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main index © Jeff Matthews entry July 2003
accompany people around Naples from time to
time and am often subjected to the ultimate hard
question: "Gee, what's that?" My standard answer is:
"Oh, that's a dextral embrasure flanked by a
counterscarp dripstone thing. They say it was built
right before the Mopedoid invasions, but you never
Naples has a Gee-What's-That? on every street, and I found another one the other day, hidden behind the old monastery that the Orientale University of Naples now uses for classes, one block south of the Duomo, the cathedral.
It is the complex —and
just a fraction of it sticks up above ground—of the
Roman baths Carminiello ai Mannesi,
(unmarked, but near number 30 on the map of the historic center
of the city). The original complex covered about 700
sq. meters. Archaeological evidence suggests that
the baths were terraced down towards the sea. The
complex—or part of it—stood on the site of an
earlier structure, a temple from the 5th century
b.c., centuries before the Romans took over the
area. The Romans built up the area in the early
imperial age under Augustus and, again, following
damage caused by the earthquake of 62 a.d. and the
infamous Pompeii eruption of 79 a.d. The baths were
abandoned in the 5th century a.d. at about the time
of the fall of the western Roman Empire. There was
subsequently a brief period when the site was used
by a cult dedicated to Mithras, the Persian god of
light, whose worship had been imported to Rome; the
cult spread throughout the empire to become the
greatest rival of Christianity. Eventually, however,
the area was totally abandoned; no doubt the area
was affected by the great mudslide that covered much
of the city just to the west in the 600s.*
A Christian house of worship arose in the Middle Ages on the site and was part of a greater church called Santa Maria del Carmine ai Mannesi. "Carminiello" is a diminutive and the "mannesi" part of the name refers to the occupation of those who lived in the area; they worked with wood and made and repaired carts. In Neapolitan toponymy, the name of the church is used to refer to the much older Roman structure, in the same way as, say, the "ruins of San Lorenzo" refer to the old Roman market excavated beneath the medieval church of San Lorenzo.
in the area was aroused following air-raids in WW2
when destruction of buildings on the surface lay
bare some of the 2,000–year–old ruins. Serious work
and cataloging of the site had to wait until 1993.
Like much of what lies beneath modern Naples
(virtually all of ancient Naples), the site will
never be totally excavated. Although the site now
has a fence around it and is marked as an object of
historical interest, I have never seen it open.
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*addenda: This kind note comes from Prof. Paul Arthur, Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of Lecce:The 'Gee - what's that?' site of Carminiello ai Mannesi was a housing block of late 1st-early 2nd century date, with an attached bath building. I had the honour to excavate the site in the early 1980's and it remains one of the few published excavations in the centre of Naples.
If you are interested, information can be found in my two volumes:
P. Arthur (ed.), Il complesso archeologico di Carminiello ai Mannesi, Napoli (scavi 1983-1984), Congedo, Galatina, 1994.
P. Arthur, Naples from Roman Town to City-State: an archaeological perspective, The British School at Rome monograph series no. 12, 2002.
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