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main index © Jeff Matthews entry July 2004 update 2008 & Oct 2013
Funiculì-Funiculosed for Repairs
Cursle While You Climb
is a current (2013) graphic showing the four
cable-cars of Naples. The
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" or "stairs. 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 late 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 and
practically impassable. 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, Funiculì-Funiculà,
you may read a separate item
about that. That song was about another cable-car,
the one on Mt. Vesuvius, no longer in service, and
not one of the four in question.) (Here— listen to a bit of the
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 equator, or in no
particular order, the four cable cars are: (1)
Mergellina, (2) Chiaia, (3) Central, (4) Montesanto. (See image at top of
car (bottom station, photo, right, opened
in 1931) 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 ridge. 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 cable-car does not carry as
much traffic as any of the others though it does
provide a valuable service to the people in that
The Chiaia cable-car (opened in 1889).
This was the first cable-car in the city.
(Construction site photo at top of page, from 2002,
shows the Parco Margherita station. (Update:
2013) The new, re-opened top and
bottom stations, Parco Margherita and Cimarosa, are
shown in photos below). This line was in and out of
service for 20 years, from the 1980s, when they
decided to rebuild it, to 2004. (The title of this
page and the lead paragraphs reflect my frustration
at the time. I left in the original photograph of
the construction site because I am just plain mean!)
In a related entry,
I heaped every heapable insult upon the so-called
heads of the so-called architects of the original
plan to build a Brutalist
In any event, there was
a law suit and construction was stopped for years;
the law suit was settled (that is, compensation was
rendered unto those whose optic nerves had been
permanently damaged from the mere sight of the Metal
Thing from Planet Puke) and construction went ahead
in full swing (Count Basie would have been proud).
By 2004, the cable car was functioning, even though
none of the stations were really completed.
The line is essential line for people who have to get from the busy shopping district of Chiaia to the businesses, residences and new metro connections 200 meters up on the Vomero hill. The first stone of construction was laid in the presence of king Umberto, whose spent a lot of time in Naples. (He had been there the year before during the great cholera epidemic, where his behavior had endeared him to the populace.) The line is 538 meters long and climbs 161 meters in elevation at a gradient of 29%. Each trip can move 300 passenger and the daily capacity of 12,500. It is an easy four-minute ride when the cable-car is running. When it is NOT running, the city runs extra buses. The bus trip is a disaster and, depending on traffic, can range from 20 minutes to Please, God, Why Was I Born.
If the Evil
Architects (EA's) had won the Battle of Parco
Margherita (the bottom station), that entire station
would have wound up looking like what you see here
(photo, above, left). This is the entrance to the
intermediate station of the Chiaia line at Corso
Vittorio Emanuele. Here, clearly, the EA's eeked out
a minor victory and may they rot in hell; very few
people actually use this station, so we can overlook
it. Basically, it consists of a couple of girders
with a door hanging off the bottom. That is what the
residents in the buildings adjacent to the
construction site at Parco Margherita were
protesting against. Now they have an aesthetic piece
of retro architecture (photo, below, left).
[update 2008 & 2013: The Chiaia cable-car is open and works like a charm! Photos, below: left, the bottom station (Parco Margherita; right, the Vomero (Cimarosa) station; below that, an illustration from Secolo Illustrato of the bottom station, Parco Margherita, when it opened in 1889.]
(updated 2013) The Montesanto
cable-car (separate item on bottom station
here) opened in 1891 after five years of
construction. It is 824 meters long; the
average gradient is a steep 21%, and it takes 4'25"
from bottom to top. The line can carry 300
passengers a trip (each train has three cars) and
has a daily capacity of 11,000 passengers. There is
only one intermediate station, at Corso Vittorio
Emanuele. From the top station on Vomero, near the
Sant'Elmo castle, 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. The bottom station (photo, left,
below) was recently restored to its 1882 appearance;
at that time, before the cable-car, the station
served as the Naples terminus of the Cumana railway.
The station has been declared a national monument.
The top station was rebuilt in the 1990s to an
building that I have elsewhere described as "Führerbunker Bauhaus".
The station has since been been redone and is shown
in the photo (below, right). When the cable-car is
not working, the gap is partially filled by the
metro station at Piazza Dante; that station has been
open for a few years, and the new metro runs to
Vomero in a short time. There is, as far as I can
tell, still no progress on building a rather
ingenious new intermediate station (described in
this separate entry).
What can I say? These things
have their ups and downs.