The church of San Nicola a
Nilo (#23 on this map) is in the heart of the
old city on the north side of "Spaccanapoli" (the popular
name for the street that "splits" Naples); the section of
the street where the church is located is officially named
via San Biagio dei Librai at that point. The church
is across the street from the church of Saints Phillip and James. Both
sites are easy to identify—Phillip and James because of
the two large statues set in the façade and San Nicola a
Nilo because of the Baroque double stairway leading up to
the entrance flanked by gigantic Corinthian columns.
The origins of the
church can be traced to Masaniello's
Revolt in the year 1647. After that violent and
failed revolution, a merchant by the name of Sabato Anella
received a gift of property through the Spanish viceroy of
Naples, Iñigo Vélez de Guevara, the 8th count di Oñate, in
order to build an orphanage (called a conservatorio
in the Italian of the times) for children left without
parents by the recent rebellion. The institution plus a
small adjacent chapel was, indeed, built soon thereafter
and dedicated to St. Nicolas, the Bishop of Myra and
patron saint of orphans. The original structure proved
inadequate and the conservatory and chapel were entirely
rebuilt in 1705 to a plan by Giuseppe Lucchesi.
construction of the façade, the columns, and the double
stairway lends a theatrical look to the church, as if it
were stage scenery setting off one of the most
characteristic spots in the old city. Not only is via
San Biagio dei Librai a lively, colorful and crowded
narrow street, but the building is set back from the street,
thus providing spaces at the foot of both stairways (indeed,
beneath the stairs, themselves) for merchants of one
sort or another, lending additional "color" to the scene.
That was done purposely; merchants have occupied those
spaces ever since the early 1700s when the building was
I have never seen the
church open and it is my understanding that even at the
time of the 1980 earthquake (which caused the building to
be abandoned) there were already squatters living on the
premises, which means that it must have been in a state of
disrepair for some years before that. Whatever artwork
that could be moved and salvaged (such as a painting by Luca Giordano, signed and dated
1658, of St. Nicolas of Bari Protecting the Orphans,
has been moved elsewhere.
in the name of the church, indeed, means Nile, as in the
Nile river. It is also the name of a section of Naples.
For details on that, see this link
or #17 on this map.)
Picone, Concetta. (1993) Entry on "San
Nicola a Nilo" in Napoli Sacra,
Guida alle chiese delle Città, vol. 5.
Elio di Rosa editors. Naples.