The Villa d'Elboeuf
The villa in 2011
There are 122 villas on the
list of the Vesuvian Villas,
splendid residences from the 1700s spread out to the east
of Naples along the coast in the direction of Mt.
Vesuvius. (Some have been restored as part of a master
plan to showcase that bit of the architectural and
cultural history of Naples. See the above link to the
Vesuvian Villas.) The villa d'Elboeuf is the first of
these in chronological order and among the worst
preserved among the lot (photo, right). There is always
talk of restoring the villa d'Elboeuf and one always hopes
that something will be done, as, indeed, something has
been done for some of the others. It is, however, a very
The Villa d'Elboeuf was built on the coast adjacent
to the Granatello dock (photo, below, right) in Portici in
1711 by the duke d'Elboeuf (Emmanuel Maurice, Duke of
Elbeuf (1677-1763), a French nobleman, who served
under Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph I, at Naples
as lieutenant general of the cavalry during the Wars of
the Spanish Succession.) The architect was the
idiosyncratic and delightful Neapolitan, Ferdinando Sanfelice, whose
best-known work in the city of Naples is no doubt the Palazzo
dello Spagnuolo. The building was to a design of two
floors with a loge facing Mt. Vesuvius and two terraces on
the sea, one facing Torre del Greco and the other Naples.
The design included Sanfelice's trademark double
elliptical staircase with marble banisters (example here, by Sanfelice).
The villa (building on left) &
The duke diligently planted exotic
flora in the grand garden and added some ancient Greek
artifacts from a place nearby, which we now call the
archaeological site of Herculaneum.
(Some may say he deserved a few bits and pieces since he
is the one who apparently made the first discoveries, or
at least heard that some local farmers had found marble
slabs that he could use for his new residence. Manny
Maurice was not an archaeologist and had NO interest
whatsoever in really finding out what it all was or in
preserving any of it. It just looked good in the garden!
18th-century painting by Joseph Rebell
Scientific research at Herculaneum came later. The
results were stunning; when the new Bourbon king, Charles III, and his queen
consort, Maria Amalia of Saxony, were aboard a vessel in
the gulf in 1738 that had to seek shelter from a storm,
they docked at the duke's residence. Charles was so
impressed by the premises and the beauty of the
surroundings that he decided to put his new royal palace right next door
in Portici. The duke ceded his property to one Giacinto
Falletti, and from there it passed to King Charles,
himself, who turned it into a sort of dependency of his
own new royal palace. Historically, thus, the villa
d'Elboeuf deserves some attention since this is where the
age of building splendid villas in the 1700s in Naples
started. The king's heir, Ferdinand IV, expanded the villa
d'Elboeuf even further.
same view as above, photo from 2011
The decline of the
Villa began in 1839 with one of the first great ravages of
progress, the construction of the
first railway line in Italy; the tracks went right
between the main building and the park. It must have
seemed quaint at the time. "Decline? Haaah!
We only use this steam-monster once in a blue moon and
it's not like it's going to expand or really get us
In 1891, a writer could still say,
In this place I saw
joined, as by a magic spell, a tranquil sea, a
surprising mountain, woods, gardens, quiet, pure air
and the heavens of Italy. What more could you ask for?
[Guido Rapolla, Memorie storiche di Portici,
Times change; the
urbanization of the area has been disastrous for attempts
to reanimate the 18th century in the 20th &
21st-centuries Naples. Also, the destruction wrought in
the immediate area by the bombings of WWII did not
help. And so, the first of the great Vesuvian Villas is in
squalid shape. The property was sold in 2011 to a private
entrepreneur who is contractually bound to restore it.
photo credits: all
photos, including photo of the painting, by F.
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