Don Pedro Alvarez de Toledo was born in 1484 near Salamanca in what was not yet the modern
nation state of Spain. By the time of his death in 1553, not only did Spain exist, but the New World
was upon us and the Spanish Empire encompassed the globe. It was a time that saw Copernicus,
Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Counter Reformation, warrior Popes, and the
Sack of Rome. In Italy, it was also a time of massive French invasions of the peninsula as well as
the constant fear of invasion by the Turks. In Naples, add Vesuvius and the plague, and you have
yourself some breathtaking times, to say the least.
Spain came into possession of the kingdom of Naples in 1503 but did not solidify her grasp until the
final, failed attempt by France in 1529 to take the kingdom. For the first three decades of the
century, a succession of inconsequential viceroys ruled the kingdom of Naples. By 1530, petty
disputes, power brokering and general infighting among the local barons in and around Naples-
still lords of their own fiefdoms-caused Charles V, the king of Spain and now the Holy Roman
Emperor to send a viceroy to Naples who could take charge.
Don Pedro (top photo) was such a person. His arrival as viceroy in Naples in September of 1532
marked a fundamental change in the history of the kingdom and its capital city. The 20 years of his
viceroyship were marked by political readjustment and social, economic and urban change. In spite
of the intransigence of never-say-die feudalism, don Pedro converted the city from a medieval
tangle into the largest and best-defended city in the Spanish Empire.
Naples had just been through the plague of 1529, which took, by some estimates, as many as 60,000
lives; thus, Don Pedro's immediate concern was for the decaying structure of the city. In 1534, he
started paving roads and began the first expansion beyond the confines of the old city by building
new and elegant residences at Santa Chiara, just west of the ancient Roman wall of historic Naples.
In 1535, Charles V (middle photo) paid an imperial visit to Naples to see the beginnings of new
defensive fortifications in the face of the always imminent Turkish threat (not defeated until the
famous battle of Lepanto in 1571, well after don Pedro's time). The plan was ambitious and went
on for years. It meant knocking down or expanding the old city walls; for example, at the northwest
corner of the old wall (where the National Museum now stands) don Pedro extended the old north
wall all the way up the hill to the Sant'Elmo fortress and then down the other side to the sea. It
meant building an entirely new wall along the sea front from the Maschio Angioino to the Carmine
fortress. It meant modernizing all the fortresses along those walls, as well as building up
fortifications just up the coast at Baia and on the island of Ischia. The goal was to make not just the
city of Naples, but the Gulf of Naples, invulnerable-and eventually, of course, the entire vice-
realm. That latter plan included an ambitious project to make the Volturno river (in the extreme
north of the vice-realm) navigable, a plan that never came to fruition. [Complete details of the urban
renovation are in De Seta, bibliography below.]
Don Pedro was devoted to making Naples a part of the greater Spanish imperial plans of Charles V.
Thus, he even encouraged a foreign merchant class at the expense of locals. Merchants from
Tuscany and Genoa did thriving trade within the city and kingdom. You can still see reminders of
that, for example, in the name of the Teatro Fiorentino, a theater founded by the Florentine
community in Spanish Naples. There were churches that served the Florentine community, the
Genoese community, etc.
The viceroy was ruthless in dealing with leftover feudal barons in the outback and encouraged their
moving into the city within easy grasp of a central authority. This breaking-up of large land
holdings started a general trend to urbanization as both the landed class and the landless peasant
class poured into Naples. By 1550, the population was around 200,000, second only to Paris in all
of Europe. By that time, Don Pedro had drained the swamps around the city and increased the
walled city limits in area by one-third. Within the city, he strove for centralization, moving all
courts and tribunals onto the same premises, Castel Capuano-also known as the "Vicaria" (bottom
photo)-(where they remained until the quite recent move to the new skyscraper Hall of Justice at
the Centro Direzionale). He expanded the Arsenale-the naval shipyards-considerably. He built
the vice-royal palace (approximately where the Bourbon Royal Palace now stands). To guard that
original building, he quartered troops in a dozen blocks of barracks, a square grid of streets lined
with multi-storied buildings-unique in Europe for its time. (Today, that section of Naples is still
called the Spanish Quarter.) Don Pedro also instituted summary execution for petty theft on public
streets and made it a capital crime to go armed at night in the city. In short, he wasn't kidding about
building a city that an emperor could visit.
(End of first of two installments)
Amabile, Luigi. Il santo Officio della Inquisizione in Napoli, S. Lapi, Cittŗ di Castello 1892;
[photostatic reprint]: Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli 1987
Tejada, Francisco Elžas. Napoli Spagnola, vol. 2.
Controcorrente, Napoli, 2002
(original: Nŗpoles hispanico. Madrid. 1958.)
De Seta, Cesare. Le Cittŗ nella Storia d'Italia: Napoli, "Il Viceregno" , pp 106-128. Editore Laterza,
Roma- Bari. 1981.
Storia di Napoli, vol 5 (pp. 47-70), Societŗ Editrice Storia di Napoli
Croce, Benedetto. Storia del Regno di Napoli. Bari. 1915.