theater

    I am pleased to see that there is once again a theater devoted full-time to Neapolitan Music. The Trianon Theater takes its name from a village acquired in 1670 by Louis XIV and converted into a sort of pleasure garden annexed to the Palace of Versailles. The premises hosted an English Garden, a theater, fountains, and all those things necessary in the lives of Madame Pompadour and Marie Antoinette. 

    The Trianon in Naples was less ambitious. It opened in 1911 for the express purpose of being a theater for local talent. Over the next few decades, it served Neapolitan playwrights, actors and musicians well. It thrived during the great age of vaudeville and then survived for a while as motion pictures swiftly took over show business. Like many theaters of its kind throughout the world, it finally closed and was converted into a cinema in 1947. 

    The Trianon has now reopened over half a century later as a theater of Neapolitan Song. It has an impressive program of traditional Neapolitan plays and musicals, an art gallery, very good acoustics, and, soon, a permanent multimedia exhibit dedicated to Enrico Caruso. Much of the restructuring of the Trianon was supervised by musicologist, Roberto De Simone. The theater is located, appropriately, in a traditional part of town, Piazza Calenda, at the extreme eastern edge of the old historic center of Naples. That fact is attested to by the presence in the square of an excavated portion of the ancient Greek eastern wall of the city. In modern terms, it is only a block away from Piazza Garibaldi and the main train station. 

    Annunziata, Church 2

    In the first entry for this church, I refer to the Church of the Annunziata and a "revolving Ferris-wheel-type affair with basket-cribs in place around the perimeter that each held a child"—well, that was wrong. Close, but wrong. 

    I went to the Church of the Annunziata this morning and was happy to note that it is now the site of a quasi-permanent historical display sponsored by the cultural powers-that-be in the city government. As well, the church and premises have been "adopted" by enthusiastic and diligent pupils of two local elementary school. (This is not uncommon in Naples. The Church of the Incoronata is another such example.) The children have filled the entrance to the Annunziata with large displays boards of snapshots, drawings, poetry, handwritten stories of the church, explanations of the traditions surrounding the long history of the church, papier maché models of the façade, and even one almost life-sized cardboard replica of the item I misdescribed earlier, called la ruota—the wheel. 

    The "wheel" (photo) in question is actually a revolving single-basket contraption—somewhat like a "lazy Susan"—contained within a wooden frame about the size of a large chest of drawers. It was embedded in the wall of the front of the church with one side open to the street and the other within the church, like an automatic teller machine (to make an utterly inappropriate comparison!) Women who wanted to leave a child could open, from the street side, the compartment with the revolving basket, then put the infant inside and turn the device so that the basket moved around to the inside of the church where a nun was waiting. The current display in the room inside the church shows the "wheel," a small wash basin where the new arrivals were bathed, and a register—a book open to pages from the 1600s, the entries of which note the arrival and the sex and general physical condition of the infant. This unusual set-up guaranteed the anonymity of the woman since there was a wall between her and whoever accepted the infant on the other side. It was also, presumably, a kinder way to abandon a newborn child—that is, directly into the hands of someone who would care for it. 

    Comic books; De Filippo, Eduardo (3)

    artwork: Mauro Salvatori &Fabrizio Faina
    lettering: Luca Lermano ©ELLEDI'91
    I remember sitting in the Tokyo subway one time next to a young gentleman who was elegantly power-dressed —probably on his way to a Toshiba board of directors meeting. He was reading a comic book, the title of which was —I was able to piece this together from my meagre knowledge of Japanese and by asking him not to turn the pages so fast— Mutant Sex Slaves from Beyond Infinity.

    Maybe an adult reading a comic book shouldn't have surprised me, nor are his tastes any of my concern. A lot of people like comics, and I am aware of their cultural importance because they say something profound about this or that. My own Jr. High School book reports would have been impossible but for the existence of the famous (or infamous) Classics Illustrated, a comic book series started in 1947 by a Russian immigrant Albert Kanter. Number 1 in the series was The Three Musketeers. (That issue, in very fine condition, costs $225 on the internet these days. I paid 10 cents back then. Is there a message in there, somewhere?) I recall collecting most of the Classics Illustrated up to about number 100, Mutiny on the Bounty, when my tastes changed more in the direction of soft, living non-collectibles who made you buy them stuff. 

    English teachers hated those comics. We loved them, and how fondly I recall the epistemological debates that swirled around whether —in lieu of actually reading the book—one should use these comics—which I favored—or a book called 100 Famous Plot Outlines —favored by my best friend, Steve. He is still my best friend, and we have not resolved that dispute to this day. 

    Comics abound in Italian culture, and if there is a local, Neapolitan attempt to bring famous literary figures to life sporting little balloons above or beside their heads, it is probably a series dedicated to (from the cover)  "the most significant works of the great Eduardo De Filippo," (published monthly in 1998 by Elledi'91 s.r.l. in Scafati, near Salerno). There were 12 issues in all, covering, indeed, much of the important literary output of Naples' most famous playwright of the 20th century (see, also, this entry). 

    I happen to be looking at the issue dedicated to the play, Filumena Marturano, but the format is identical on all of them: 30 x 21 cm (about the size of a standard sheet of typewriting paper), glossy color cover, about 60 black-and-white pages with 6 to 8 cartoon panels to a page. Credit is given in the editorial information to those who adapted the text of the original play, the cartoonists, and those who did the lettering. Additionally, there are some paragraphs of praise from a few people in the De Filippo family who like the idea. 

    Eduardo, himself, was acknowledged to be the best interpreter of the roles that he created for himself in his plays. Thus, in a sense, he still "owns" those roles, and the male lead in all of these comic versions of his plays is rendered as Eduardo (see illustration, above). Also important if you are not Neapolitan is the fact that the comics all contain some sort of Neapolitan/Italian glossary to help decipher the authentic, densely Neapolitan dialect of the text. Each issue includes, as well, a short written introduction to the work, of the kind that you might find in an encyclopedia of literature. 

    At the time, the series claimed to be part of an effort to present great world literature in comic format, but I have not seen any others. Maybe they stopped at number 1. 

    Cuma (2), oracles

    Deep in a cave the Sibyl makes abode;
    Thence full of fate returns, and of the god.
    Thro' Trivia's grove they walk; and now behold,
    And enter now, the temple roof'd with gold.

    The Aeneid book 6, 10-13,
    trans. John Dryden

    The cave of the sibyl of Cuma
    "Oracle" meant three things in ancient Greece; (1) the person through whom a god speaks; (2) the temple or shrine assocated with this process; and (3) the actual answer or phrophecy given by a god through the prophet, usually a priestess. There were many such sites in Greece and Magna Grecia. The most famous of these was certainly the site at Deplhi, on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, a site protected by Apollo, himself. The term "delphic" has, of course, come to mean, by extension, "obscure" or "cryptic". The temples were generally on some sacred site, a place thought to be specially endowed with qualities that would enhance the oracular abilities of the priestess—perhaps a spring, a cave, a mountain peak, or a place often struck by lightning. Strabo (A.D. 46-120) spoke of the pneuma, the gas or vapour that arose from a cleft in the earth. It was inhaled by the priestess, thus inducing the trance in which she could intrepret the answers from the gods correctly. 

    In 1900, a scholar, Adolpe Paul Oppé, wrote that no such chasm or cleft existed at Delphi, and that, anyway, no gas could imitate the symptoms of spiritual possession. Since that time, modern science has sort of pooh-poohed the idea of pneuma-induced trances at Delphi, and, by extension, other such sites in the world of ancient Greece. Now, lo and behold, according to the August 2003 issue of Scientific American, "two geologic faults that intersect precisely under the site of the oracle [have been found]..." and "...the petrochemical-rich layers in the limestone formations of the region most likely produced ethylene, a gas that induces a trancelike state and that could have risen through fissures created by the faults." 

    After inhaling a goodly quantity of ethylene, I am reminded of our local oracle, Cuma, the sibyl of which handed out propecies just like her sisters in Greece. As far as I'm concerned, the sibyl of Cuma was even better; after all, her name has generalized to "sibylline," meaning "mysterious," obviously better than "delphic"— "obscure". I would rather be sibylline than delphic, any day, and I'm sure I speak for most ethylene breathers. 

    Geologically, I wonder if investigators of Delphi might like to come and have a look at Cuma, on the edge of the infamous "Phlegrean Fields," one of the most geologically active zones in Europe. We have clefts and bubbling sulphur pits and caves with abundant  pneuma. Of one such place, Mark Twain wrote: 

    ...but the Grotto of the Dog [at Lake Averno] claimed our chief attention, because we had heard and read so much about it. Everybody has written about the Grotto del Cane and its poisonous vapors, from Pliny down to Smith, and every tourist has held a dog over its floor by the legs to test the capabilities of the place. The dog dies in a minute and a half --a chicken instantly. As a general thing, strangers who crawl in there to sleep do not get up until they are called. And then they don’t, either. The stranger that ventures to sleep there takes a permanent contract. I longed to see this grotto. I resolved to take a dog and hold him myself; suffocate him a little, and time him; suffocate him some more, and then finish him. We reached the grotto about three in the afternoon, and proceeded at once to make the experiments. But now, an important difficulty presented itself. We had no dog...

    Dangling a beautiful priestess over a pit of pneuma? Now, that's my idea of a good time. 

    Bellini, Vincenzo (1801-35)

    A small, delightful square near the Naples Music Conservatory is named for this early giant of Italian Romanticism and attests to his importance in the cultural life of the city. Bellini was from Sicily and was born into a musical family, his father having studied at the Conservatory in Naples. There is abundant lore about Bellini's early display of musical ability, including conducting at aged three, playing the piano expertly at five, and composing at six.
    In 1819 he was granted a scholarship to study at the Royal Conservatory in Naples, a recent consolidation (under Murat's reign in Naples) of four separate church-run  music schools. The atmosphere of the conservatory was somewhat conservative, more in keeping with the line of recent, prominent Neapolitan composers such as Paisiello and Cimarosa, rather than with the more dynamic style of Rossini, who was the resident composer for Neapolitan music theaters from 1815-22. Nevertheless, it would be impossible to expect Rossini to have had no influence on young composers of the day; if Bellini is at the forefront of early Italian Romanticism, at least part of his creativity can be seen as a constant reaction to the music of Rossini. 

    After graduation from the conservatory, Bellini's first commercial effort was in 1826 with Bianca e Ferdinando, retitled Bianca e Gernando to avoid allusion to the recently deceased Ferdinand I of Naples. (Such piddling, political interference in culture was becoming more and more typical in the Kingdom of Naples of the time and is one of the reasons that Verdi, later, complained that Naples had become an absolutist backwater.) There is, even in early Rossini, a trend to the unadorned, simple melody that is the hallmark of Italian lyric Romanticism — melodies that attracted the adjective "philosophical" to describe them by critics of the day. Upon closer analysis, such melodies seem natural in opera because they use lyrics well, making them conform to the natural cadences of speech. (Verdi once referred to "Bellini's long, long, long melodies." He meant it as a compliment.) 

    Bellini left Naples in 1827 to live and work in Milan at La Scala. Much of what we know of his life comes from a biography and an edition of his letters, both by Francesco Florimo, a classmate in Naples and a lifelong friend. (Florimo lived until 1888, through both musical and political revolutions, long enough to hear Verdi and Wagner at the height of their powers and long enough to see his native Kingdom of Naples absorbed into greater Italy.) 

    Bellini's important musical contributions come in the period after leaving Naples. These include: Il pirata (1827); La straniera (1829); La sonnambula (1831); Norma (1831); I puritani (1835). They were all successful and established Bellini as one of those unusual composers who was able to live just from writing opera. 

    Bellini lived the last years of his life in the company of his mistress, Guidetta Turnia of Genova. She was young, rich, and married. Their exact relationship is unclear since Bellini's biographer, Florimo, chose to destroy the relevant correspondence. Bellini died in Paris at the age of 34. 

    Padula, certosa

    A workshop is currently running at the San Lorenzo monastery in Padula, east of Salerno. It is dedicated to the art of landscaping and gardening. The organizers picked a good place for the workshop. The monastery is on the edge of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano national park, one of the most bucolic settings in Italy, and the monastery grounds, themselves—as most such places—have a long history of cultivating nature as well as the spirit. In the case of San Lorenzo, that history has had its ups and downs. 

    The monastery was founded in 1306 on an earlier site belonging to the Abbey of Montevergine. Technically, it is called in Italian the "Certosa" (not "Monastery") of Padula because it was built for the Certosines, a French monastic order, one favored by the French Angevin rulers of Naples. The order then took on the responsibility of reclaiming the area from swampy conditions into which it had degraded since the fall of the Roman Empire, 800 years earlier. Even today—just off the main north-south A3 autostrada— the area is in the middle of nowhere. Imagine 1300. The area, presumably, was of some strategic importance during the days of Magna Grecia since it is relatively near the ancient Greek port of Velia; then it was important to the subsequent rulers of Rome, who used the nearby Tanagro river for navigation. Thus, major land reclamation was undertaken by both the Certosine and Benedictine orders at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century. 

    The complex has been relatively ignored in the  recent history of southern Italy, all the more interesting since it was—and is—so vast. Throughout the centuries, well into the 1700s when the architects of the by-then Bourbon Kingdom of Naples added their ornamental touches, the certosa was modified and added to, all in the sense of keeping it a truly self-sufficient community, thriving on its own agriculture and crafts. 

    When the French took over the Kingdom of Naples, the fate of the certosa was the same as that of all monasteries in Napoleonic Europe—it was closed. The order was dispossessed and the treasures within—not just gold and silver religious trinkets, but treasures of culture, the books in the library (the great monastic library, the single great preserver of learning in our Dark Ages) were scattered. Those items from the certosa—those that remain— currently reside in various institutions in the south of Italy, including the National Library of Naples. Though the property was restored to the order after the Congress of Vienna, it was described in 1845 as a place of "total abandon". The further suppression of monastic orders and expropriation of church property in the new united nation of Italy in 1866 ended the 500 year history of the Certosa of Padula as a working monastery. 

    In 1882, many of these institutions, including Padula, were declared national monuments, which didn't really help; when someone needed the space, the certosa was used as a hospital, an orphanage, a warehouse, and a POW camp in both World Wars. In the 1982 the site was put under the auspices of the Superintendent of Culture of Salerno, at which point restoration was undertaken, a project that has largely been completed. 

    Garibaldi (U.S. reaction) (2)

    Garibaldi, cover of Harper's Weekly.
    I have come into possession of a fascinating bit of historical memorabilia: an original copy of Harper's Weekly from June 9, 1860. There is a short story by Wilkie Collins, a note on the passing of Lady Byron, some news from Ireland and Mexico, an ad for Sweet's Infallible Liniment, and one of those 19th century cartoons that I never understand. But the body of the journal is given over to the "coming war in Italy". By the time this issue of Harper's went to press, that war was in full swing, for Garibaldi had landed in Sicily on May 11 to begin the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. 

    The journal is in large tabloid format, 8 large sheets folded into 16 pages of newsprint.  The front cover displays a woodcut of "General Giuseppe Garibaldi [from a recent picture]" posed heroically astride a horse. On the inside pages, there are other illustrations of the bay of Naples, Messina, and a map of The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  By rough count, the journal has at least 7,000 words of text (in excruciatingly small type!) about the beginning of the military campaign that eventually united Italy. All of it is unabashedly pro-unification, pro-Garibaldi, and anti-Bourbon. That would be in keeping with Howard Marraro's observations (see here) in his American Opinion on the Unification of Italy, 1846 –61, about the US press, in general, at the time. 

    Besides a glowing biographic sketch of Garibaldi, there is an editorial that "makes no apology for devoting so much of our space this week…to the impending war in Southern Italy." It concludes: 

    Garibaldi may be killed; but if he can hold out a few weeks longer, we believe he will have kindled a flame which all the powers of Rome and Naples will be insufficient to quench. We look hopefully forward to see that glorious country—Southern Italy—purged of the pests and curses which have so long defiled it, and fulfilling the destiny for which it was created, by becoming one of the noblest, happiest, richest portions of the world.

    There is a brief history—along with the map—of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, depicting the land as one incredibly blessed with natural resources and, at the same time, totally in the clutches of corrupt kings and greedy priests. The description of Naples is almost a caricature of vitriol: 

    Fancy a city of some 450,000 inhabitants, of whom 18,000 are priests, 40,000 idlers, 4000 lawyers, and nearly 30,000 prisoners of state, locked up in some of the five hundred and thirty royal prisons! Fancy this city in a state of chronic siege, with the guns of its forts constantly pointed, not upon its enemies, but upon its people! Fancy a government consisting of a priest-ridden king, cruel, treacherous, and false…so miserable an administrator that no department of the government makes the least pretense to efficiency but the police, which has its spies everywhere...Fancy a people systematically trained in idleness, servility, and ignorance; denied the privileges of wholesome education and the use of books; forced to kneel at the feet of the Jesuits, and taught from their childhood that rebellion against their authority involves not only eternal damnation but present punishment; educated in contempt for the laws and indifference to every virtue that can exalt the race! Such is Naples.

    The unsigned article describes the hustle and bustle of Neapolitan street life with a cascade of chaos, a style typical of travel writers of the day when writing about Naples: 

    The traveler who walks through the Toledo or Chiaja for the first time…is amazed at the evidence of life and happiness which he sees…Every trade under the sun is carried on in the open street. There are shoemakers and tailors at their benches; scribes inditing love-letters for amorous swains; begging monks proving clearly that all who do not give them a carline will be served up hot in another world; women plucking poultry or cleaning vegetables; quack doctors forcing their panaceas down the throats of peasants from the Abruzzi; cooks roasting and frying at great fires on the sidewalk; mothers combing their children's hair, or turning them up and whipping them; old women on crutches singing airs from Lucia, and old men reciting Ariosto with great fervor; water-sellers bawling iced water; pious minstrels playing doleful bagpipes under a statue of the virgin; Sicilian girls dancing the tarantella with uncommon vigor; friars roaring that they only want a gran more to save a soul from hell; boys fighting for watermelons; exchange tables loaded with copper; lemonade-stands mounted by triumphal arches, bedizened with gold paper and wreathes of flowers; macaroni-dealers ladling huge masses of the smoking delicacy out of cauldrons, and beseeching the crowd not to let it cool; more monks tinkling little bells, and knocking Punch and the conjuror over as they hurry past with a dead man; ladies in Parisian dresses; peasant girls in scarlet rags; lazaroni [sic] in every corner, lying, crouching squatting, running, sleeping, laughing, fighting, picking pockets; and an array of carriages, corricoli, omnibuses, cavaliers, tearing and dashing along at a furious rate, as though collisions were impossible and bones could not be broken.

    This main article is spread across the centerfold accompanied by two large woodcuts, one of the city of Messina and the other of Naples, viewed from above the Royal Palace with the bay and Mt. Vesuvius in the background. The article concludes with an account of Garibaldi's landing at Marsala and says, "...As soon as Garibaldi's force is ready, he will undoubtedly march on Palermo." 

    It would be interesting to follow the entire campaign and subsequent unification of Italy in later editions of Harper's, if I can find them.