a dear friend who used to live in Naples, has written.
Last weekend we were in San
Francisco and we drove the kids down Lombard Street
which claims it is the crookedest street in the world. I
remember a street in Naples that was kind of hidden that
was at least equally as crooked. I believe it ended up
at Mergellina…what can you tell me about this very old
I'm not sure. She has
described a number of streets in that area. She is
probably talking about Rampe
S. Antonio (photo), a road that makes seven
180–degrees turns to navigate down the hillside from above
the Church of Piedigrotta
and comes out a couple of blocks from the small Mergellina harbor. It's not a
major thoroughfare, so maybe that doesn't count in the
"world's crookedest street" contest. Off hand, however, I
can think of a few busy roads in the city that make two or
three "180s" with a few right–angle turns thrown in over
the length of half a mile or so.
That is what happens
when a city is spread from sea level to about 200 meters/600
feet, as is Naples; roads have to be either very crooked
or very steep and maybe even both. For pedestrians there
are also four heavily–used cable–cars in Naples. (They are
also termed “funicular railways,” as in Funiculì–Funiculà,
though that song was written about the long–gone cable–car
on Vesuvius). And only brave sherpa Tenzing Norkay would
feel much like singing on the way up the many stairways
that web the hillside.
Greek (and then Roman) city was laid out on a neat
grid of symmetrical blocks.
(Pythagoras, himself, would whack a stone surveyor’s
tripod across your brow if you tried to sneak in even one
little dog-leg.) There were no crooked roads.
After centuries of wandering around in the Dark Ages, however, people had
simply reinvented crookedness on their own. Then, in the
sixteenth century, the Spanish
straightened a lot of that out. Ironically, the
Baroque—known for complexity and ornateness—oversaw the
construction of broad, straight roads in Naples for the
first time in 1500 years. The famous Spanish Quarters in
Naples were built during that period. (I include here a
quote from the entry about the Spanish
Here, one does well to
recall Lewis Mumford’s remark that the clearing
away of the small winding medieval streets of Paris by
Napoleon III in the mid-nineteenth century did away with
the last physical barrier which protected the common
citizen from the power of the absolute state. Such was
the case in Naples — a long rebellious nest of medieval
clutter into which the King’s soldiers ventured at
considerable risk was made more manageable by the
introduction of broad straight roads that were easy to
If my friend is looking
for steep streets, I think via Kagoshima takes the prize in Naples,
though others come close. That's the name, too—Kagoshima. That Japanese city and Naples
have paired off in one of these "sister city" affairs.
Presumably, in Kagoshima there is a street named after
Naples. I took a carpenter's level over to via Kagoshima the
other day just to check my little car’s complaint that the
street has a 45–degree grade, at least in part. The tiny air
bubble went way over to one side. I don't think I got an
exact readout of 45 degrees, but I remember thinking that if
I used that carpenter's level to make tables like that, I
could sell them to people who just wanted to sit at one end
and have all their food roll down to them.
don't worry too much about crooked and steep; it's
"holeyness" we are concerned with. We had a sink-hole a
few years ago up on the Vomero hill, above the main part
of Naples, that opened and swallowed a filling station.
Folklore already insists that the filling station has
never been found. It has become a Texaco Flying Dutchman,
doomed to sail the netherworld of Naples forever.