Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews


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Villa Floridiana; Villa Lucia; Lucia Migliaccio Partanna
National Ceramics Museum


I see that the City Hall is currently struggling with the demands of environmentalists, who are demanding that steps be taken to protect one of city's few grand parks, the Villa Floridiana. It is not nearly as well-known as the Villa Comunale, the Public Gardens, down on the sea-front, or the vast grounds of the Capodimonte Museum, one of the royal palaces of the Bourbons from the 18th–century. For a start, the Floridiana will be put under the auspices of the Naples Superintendency of Museums, and an initial 150 thousand euros have been allocated for maintenance and repairs of the grounds. Also, it seems that the employees of the Floridiana—a dozen or so—like to use the grounds as their own private parking lot. After all, when they come to work in the morning, there is generally no place on the street to park. They certainly can't be expected to use the nearby garages; they would have to pay, and we can't have that. 

The Villa Floridiana, today one of the favorite public parks in Naples, commands a pleasant view of the bay from its position on the slopes of the Vomero section of the city. The villa dates back to 1816 when Ferdinand I of Bourbon, King of the Two Sicilies, acquired the property from Giuseppe Caracciolo, Prince of Torella. The King then donated the property as the site for a vacation residence to his favorite lady, Lucia Migliaccio Partanna, duchess of Floridia, from which the villa has taken its name. (She was the king's "morganatic" note* wife and did all right; she later got a second residence from Ferdinand, the Palazzo Partanna. The King's first wife, Caroline, had died in 1814.)

The neoclassical residence and surrounding gardens were then planned and built from 1817-19. The architect was Antonio Niccolini, the great Tuscan architect and the same person who restored the San Carlo theater in 1816 after a disastrous fire. He had been brought to Naples by Joseph Bonaparte in 1806 and had established himself as the court architect, staying on even after the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy following the Napoleonic wars. Numerous wooded trails wind through the park and there are over a hundred  species of trees, flowers and plants. The original picturesque and romantic setting was amplified by the addition of statues, fountains, an outdoor theater, a temple and even a fake ruin or two to heighten the effect of Classicism. The original property included both the Villa Floridia (top photo) and the Villa Lucia (photo, right), named for the king's wife. After the death of both King Ferdinand and his wife, the grounds underwent some legal subdivision; the Villa Lucia and a section of the park were sold off into private hands, where they remain. The rest—the present-day Villa Floridiana—was acquired by the state in 1919. The premises had been opened to the public somewhat earlier; this item appeared in il Mattino on March 4, 1917:

Along the new and silent streets of Vomero, on March 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11, from 10 am to 6 pm, we shall see all of Naples turn towards the paradise of the 'Floridiana'. It is the happiest, most harmonious and luxurious product that might ever have sprung from the imagination of Antonio Piccolini...

Well, the streets of Vomero are no longer new and silent, but the Villa remains a peaceful place to get away from the last 100 years of progress. Since 1927 the villa Floridiana has housed the “Duca di Martina” National Ceramics Museum, a prestigious collection of European and Oriental decorative arts. The collection was built up by Placido di Sangro, Duke of Martina, and comprises some 6,000 items in glass, ivory, amber, lacquer, coral, tortoiseshell, enamel, and above all, porcelain and maiolica ware. On his death, the collection passed to his nephew who bequeathed it to the city of Naples in 1911.

The displays on the first floor feature porcelain ware by various European makers, notably the Meissen works in Saxony and a large number of items from the works at nearby Capodimonte. The ground floor features maiolica ware, china from the Hispano-Moresque tradition, and glass ware. The basement section of the villa has a large display of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

[Also see Ceramics, Majolica & the Royal Porcelain Factory at Capodimonte]


*morganatic: an unusual term with a fascinating etymology, from matrimonium morganaticum, literally "marriage with a morning gift," referring to a gift given to the wife on the day of marriage, in lieu of any share in the husband's property. The term designated a form of marriage in which a nobleman married a woman of lower social status with the provision that, although children would be legitimate, neither they nor the wife might lay claim to the husband's rank or property. (back up to text)


2.
update March 22, 2011
 

CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE!

The dark green patch in the photo (below, right) is the Floridiana park. It is the only place that local residents in the totally overbuilt Vomero part of the city have to wander around in some greenery. This aerial view does not make clear that the park is at about 600 feet above sea-level. That is, the right-hand border of green is at the very edge of the prominent Vomero hill that then drops sharply down to  sea-level and the buildings of the Chiaia section of the city (the buildings on the right, along the sea-side. [Also see: Urban Expansion of the Vomero.]

Spring is in the air, and one of the few places left in the Vomero section of Naples where you have usually been able to get a whiff of any air at all has traditionally been the Floridiana park. Recent rain and wind felled a single tree in the park a while ago; that caused a wave of bureaucratic fear of lawsuits, so the park has been closed until further notice while they examine the general state of the rest of the trees. This may take some time, as usual, since the contract between the park and the city ran out a few years ago causing a number of gardeners to leave and seek greener pastures elsewhere. This leaves the 120,000 residents of the immediate area with nowhere to stroll. Also, the cost of general maintenance (if and when the park is ever reopened) may require a small admission fee even to get into the grounds. As noted in the main entry (above), the park also contains the National Ceramics Museum. That will remain open via a secondary entrance.




3.

update: Jan. 20012

Although there are signs on the premises warning you "for reasons of safety" not to sit under the trees, the Villa Floridiana has been open again for some time. A few of the more heavily wooded trails have been cordoned off, but by and large you can wander in and around just like the good old days. There is still no admission charge.


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