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Pietro Martire. The main body of this
ex-monastery now houses departments of the Federico II University of Naples.
The origins of San Pietro Martire go back to the Angevin dynasty in Naples when
Charles II of Anjou authorized the construction of a new
Dominican basilica. Construction was begun in
1294. (At the time, the area was already a maze of
tight alleyways close to the port; the layout of the
area that one sees today was greatly changed by the
urban rebuilding, the Risanamento,
of the late 1800s.)
Originally the premises were meant to house only 13 monks, but, even then, building went forward only in spurts as priorities changed under succeeding monarchs. The Renaissance courtyard is the result of the first real expansion in the early 1500s. In the 1630s, the main belfry was added, the work of F.A. Picchiati. Further construction and expansion occurred in the 1750s. The monastery was closed under the French rule of Murat in the early 1800s and then definitively closed in 1864. The complex was badly damaged in WW II bombings (it is very near the port); it was entirely restored in 1979. The old "church part" of the complex is a university chapel today and is directly across from the main building of the university on Corso Umberto I. (update: As of January 2010, the church, itself, is closed.)
Our Lady of Mercy. (A.k.a. the Church of Sant'Orsola.)
The presence of the Spanish Mercedarian order is
part of the consolidation of the Spanish monarchy in
the vice-realm of Naples
in the 1500s. This church/monastery is at the
western end of via Chiaia (now a pedestrian
thoroughfare), a road that, indeed, was once the
main way to get from the area around the Royal
palace to the newer Spanish expansions to the west
along the sea front. (Actually, it still is the easiest way if you
don't mind a short walk.) The church is on the site
of an earlier Chapel of St. Orsola from the 1400s;
construction to incorporate that chapel into the
newer church started in the late 1500s. The church
is not particularly conspicuous from the front as it
is abutted on both sides by other buildings. Like
many church/monasteries in Naples, it was closed
under the French in the early 1800s, but later
reopened. It underwent extensive restoration in the
1850s. Ten years later, the unification of Italy
forced the closure of virtually all monasteries in
Italy. In 1874, the former monastic premises were
sold and eventually converted into the Sannazzaro
Theater, still operating. The adjacent church stayed
a church and remains essentially what one sees
Santa Maria delle Grazie is below the Corso
Vittorio Emanuele at a small square called Piazza
Mondragone, a name historically applied to the
entire premises that contain the small church: il Retiro di
Mondragone, the Mondragone Retreat. The
entire complex was originally a "conservatory", in
the early non-musical use of the word to mean a
shelter, a place where widows and destitute women
might be cared for. The complex was founded in 1653
by Elena Aldobrandini, countess of Mondragone.
Construction of the church, itself, was somewhat
later than the shelter; the church is from 1715.
Urbanization and subdivision of the area has reduced
Santa Maria della Grazie to a rather sorry state.
For a long time, it was simply closed but has
recently been at least partially restored. It is
considered an outstanding example of late Baroque
art and architecture in Naples.
Santa Maria Assunta di Bellavista.
It is difficult to say which church in Naples has the
best view of the bay. This one has to be high on
anyone's list. It is way out of town at Piazza San Luigi,
on the long main road, via Posillipo, that winds west
away from Mergellina and
up the hill towards Cape Posillipo. (The photo, right,
was taken from the road that runs down to the sea, the
cape and villa Volpicelli.)
From the long monastery-like façade, one is tempted to
compare this church to the old Spanish buildings in
downtown Naples—maybe spectacularly restored. Not so; in
fact, from the side or above, you see that the building
is not a gigantic monastic block, but simply a very long
façade fronting a relatively shallow building. It was
built in only 4 years, beginning in 1860 on land granted
by Francis II (the last
king of Naples) to two sisters of the Capece Minutolo
family. The church, itself, is only the central portion
of the building. The two wings were meant to house,
respectively, a school and shelter for the poor on one
side and dwellings on the other. The clean neo-Gothic
façade, thus, is not a restoration, but the original
Santa Maria della Pazienza is commonly called the "Cesarea", after Annibale Cesareo, the royal secretary responsible in 1602 for the construction of what was then a church plus major hospital. It is located about halfway up the Vomero hill above the archaeological museum and accessible from below by the main road up, via Salvator Rosa. It is today just above the intersection of that street and Corso Vittorio Emanuele (a major east-west road which did not exist until the mid-1800s). The "Cesarea" was, at the time it was built, well outside of town. Originally, the church and hospital were under the direct administration of the Holy See. The hospital was closed in the late 1800s under a general move towards secularization of health-care facilities in Naples, and the administration of the church was transferred to the archbishopric of Naples.
Santa Maria del Parto (Birth) overlooks the small port of Mergellina and is quite easy to "underlook" if you are busy with the daily portside routine. Yet, the church is very old and very historic. It was founded by the great Neapolitan poet Iaccopo Sannazzaro on land he obtained in 1497 from Frederick II of Aragon. The king also gave Sannazzaro a stipend; thus, the poet spent the last years of his life working on his church and his poem, De partu Virginis, at the same time.
Although the entire complex has been divided and subdivided over the years, it is evident that the whole affair was once a single unit and was much bigger than the quaint church on top (photo). The original plans called for a two-level complex—the church that you see today on top and another church dug in the tufaceous cliff face below at a point where there was a cave that contained a well-known wooden presepe (manger scene) by Giovanni da Nola. The premises also included a monastery, using part of an earlier structure that had been on the site from the time of the Angevin dynasty. The first church was finished in good order, but the second part had some problems in the early 1500s due to a plague epidemic that forced Sannazzaro to leave Naples. Also, the French and Spanish were still fighting for control of the area; thus, at one point in the 1520s, the new church was converted into a military fortification. Before his death, Sannazzaro managed to get the property back, and heirs finished the project. Later, the monastery part was closed by the French in the early 1800s and, for a while, those premises became the private property of the Neapolitan opera impresario, Domenico Barbaia.
The church of Santa Teresa degli Scalzi (aka Santa Teresa al Museo or Madre di Dio) is the eponym for the street on which it is located, just around the corner to the north of the National Archaeological Museum. The broad street was the new thoroughfare built by the French under Murat in the early 1800s to connect the historic center of the city with the royal palace of Capodimonte. In spite of the historical importance of the church and the great number of art works contained on the premises, it is almost never open to be visited. The interior of the church is a treasure trove, with works by painters Paolo de Matteis and Battistello Caracciolo and the sculptor Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, among many others. Also, the church holds a painting of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII. It is by Giacomo Colombo and is from 1715, the era of the brief Austrian Hapsburg vice-realm in Naples. The chapel of St. Teresa within the church was designed by Cosimo Fanzago and is considered relevant in the history of Neapolitan Baroque art
degli Scalzi was built between 1604 and 1612
and was the first church and monastery of the Discalced ("barefoot")
Carmelite Order in Naples. The founders were
Carmelite monks from Spain, followers of St. Teresa of
Ávila. The façade of S.M. degli Scalzi contains a stucco
statue of St. Teresa and one of St. John of the Cross;
the façade is from 1652 and is the work of Fanzago.
[There is a seperate entry on the Ancient (Calced) Carmelite
San Carlo all' Arena. This church with the strange name is located on the north side of via Foria, just east of Piazza Cavour, and is relatively late in the history of Neapolitan church building. The general layout of the building is attributed to the Dominican priest/architect Fra Nuvolo (Vincenzo de Nuvola, 1570-1643), but the church was not inaugurated until 1700 with work on the facade continuing as late as 1756. This is actually a rebuilt version of another church of the same name somewhat to the west of the present site; that church was opened in 1602 and is no longer standing. The name, itself, "Arena" means "sand" and refers to the former presence of a rain-fed river that ran along what is now via Foria, all presence of which has now vanished; the last witness to that presence, the nearby bridge of Sant'Antonio abate, was demolished in 1868. The church was home to the Cistercian order, which, however, had to abandon the premises in 1792 to make room for a shelter ("conservatorio"), a plan that never came to fruition. With the coming of the anti-clericalism of the short-lived Neapolitan Republic of 1799 and then of the longer-lived French rule under Murat at the beginning of the 1800s, the premises were used as a store-house; many of the art works contained in the church and monastery were lost. Thanks to the work of the Cistercian order during the cholera outbreak of 1836, they were again given the property. After the unification of Italy, the order was suppressed. The ex-monastic premises are today occupied by public buildings. The church today still contains significant art work and sculpture.
From its location, size and appearance, the church of Saints John and Theresa might seem much older than it is—perhaps a sister to one of those many 16th -and-17th-century Spanish churches just below it in the Chiaia section of town, just above the western end of the Villa Comunale. Actually, it is more recent and consequently enjoyed a much shorter life as the church/convent it was intended to be. There had been an earlier royal villa of sorts on the property when it was acquired by members of the Discalced Carmelite order in 1747. Ten years later, a central church was added (photo) at the behest of the monarch, Charles III. Tradition likes to attribute the conversion and subsequent building on the premises to architect Angelo Carasale, who had just completed the San Carlo Theater; however, most sources now claim that the architect is unknown but, whoever he was, he owed a lot to Antonio Domenico Vaccaro.
The church is on the steep street, Arco Mirelli, about halfway up between piazza della Repubblica at sea-level and the long east-west road, Corso Vittorio Emanuele. If you step back from the front of the building and can keep from rolling down the hill, you will see just how large it is. In that respect, it has something in common with the earlier Spanish monasteries and convents. All convents and monasteries were closed by the French in the early 1800s and again after the unification of Italy in 1861; more recently, the former convent of Saints Giovanni e Teresa was converted to secular use as part of the Loreto Crispi hospital. The interior of the church contains works by sculptor Manuel Pacecho and paintings by Giuseppe Bonito (1707-89) and Francesco de Mura (1696-1782). Bonito and de Mura were both students of Solimena, and, interestingly, Bonito is better known for his popular renditions of Neapolitan life than for religious works.
The church of Santa Maria dell’Aiuto [Saint Mary of Eternal Help, or of Succour] is on the small east-west street of that name about 150 yards into the old city across the street (via Monteoliveto) from the east side of the main post office. It is just past the better-known church of Santa Maria la Nova.
The architect was Dionisio Lazzari [--> index 'L'] and, in its newly restored condition (after years of being closed), the church may be appreciated for the absolute gem of the Neapolitan Baroque that it was. The historian Celano (writing when the church was new) recounts what has become folklore surrounding the origins of the church—that two children in 1635 posted their own crude drawing of the Blessed Virgin in a window of a lower floor of what was then the Palazzo Pappacoda (not to be confused with a church of the same name) and collected donations. When they had collected enough, they hired a real artist to do his own rendition on canvas—again to solicit donations. The process gained speed and by the time of the great plague of 1656, a small chapel had been founded and then a church—on the site of the original Pappacoda building—dedicated to Our Lady of Succour. (In an age in which such concrete manifestations of faith were held to be protection from earthquakes, eruptions of Vesuvius and pestilence, not only churches arose, but also the three so-called “plague columns” of Naples).
The church is in the design of a Greek cross—that is, a central nave with a transept of equal length as the nave; it has a central dome. A partial inventory of the art works contained in the church includes:
—three paintings by Gaspare
Traversi dated 1749: The Nativity, The
Annunciation, and the Ascension of
The restoration of Santa Maria
dell’Aiuto has been spectacularly successful.
San Giacomo degli
Italiani. I harbor no illusion that I will
ever discover— much less write about—all of the
little churches in Naples that are abandoned and
falling apart. But sometimes I see one set
incongruously in the middle of the modern city,
and it stirs my urge to know more. Via Depretis is
the avenue between Piazza
Municipio (the site of the city hall) and
Piazza della Borsa (the stock exchange). Like all
such straight, broad thoroughfares in that section
of Naples, it is the product of the massive
reconstruction called the risanamento,
a 30-year project of the late 19th and early 20th
century. A smaller, yet important, wave of
construction took place in Naples during the 1920s
and 30s and produced those mastodons of Fascist
Art Deco such as the main post office, the
passenger terminal at the port of Naples, and all
of the municipal and provincial government
buildings on or near Piazza Matteotti.