Before the great age of people-moving gizmos such as lifts, escalators, and transporter beams, our species regularly depended on now largely vestigial appendages (called "legs") to climb a series of flat-topped structures placed in succession at ever higher increments in order to facilitate movement from "down here" to "up there". These were called "steps" (photo, right). This may seem cruel to those of you who routinely whine about having to hike all the way to the curb from where you have just double-parked, but they were cruel times.
Because of the way Naples spread over the centuries from sea-level to 600 feet on the Vomero and Posillipo hills, Neapolitans depended on an extensive web of stairways throughout the city. But when funicular railways ("cable cars") came in-- the 1800s-- legs and stairs went out, and many of the long flights of stairs are in now poor repair and, indeed in some places, overgrown with weeds. Neapolitans now rely on the existence of four cable-cars in the city.
(If you have just arrived from Jupiter and have never heard the Neapolitan song, Funiculž-Funiculŗ, you may read a separate item
on that in the Around Naples encyclopedia. That song was about another cable-car, the one on Mt. Vesuvius, no longer in service, and not one of the four in question.)
Moving from west to east, or clockwise, or maybe the other direction as the hour-glass flies if you are using the Coriolis effect and not straddling the equatoróor in no particular order, the four cable cars are: (1) Mergellina, (2) Chiaia, (3) Central, (4) Montesanto.
(1) The Mergellina cable car runs from the harbor of Mergellina, making a number of stops before reaching the top station on via Manzoni, the road that runs along the very top of the Posillipo hill. Of the four cable-cars in Naples, this is the only private one. It is reliable and usually in good working order. Because of the location, the Mergellina cableĖcar does not carry as much traffic as any of the others though it does provide a valuable service to the people in that area.
(2) The Chiaia cable-car (photo, right) has been in and out of service for 20 years, ever since they decided to rebuild it. In a relevant entry
of the Naples encyclopedia, I have heaped every heapable insult upon the so-called heads of the so-called architects of that monstrosity. In any event, there was a law suit and contruction was stopped for years; the law suit is now settled (that is, compensation has been rendered unto those whose optic nerves have been permanently damaged from the mere sight of the Metal Thing from Planet Puke) and construction is now in full swing (but Count Basie, it still ain't). As of this writing, the cable car is open, even though none of the stations are finished. It is an essential line for people who have to get from the busy shopping district of Chiaia to the businesses, residences and new metropolitana connections 600 feet higher up on the Vomero hill. It is an easy fourĖminute ride when the cableĖcar is running. When it is NOT running (much of the last decade or so) the city runs extra busses. The bus trip is a disaster andódepending on trafficócan range from 20 minutes to Please, God, Why Was I Born.
(3) The Central Cable car is the most important one, connecting the Vomero hill to the heart and bowels of downtown (your organ may differ--consult your physician): via Toledo (or via Roma), the busiest shopping street in the city, near the San Carlo opera, the Galleria Umberto, the City Hall, the main Bank of Naples, the Port of Naples, and Piazza Plebiscito. This line closes rarely but regularly for scheduled repairs. It has managed to retain its quaint original building.
(4) The Montesanto cable-car has just closed for repairs and will stay closed until sometime in 2005. From the top station on Vomero, near the Castle of Sant'Elmo, it runs right down into one of the most crowded parts of the city, not far from Piazza Dante. The bottom station is adjacent to one of the two important narrow-gauge railways in the city, the Cumana line, and near another station of the older Naples metropolitana. With the cable-car not working, those easy connections will be lost. The gap will be partially filled by the new metropolitan station at Piazza Dante; that station has been open for a year or so, and the new metro runs to Vomero in a short time.
What can I say? These things have their ups and downs.