Postcard from Naples, Italy: Glamming up the royal residence

While Pope Sixtus V (1521-1590) kept architect Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) well occupied around the Vatican and Rome, he managed to take on a project for the Viceroy in Naples. The excuse for the construction of the palace was an impending visit by King Philip III of Spain (confusingly known as Philip II in his role as King of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia) (1578-1621). But, alas, when the king did not make it to Naples as planned, rather than let it go to waste, the Viceroy himself move into the grand new quarters.

A new royal arrived in town in 1734, King Charles III of Spain (adding to the confusion, prior to becoming King of Spain in 1759, he was known as Charles VII of Naples and Charles V of Sicily) (1716-1788). By the time King Charles arrived, the palace was empty of residents and devoid of furniture. While waiting for suitable decorating, the new arrivals temporarily were forced to furnish it with contents bought from the pawnshop and private citizens.

King Charles III immediately put architects and artists to work. With his marriage to Maria Amalia of Saxony (1724-1760), decorating assumed a sense of urgency. To take care of royal needs, a porcelain factory was founded, which later became known as Capodimonte porcelain. Receiving an abundant supply of art from his mother, Elizabeth Farnese (1692-1766), the Queen of Spain, Charles was able to transfer it from family palaces in Parma and Rome to Naples. One palace, however, is hardly enough to accommodate royal needs, so two more were built which the blog will visit later.

His son, Ferdinand I as King of the Two Sicilies (Ferdinand IV as King of Naples or Ferdinand III and King of Sicily) (1751-1825), begin to take beautifying the palace to even higher levels. Arranged by his father, King Charles, Ferdinand’s proxy marriage to 16-year-old Maria Carolina of Austria (1752-1814) spurred further gilding and flocking throughout. The grand hall was remodeled to serve as a court theatre.

By the time his grandson, Ferdinand II (1810-1859), became King of the Two Sicilies, the whole palace was viewed as in need of a major renovation. This was partially due to a fire in 1837 and partially to accommodate modern services and systems for lighting, water-delivery, sewage and so forth.

Finally in 1888, King Umberto I of Italy (of the House of Savoy) (1844-1900) altered the façade of the building addressing the grand Piazza del Plebiscito. Large statues of major rulers of Naples were commissioned for the new niches.

Addicted to writing with access to two computer screens displaying a multitude of resources, I was most impressed by an early innovative predecessor – sort of a ferris wheel for books to aid research from multiple tomes at one’s desk.

Postcard from Naples, Italy: The Egg and the New Castle

Castel dell’Ovo

Castel dell’Ovo stands astride the small island of Megaride that originally was settled by Greek colonists in the 6th century B.C. Five centuries later, a Roman patrician built his villa on the site, now attached to the mainland. Its name, the Egg Castle, arises from a legend that the poet and magician Virgil (70-19 B.C.) placed an egg into the foundation of the fortress to support it. If the magical egg were ever to be broken, disaster would befall Naples.

Appointed Roman Emperor in 475, Flavius Romulus Augustus ruled for but a year before being overthrown and imprisoned in the castle, possibly until the end of his life. A monastery was founded on the castle site shortly before the year 500. Emperor Valentinian III (419-455) added fortifications to the site toward the end of his reign, but those fortifications were of little help to the crumbling Roman Empire. Valentinian III was assassinated in Rome, and Rome was soon sacked by the Vandals, whose destructive invasion contributed the word vandalism to our vocabulary.

Most of the early fortifications were demolished to prevent use by invading forces. Perhaps the magical egg was broken, because the piece of prime real estate on the bay captured the attention of Roger the Norman (1095-1154) who conquered Naples in 1140. He set up his headquarters there in a new castle.

But this Egg Castle was relegated to the role of an old one, one well-suited to serve as a prison. Normanesque was not the style of Charles of Anjou (1226-1285), King of Sicily, and a son of King Louis VIII of France (1187-1226). A little farther around the Bay of Naples, Castel Nuovo, or Maschio Angioino, was designed as a more palatial fortification. It served as the royal seat for rulers from off and on 1279 until 1815. The most notorious of, and the end of, the line of Anjou royals there was Queen Joanna II (1371-1435). During her tumultuous reign she was known for her several marriages and numerous lovers. Rumors swirled that she disposed of her lovers by unceremoniously dumping them via a secret trap door into a well in the castle’s dungeons where they were consumed by a resident crocodile.

King Alfonso V of Aragon (1396-1458) remodeled the palace in a Catalan-Majorcan-Gothic style. The impressive marble entryway added in 1470 commemorates his entry into Naples in 1442. The royals associated with the House of Bourbon found the New Castle not sumptuous enough for their tastes and added several luxurious new palaces in and around Naples beginning in the mid-1700s.

Unfortunately, the Palatine Chapel with its Giotto frescoes and several other portions of the Castel Nuovo were closed off during our visit, but the Civic Museum was open.

Postcard from Naples, Italy: A month there. No regrets.

When people asked where we were headed next and we answered Naples, their reactions reflected the city’s reputation. People tend to associate it with crime. Garbage. While there are people who travel there now specifically because of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet of novels, I must confess her descriptions of the gritty, rough neighborhoods of her childhood almost deterred me.

People also asked if we were mainly going to use Naples as a base for exploring the Amalfi coast. For visiting Pompeii. But, no, we were not. We were planning to spend a month primarily exploring the city itself.

I am asking you to stop now. Throw out all your preconceived ideas about the city for the upcoming blog posts.

Yes, there are some gritty, grimy areas, as there are in most big cities. Garbage does accumulate in narrow streets filled with bars where young people party late in an overwhelming volume that would prove challenging for most municipalities. But there are also miles of clean pathways skirting around the bay. There are enormous pedestrian-only pristine plazas. There are layers built upon layers of buildings climbing up its high hills. Some handsome; some not.

The city feels so real. So alive. A place operating not simply to appeal to tourists, but to function as a place where people live. A place with an engaging quirkiness and surprising discoveries around every corner.

And the Bay of Naples is drop-dead gorgeous. Mount Vesuvius and the islands of Capri and Ischia frame the shimmering water. No one told me that in advance, so I was unprepared for the beauty encountered everywhere.

Staying up in the Vomero neighborhood high above the city might seem like cheating in a way. An escape hatch from the hub-bub. How high is it? Not far as the seagull flies, but it amounted to a climb of about 60 stories. We only used the twisting-stairways once. But we descended into the city almost every single day via the inexpensive funiculars to explore her museums and churches. To admire the Baroque architecture. And to experience her restaurants. Pizza, pasta and fresh seafood everywhere.

Below is a random sampling showing some of Naples’ beauty and some of her warts.

 

Maybe Naples will grow on you as it did on us.