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Haunted Houses

In addition to Gaiola, the spooked little island off the Posillipo coast that everyone knows is haunted, there are at least two other so-called "haunted houses" in the city, buildings where terrible things are known to have happened, and, no doubt, other terrible things that are said to have happened never did but probably will if you get too close. 

One is at  via Tasso 615 (photo, left), at the very top of the hill (about 500 feet above sea-level) where that road then swings left out to the long drive along the Posillipo ridge or turns right for the main road into the Vomero section of Naples. According to a sign near the high metal scroll gate, the building is called the Corte dei Leoni ("Court of the Lions"). The villa is about as set–off as it could be in an overbuilt city; that is, though one side of the villa is across the street from the standard markets and cracker-box buildings of the 1950s, the other side is right at the top of a steep slope with nothing in the way to obstruct a spectacular view of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples (photo, below).

The Corte dei Leoni was originally called Villa Spera and then Villa Giordano. It is not typical architecture for Naples. It is a three-story, irregular but roughly rectangular pseudo-Renaissance building. It has arched windows with prominent keystones and columns on either side and a pale-red brick façade with enough protruding bricks to give it a softened ashlar effect. Placed high up on the façade in various places are a few graven symbols. Two that stand out are on either side of a large window. They appear to be some version or other of the winged caduceus, the staff carried in Roman mythology by Mercury. The wings are there, to be sure, but on top of each staff is a stylized horse's—or dragon's—head. They face inward and "look at" each other across the arch of the window. 

The roof, in Renaissance fashion, slopes gently down to all sides. As the villa is actually built on a slope, that part of the building that faces the sea has an additional story using the extra space provided by the rapid change in elevation from the front of the property to the back. There is dark or stained glass in most of the windows. On the seaward side, there is a remarkable spiral stairway that winds the height of the building; it is on the inside, but encased in glass and very visible from the outside. The entire property is protected from the street by a high iron fence webbed with ivy, such that it is impossible to look into the grounds. There is a stone plaque embedded in the façade that reads 1922 in Roman numerals; it also names the architect, Adolphus Avena (using the Latinized version of "Adolfo") (1860-1937), but the stone is weathered enough to look much older than that. On the sea-side there is also a balcony. The whole effect is Renaissance, yes, but so foreboding that if Juliet, herself, were to walk out on that balcony and call down to me, "What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" I would leave. 

The only other information provided by a small notice board near the gate is that the premises are available for wedding receptions, banquets—that sort of thing. I don't think they get many takers, because everyone in Naples "knows" it is haunted. I have been unable to trace the source of the superstition. The one terrible thing that has happened there in my memory was just a few years ago. A woman was walking by the house early on a Sunday morning. Except for her, the street was apparently deserted, for there were no eye–witnesses. The scene, itself, provided the details: there is a large tree on the grounds and, as she walked by, a high branch hanging over the fence and above the street chose that moment to snap and fall, striking the woman in the head and killing her. That sent "I-told-you-so" headlines shivering across the newspapers for a few day. 

The other "haunted" building is the Palazzo of the Prince of Sansevero located at Piazza San Domenico Maggiore. (You can read about that building by clicking here and about the Prince of Sansevero, renowned as a sorcerer, by clicking here.) 

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