I suppose if Bagnoli had won its bid to host the 2007 America's Cup
, a splendid new harbor in Bagnoli would be well on its way to completion, and that blighted section of the Gulf of Naples would be a bit further along on the path to rejuvenation. As it turned out, Valencia, Spain won the bid, and a new Bagnoli is still struggling to be bornó piecemeal, to be sure. It may work and it may not. One has no choice but to be hopeful.
When the new Ilva (later Italsider) steel mill opened in 1910, it was the result of nine years of planning and construction. In 1901 it must have seemed a grand idea, a vision of the future; after all, industry was the future. Bagnoli
was just one of many places on planet Earth eager to reap the marvels of the 19th century: steam engines, great ships, electricity, tall buildings, new railways, and new-fangled motor cars. (Some even foresaw air travel for the massesóacross the oceans in total comfort! Well, they got part of that right.) You needed steel for all that. It is only through the unfair and perfect judgements of hindsight that we want to scream back through time to warn them of world wars, depressions, atomic bombs, post-industrialism and its evil twin, Urban Blightóthe abandoned factories, rusted bridges and decaying inner cities.
Indeed, at the time, a new steel mill seemed a fine compliment to the then ongoing risanamento
of Naplesóthe tearing down and rebuilding of vast areas of the city to make it clean, spacious and modern. Bagnoli was the perfect place to put that steel mill. The risanamento
rejected other ideas for the area, including a plan by the visionary Neapolitan architect Lamont Young
to transform Bagnoli into a great seaside resort with trees, sports fields, beaches and grand piers to stroll on. It was too "Victorian" óan anachronism. It is ironic that Bagnoli is now busy trying to transform itself into a great seaside resort with trees, sports fields, beaches and grand piers to stroll on.
In decades as an industrial bee-hive, Bagnoli was not just home to the Italsider steel mill, but to other industrial pleasantries, such as a thriving cement and asbestos industryófacilities built in the 1920s and 30s. Yet, as late as the 1930s, Bagnoli was still a resort town, not a bad place to spend a summer. Then, the entire area was bombed in WW2 and finished off by the "scorched earth" policy of the retreating German army in 1943. Italsider climbed back to pre-war production by 1951 and was an important part of the "economic miracle" in the 1950s in Naples. By the 1960s, however, deindustrialization was underway, decay and industrial blight set in. Italsider closed in 1992, putting 9,000 workers out of work, an economic un-miracle all its own.
That was almost fifteen years go. The steel mill has been demolished by now; the ovens and smoke stacks are gone, and acres of Bagnoli are now sitting there waiting for some action. What has happened so far? In 1996, the impressive Science City opened on the old steel mill property; it is a hands-on science fair directed at the young as well as a convention center for broader needs. And a few months ago, in December 2005, North Pier was opened. It is the remodelled Italsider loading pier where decades of ships unloaded ore in Bagnoli and took away finished steel. It extends 800 meters out into the Bay of Pozzuoli, such that you can almost touch the isle of Nisida
. It is truly a fabled body of water; it is where Ulysses and Aeneas sailed and just across the bay from Cape Miseno and the waters of Portus Julius
, the ancient Roman home port of the western imperial fleet. North Pier is renovated and provides a stroll or jog for anyone who wants to get out of what is still the dingy little town of Bagnoli. North Pier is flanked on the west by a thriving private beach and a public one; on the other side, towards Nisida, is the land that was to be the harbor for the America's Cup.
The land awaits disposition according to whatever plan is finally chosen by Bagnolifutura
, a company set up in April of 2002. The area (in blue on map, right) includes not just the land directly on the sea, but stretching back across the old "steel mill road" to encompass the entire premises of the ex-plant, extending more than half a mile inland to Bagnoli's next-door neighborhood of Fuorigrotta. Bagnolifutura
will choose from among 24 plans that have "made the cut" (from 40 submitted from around the world) for the construction of a ca. 300 acre "urban park" (imagine a square area approximately 11 football fields on a side). The park is to includeóbesides the above-mentioned sports fields, beaches and grand piers to stroll onóa camp ground at the base of the Posillipo cliff, a new residential area, a "music city" array of auditoriums, new train stations, and evenóin conjuntion with the renowned Dohrn aquarium in Naples, a series of marine pools to rehabilitate injured sea turtles and return them to the open sea. So, with or without the America's Cup, the spirit of Lamont Young is now hovering along North Pier muttering, "I told you so."
(Photos on right, top to bottom: two views of the new North Pier; the isle of Nisida seen from the pier; a map of the Italsider area of Bagnoli to be rebuilt. I am indebted to Mr. Giovanni Capasso of Bagnolifutura
for his time and the information he provided in the preparation of this article.)