| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
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(Items with yellow borders
are active. Click within the yellow borders to link to
Alternately, you may use the highlighted links in the key below the map)
2. Church of Gesù Nuovo
3. Santa Chiara Church and Monastery
4. Church of Santa Marta
5. Palazzo Filomarino
6. Palazzo Mazziotti
7. Palazzo Venezia
8. Palazzo Tufarelli
9. Palazzo Carafa della Spina
10. Palazzo Pinelli
11. Palazzo Petrucci
12. San Domenica Maggiore
13. Capella Sansevero
14. Palazzo Sansevero
15. Palazzo Corigliano
16. Palazzo Casacalenda
Church of Sant'Angelo a Nilo
18. Palazzo Pignatelli
19. Statue of the Nile
20. Palazzo di Parnormita
21. Palazzo Carafa di Montorio
22. Palazzo Carafa Santangelo
23. Church of S. Nicola a Nilo
24. Church of Ss. Phillip & James
25. Monte di Pietà
26. Palazzo Marigliano
27. Monastery of S. Gregorio Armeno
28. Excavations: S. Lorenzo Maggiore
29. Church of S. Lorenzo Maggiore
30. Pio Monte della Misericordia
|31. Monastery of the Girolamini
The Cathedral (Duomo) is opposite n. 31
32. Palazzo de Scorciatis
33. Church of S. Paolo Maggiore
34. Palazzo D'Angiò
35. Church of Purgatorio ad Arco
36. Palazzo Spinelli di Laurino
37. The Pontano Chapel
38. S. Maria Maggiore and belfry
39. Church of Croce di Lucca
40. Church of S. Pietro a Maiella
41. Music Conservatory
42. Church of S. Antonio
43. Greek Wall (Piazza Bellini)
highlighted, linked items in the key correspond
to those numbers, in yellow, on the map.
Additionally, some of the unlinked items on the
map are discussed briefly in the text, below.)
The Greco-Roman city of Naples was contained within city walls, approximately bounding the area shown in the map above. Today that area is commonly called "The Historic Center." Two of the three main east-west streets of the ancient city are today called Via Tribunali and Via B. Croce/Via S. Biagio dei Librai and are visible on the map.
The section immediately below deals with Via B. Croce/Via S. Biagio dei Librai, the so-called Lower Decumanus of the ancient city. Following that, there is a description of the main Decumanus, via Tribunali. To skip to that section, click here.)
Via B. Croce/Via S. Biagio dei Librai is still one of the most interesting streets in the entire city. Although today it changes names every few blocks, it is, in effect still the single straight street it was 2,500 years ago, a thoroughfare which divides the city, so to speak, in half, which fact has given it the popular name of Spaccanapoli, Naples-Splitter.
When the city was enlarged towards the west, the original decumanus was extended as far as the hill of S. Martino, and it is from this vantage point looking down at "Spaccanapoli" that the effect of this division is most striking. Along this straight line are many of the most noteworthy monuments in the city, some of which are dealt with in detail elsewhere on this website. At the beginning of the original decumanus, starting at Piazza del Gesù Nuovo at the site of the Spire of the Immaculate Virgin, the Church of Gesù Nuovo (Palazzo Sanseverino, number 2 on the map), and the Church and Monastery of Santa Chiara (number 3 on the map) and heading east, you immediately cross a street named via Costantinopoli, built along the line of the original Greek west wall of the city.
Into the old city now, you pass the Filomarino Palace (#5) , which retains in its structure traces of the numerous renovations undergone during the centuries. The portal is by Sanfelice, and it is here that Italy's greatest modern historian and philosopher, Benedetto Croce, lived and worked. Further on, at Piazza San Domico Maggiore is the Church of the same name. The church has been altered several times and has lost its original 14th century appearance, but it still retains the Gothic doorway and wooden door. Attached to the church was the convent which the Dominicans transformed into a center of study and culture and where Thomas Aquinas taught. Inside the church is the 13th century crucifix that tradition says spoke to Aquinas.
Immediately after Piazza San Domenico Maggiore is the small Piazzetta del Nilo. Here was the Alexandrian "Egyptian" quarter of Greek Naples and the ancient statute of the river Nile, venerated by the Alexandrians, is still to be found there. Here is where the ancient Temple to Isis probably stood. The modern street now takes the name of via S. Biagio dei Librai (book-shops); as you continue, the Palazzo Santangelo is on the right, erected by Diomede Carafa in the middle of the 15th century. It is one of the most interesting Renaissance buildings in Naples, containing elements of Florentine architecture mixed with others of Catalan derivation.
The decumanus now
crosses via San Gregorio Armeno, famous for
the presence of the church
of that name (# 27 on map). It is one
of the oldest in Naples, built on the site of the
ancient Temple to Ceres. For centuries the street
has been well known for the figurari who
have their workshops here. These are the artisans
who construct the small figures and models for
scenes at Christmas. Spaccanapoli then
crosses via Duomo, just south of the Cathedral (Duomo)
(opposite n. 31 on the map) and finishes shortly
thereafter as it passes the line of the old Greek
Via dei Tribunali.
You can enter the main east-west street of the Historic Center of Naples from Piazza Bellini (see #43 on the map). A few yards south of the excavated ruins of the old Greek wall is the Naples Music Conservatory (#41 on the map). Conservatories, themselves, go back to the mid-1500s in Naples, when the Spanish opened a number of them in the city on the premises of various monasteries. The location of this particular conservatory is the result of a consolidation undertaken in the early 1800s under Murat. It is actually housed on the grounds of what used to be the monastic courtyard of the adjacent church, San Pietro a Maiella. This is the approximate location of a gate in the western wall of the original city.
As noted in the short description of that church on this website (click here) the church was dedicated to the monk Pietro da Morone, who became Pope Celestine V in 1294. Pope Celestine V subsequently became the only Pope to abdicate, an event that also took place in Naples, in the Maschio Angioino, the Angevin Fortress. At least in Dante's version of the afterlife, Celestine resides in Hell. The Divine Comedy places him just past the gates of Hell among the Opportunists --(in John Ciardi's translation)-- "...the nearly soulless whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise...[and in reference to Celestine]...I recognized the shadow of that soul who, in his cowardice, made the Grand Denial...". (To play the Pope's advocate, I remind you that Dante was really upset at the fact the Celestine, by quitting, left the door open to the subsequent Pope, Boniface VIII, corrupt and, in Dante's view, responsible for much of the evils that befell Dante's city of Florence.)
Farther along on the left as you leave the church of San Pietro a Maiella is the church, Chiesa della Croce di Lucca, originally (in the first decade of the 1600s) part of a larger monastic complex. The construction of the main University Hospital on that location made it necessary to tear down much of what was on that site.
Beyond that on the left are the Church of S. Maria Maggiore and The Pontano Chapel (#37 and 38, respectively, on the map). The Pontano Chapel was built in 1492 at the behest of Giovanni Gioviano Pontano, the most celebrated Neapolitan humanist of the day and often referred to as the last great poet in the Latin language. He was an early member of The Academy, a group of scholars founded in Naples under the Aragonese dynasty. Because of his great influence, the group became known as the Pontanian Academy.
Adjacent to that chapel is Church of S. Maria Maggiore. It was built in 533 and is one of the Paleo-Christian churches in Naples (click here for a related item). It is on the site of an earlier temple dedicated to Diana. The remarkable red-brick belfry on the grounds is the oldest free-standing tower of its kind in Naples. It was part of the original church complex, though built later (c. 900 a.d.). The base of the tower incorporates earlier Roman bits and pieces as construction material, some of which are said to be part of the earlier temple. The more modern appearance of the church is due to the reconstruction of 1653.
Just beyond the Palazzo Spinelli di Laurino (#36 on the map) and also on the right is a building that often goes unnoticed. If you stand back and look at it, you see that it is one very long structure, extending almost all the way to the next intersection. The unity of the building is hard to see at first, broken up, as it is, by numerous small stalls and businesses behind the row of arches that fronts the street. It has also been sub- and resubdivided into many private residences on the floors above. However, it is, indeed, a single building, built in the mid-1300s to be the residence of Phillip II of Valois (also 'of' Taranto and 'of' Anjou) brother of the Angevin King of Naples at the time, Robert. The building still bears the impressive title of Palace of the Emperor of Constantinople, from the fact that Phillip married Caterina di Valois, who had inherited that title from her father. The presumption in the title bears no relation to real life in the mid-1300s; Neither Phillip, nor his wife, nor her father ever ruled Constantinople.
Across the street from that huge building is a small church (#35 on the map), the Church of Purgatorio del Arco, notable for the various examples of the "memento mori" --decorative skulls and bones and other such "reminders of death" built into the facade as admonitions to worry about the hereafter. They were put there in the early 1600s by the great architect Cosimo Fanzago. Such was the obsession of the congregation with souls in Purgatory that, at one time, 150 masses a day were held.
Just before you get to the large Church of S. Paolo Maggiore you can turn in to the left and take a tour of Underground Naples. You will descend into the old Roman aqueduct system that supplied the ancient city.
Via Tribulali now crosses Via San Gregorio Armeno (described in the last paragraph of the section, above, about the lower Decumanus). This is the main crossroad of the ancient city. The Church of S. Paolo Maggiore (#33 on the map) is the most prominent building. Across the street are the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore (#29) and, below that, the Excavations of S. Lorenzo Maggiore, the only large-scale excavation of the ancient city that lies beneath the surface of modern Naples.
Continuing east in Via dei Tribunali leads you past a large white church on the left. It is the church of S. Fillipo Neri of the Gerolamini order. The great Neapolitan philosopher, Giambattista Vico, lived at number 112 in the square in front of the church from 1704-18, and his remains are interred within the church, itself.
Continuing beyond that
crossing along Via dei Tribunali will lead you to
Via Duomo, near the Naples