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"On This Side of the Lighthouse"
Development of Lighthouses in and near Naples
The port of Naples in the 1400sThe Cape Peloro lighthouse on Sicily
First, an irrelevant item about lighthouses: the underlined phrase above the title is a strange expression not used since the unification of Italy (1861). Older texts printed in the Kingdom of Naples commonly referred to the island of Sicily as al di là del faro (beyond the lighthouse) and to the rest of the kingdom on the mainland of Italy (where the capital city of Naples was located) as al di qua del faro (on this side of the lighthouse). The reference was to the lighthouse near (but not at) Messina on Sicily, across the strait between the "toe of the boot" and the island.
The usage goes back to the Angevin rule of the kingdom in the 1300s and 1400s. The lighthouse they were talking about is shown above (left). Although it is in the province of and comune (city, town) of Messina, it is not the Messina lighthouse; that one is 11 km farther down to the south and is at the Messina harbor, itself, the most important port in eastern Sicily for traffic over to Villa San Giovanni on the mainland and all points north. The one shown here, however, is back up at the NE tip of of the island (the extreme upper right on this map), where it tells ships coming across the Tyrrhenian sea from the west: Turn Here. This is where the first Greeks on Sicily built their lighthouse, right on the beach. You can swim across to the mainland, only 3 km away, but you'd be swimming into the infamous whirlpool of Scylla (mainland side) and Charybdis, where, yea, there be lots of monsters. It is historically one of the most significant lighthouses in all of Italy. Technically it is called the Cape Peloro lighthouse, named for the Greek mythological hero, Pelorus, as are the Peloritani mountains. The range runs for some 65 km from that little lighthouse down past Messina overlooking the Ionian sea on the east until it hits the slopes of great Mt. Etna. This modern lighthouse went into service in 1884. It is of masonry construction and has a rotating octagonal prism tower with a period of 10 seconds. The focal plane is 37 meters/110 feet above sea-level.
Maybe the lighhhouse atLighthouses or at least signal fires have been around ever since early cave-sailor decided that he would really like to sail into a harbor instead of into the rocks next to the entrance. The transition from signal fires to modern lighthouses (from wood to animal fats to kerosine to electricity) is beyond the scope of this entry; suffice it say that as splendid as we like to imagine the Lighthouse at Alexandria (image, right—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), ancient lighthouses were probably not much better than a full moon to help you see where you were sailing. The truly modern lighthouse had to await the genius of Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788–1827), the French engineer whose design for a lens (now named for him) allowed the construction of multi-part, thin, light lenses without the size and weight required by lenses of conventional design. His lens revolutionized lighthouses, focusing 85% of the light of a lamp versus the 20% focused with the parabolic reflectors of the time. The first such Fresnel lens was installed in 1823 in the Cordouan lighthouse at the mouth of the Gironde estuary in France. Other places in the world changed over as quickly as they could.
Alexandria looked like this.*
The Bourbons were restored to the throne of Naples in 1815. One of the marks of the "relaunching" of the dynasty was the attention paid to public works, particularly those in the important area of ports and harbors, naturally including lighthouses. The first Neapolitan scientist to propose the adoption of the new Fresnel system was physicist Macedonio Melloni (1789-1854), best remembered as the creator and first director of the Mt. Vesuvius geological observatory in 1841). In 1836, he proposed installing Fresnel lenses at the port of Naples and at Nisida. The installation of the Fresnel lens at the Nisida lighthouse occurred in July of 1841; local sources proudly called it "the first lens lighthouse on this side of the Alps." It was a great step forward for the kingdom in terms of keeping on a par with technical developments in the rest of Europe. That was also the year in which the Commission for Lighthouse and Beacons came into being with the task of applying the new system in the entire Gulf of Naples and eventually the rest of the kingdom. Melloni was in charge of the technical side; a number of others devoted themselves to architecture and design. Great effort was given to the design of these structures. The designers used the vocabulary of classical architecture—base, shaft, capital, dorian, fluting, etc.—in describing a lighthouse tower, for example. They weren't just putting up traffic-lights for boats; they were building coastal towers meant to please the eye and the spirit. Some of that is still evident in the photos, below. The commission decided to have 10 lighthouses as an initial goal; these were in the most obvious places: the Port of Naples (2), the island of Capri, Castellammare, Punta Campanella, Nisida, Baia, Capo Miseno, the island of Procida, and at Forio on the island of Ischia.
Work on the lighthouses at the port of Naples was begun in September 1841. By 1847, six of the ten were complete. By 1850 attention turned elsewhere in the kingdom, to the Calabrian and Sicilian coasts as well as islands, including Ponza (see map, below), where the structure was called "the first lighthouse in the Kingdom" (meaning northernmost). In 1859 a General Plan for the Systematic Lighting of the Coasts of the Kingdom 'On this Side of the Lighthouse' was published. (There was a separate plan for Sicily.) The plan called for 67 lighthouses; at the time of publication, there were only 16 in existence. A royal decree approved the building of 41 of the remaining 51. The rest were put off. The study had also looked into the feasibility of restoring and using some of the many old Saracen towers along Italian coasts in order to defray expenses. Indeed, one of the constant complaints of members of the commission was that they were hindered by the tightwad treasury of the kingdom; as a result, in spite of the large, impressive Neapolitan fleet, the development of lighthouses lagged behind the rest of Europe, including other Italian states (still independent at the time) such as Sardinia and Tuscany. The unification of Italy (1861) changed the situation. In 1873 a commission for Ports, Beaches and Lighthouses was established within the High Council for Public Works and the first catalog of all lighthouses in the new united Italy was published.
----->There is a separate entry on Ponza here<-----
For various reasons (such as modern electronic navigational aids aboard many vessels), lighthouses are not as necessary as they once were. (All sailors I have talked to, however, tell me that GPS navigation is fine etc. etc, but they really like to see (!) the light from the lighthouse at night.) Some elements of the lighthouse have, indeed, become, anachronisms; for example, to my knowledge, the only one of the lighthouses in the illustration that still employs a real, human lighthouse keeper is the one on Capri (see this link). There is more than just nostalgia here; there is something primordial and even mystical connected to lighthouses. Lucien Steil writes in "Metaphysical Archaeology of Lighthouses" in the American Arts Quarterly, Volume 27, number 2:
In control of visible and invisible dangers, in convivial serenity with the infinity of seas and skies, superbly coordinating the movements of ships, planets and waves, lighthouses are superbly lonesome and solitary, yet still an intrinsically integrated part of a meaningful, all-encompassing order. Lighthouses inhabit natural and metaphysical landscapes like compassionate hermits...
—*note: Alexandria lighthouse. The chances are good that it did look something like this. The image looks almost exactly like the Tower of Hercules in north-western Spain; that one is an ancient Roman lighthouse, restored, still in working order, and said to be modeled on the Alexandria lighthouse because it used to be called the Farum Brigantium, from the Greek pharos, the name of the island where the Greek lighthouse stood. The Tower of Hercules is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ^up
—Cirillo, Ornella. Illuminare le coste: i fari del golfo di Napoli nel XIX secolo [Illuminating the Coasts: Lighthouses in the Gulf of Naples in the 19th Century] from the website of the Italian Association of the History of Engineering. Not dated.
—Colombo, Antonio. "I Porti e gli Arsenali di Napoli" [The Ports and Shipyards of Naples] in Napoli Nobilissima, year 3, series in issues 1, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9. 1894.
—Spadetta, Pietro. "La Laterna del Molo" [the Pier Lantern] in Napoli Nobilissima, year 1, issue 7, pp. 109-111. 1892.