Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews  entry Sept. 2003  #2 added July 2015
There are two items on this page: 1. Gaeta   2. Monte Orlando Urban Park

1. Gaeta 

I have not spent much time in Gaeta, about 60 miles north of Naples. I recall that it has fine beaches and a picturesque waterfront. It is also an important military naval port. As the northernmost coastal city in the old Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples), Gaeta does have some interesting episodes connected with it. It is probably most familiar for the fact that it was the site of the last stand by the Bourbon army against the Italian forces of Victor Emanuel II. After leaving Naples, the last defenders of the Neapolitan Bourbon dynasty took refuge in the fortress of Gaeta (photo) and withstood a siege and withering bombardment that lasted from November 1860 to February 1861, at the end of which they surrendered, and the modern nation-state of Italy was born. (See, also, the entry on Maria Sophia of Bourbon.) 

But there is another episode, not too many years before that and also connected with the political movement to unify Italy. In the "What-If" game of history —always as delightful as it is irrelevant— the unification of northern and southern Italy into a single state perhaps did not have to unfold the way it did. What if King Ferdinand II of Naples had sent forces in 1848 to join the northern armies in the First War of Italian Unification, a campaign to liberate parts of northern Italy from Austria? That might have brought about an Italian confederation of sorts with no invasion of the south necessary at all a decade later. 

Actually, Ferdinand did, indeed, send an army to join the battle against Austria, but he recalled it. There are a number of reasons for that, foremost of which is that he knew that an Italian confederation would be setting up the eventual invasion of the Papal States, the large chunk of church land in central Italy that effectively stood in the way of unifying the peninsula. Ferdinand was not prepared to be part of that eventual invasion. Also, Pope Pius IX had refused to commit Papal forces and moral support to the campaign against the Catholic nation of Austria. (Obviously, the Pope also realized that a united Italy would sooner or later mean the end of the Papal States and the 1000-year-old "temporal power" of the Vatican.) Thus, Ferdinand withdrew the forces of Naples from the war, and the north went it alone in 1848 and took a beating. 

(Again in the What-If game, Ferdinand's son, Francis II, took the throne of Naples a decade later and refused a similar chance to form a coalition with King Victor Emanuel of Savoy, who proposed an Italian peninsula shared by two separate states, north and south, plus a smaller version of the Church State. That was the last chance to obviate Garibaldi's invasion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.) 

Part of the broad revolutionary conflicts that swept Italy —indeed, much of Europe— in 1848 was the proclamation of the Roman Republic. It was the result of a successful uprising, fomented by Mazzini's Young Italy movement, to overthrow the Pope (not as the head of the faith, but as the king of the Papal States). The Republic lasted, officially, from February 9 to July 3, 1849 but Pope Pius IX had left Rome in November of the previous year to escape possible violence against his person. (Republican agitators had already murdered the Pope's Prime Minister). The Pope went to Gaeta, where he was under the protection of the king of Naples. From his refuge in Gaeta, Pius IX called on the Catholic nations of Europe to help restore him to his See and to restore the temporal power of the Church, which the Republicans had declared defunct in one of their first proclamations. 

That is precisely what happened. A broad coalition of Neapolitan, French, Austrian, and even Spanish troops (who landed at Gaeta) surrounded the Roman Republic, and not even the resourceful Garibaldi (involved in the defense of the city) could hold out against all that. The fighting was furious, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Pope returned to Rome in April of 1850 where he and his state would be protected by French troops until 1870 when Rome finally succumbed to the forces of the new Italy. 

The Church of San Francesco in Gaeta was built (on the site of an earlier monastery) by Ferdinand II to honor the brief presence of the Pope in Gaeta. As well, the San Martino museum in Naples has on display a painting by the Flemish artist, Frans Vervloet showing "The Pope Greeting the Multitudes in Gaeta". For a short time, then, Gaeta was the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.


entry July 2015

2. The Monte Orlando Urban Park (Gaeta)

from mighty sword to pretty good plowshare

As you run up the coast from Naples and cross from the Province of Campania into that of Lazio, you start running into a series of protected regional parks administered by that region. If you stay on the main road, it will take you by the Roman archaological site of Minturnae (Minturno) and then around a marvelous green patch called the Regional Park of Gianola and Mt. Scauri, which includes a coastal section called the Riviera of Ulysses! That's about 50 km/30 miles up the coast.

And then you're in the Gulf of Gaeta with its major port city of that name. Gaeta has a very long history and was very important to the Romans. I have not yet got around to dealing with that—sooner or later, perhaps. The item directly above this one is mainly about the last episode of Bourbon Gaeta in 1861. What follows here below is a modern extension of that. It was brought to my attention by Fulvio Salvi of Napoli Underground (NUg), who writes on his site,

A recent trip to the Urban Park of Mt. Orlando at Gaeta brought us yet another pleasant surprise: the discovery of the Ferdinand II Museum of Natural History.
It was opened recently and is located in the old historic building that was, in fact, the Gaeta powder magazine under Frederick II, the next-to-last king of Naples. The restoration of the premises paid particular attention to maintaining the original external walls while providing modern "museum routes" within, routes that lead from history through natural history, geology and paleontology. The main exhibit hall is only the first of three spaces and is followed by a conference room and a teaching lab. The premises are in the hands of an enthusiastic band of researchers who delight in taking visitors around and showing and explaining what the museum has to offer. By reservation, you may also arrange special "theme" showings along those trails of the park that are dedicated to school field trips.
(photo, NUg)
Interestingly, it still didn't register with me, and it might not with you, either, unless you are very familiar with this particular part of Italy and, specifically, Gaeta. I thought, "OK, Monte Orlando...what's that? Where's that?....Oh...." There it was. It is the top photo, item 1, at the top left of this page. Mt. Orlando is, in fact, the promontory upon which the mighty Bourbon fortress of Gaeta stands, the iconic image of Gaeta, the fort that was extended and strengthened under the Spanish beginning in the 1500s and developed into a true fortress of its times. It resisted as such until the very end; it is where Bourbon Naples made its last stand against the forces of United Italy and lost. (The accounts are many. Mine is here.)

It has now become the Regional Park of Monte Orlando, which takes up much of the territory of Gaeta, itselfat least that part that has grown up within the walls of the old fortress. The promontory, itself, rises to 171 meters/513 feet a.s.l. and is a natural extension into the Tyrrhenian sea of the Aurunci mountains (alias the Lazio pre-Apennines). The Monte Orland Urban Park, itself, is about 90 hectares in area (c. 2250 acres), about half of which is along the coastal sections. It is administered by the same agency as the aforementioned Gianola and Mt.Scauri Park and the Villa of Tiberius and Grotto of Sperlonga a little bit farther up the coast from Gaeta. So, while Ferdinand II and his son Francis, the last king, would no doubt disapprove of what has become of their fortress, I don't mind at all.

[see the NUg site here for the original article plus a large selection of photography, including
a section dedicated to the military installations of the old fortress.)        

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