| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
| link to a Google search page HERE
main index © Jeff Matthews Jan. 2011
These two items appeared separately in the Around Naples Encyclopedia on the dates indicated and have been consolidated here onto a single page.
entry Mar. 2003
rev. Jan. 2013
This majolica tile view shows the square in the late 1700s.
The view is to the north. The main street is via Costantinopoli.
The statue of Bellini (below) was added in 1886.
is on via Costantinopoli, appropriately a
few yards from the music
conservatory, San Pietro a Maiella. The square
is at a point where many historical threads of the
city come together as they do in so many places in
Naples. Bellini was one
of the founders of Italian lyric opera. He was born
in Sicily in 1801, but came to study and compose in
Naples in 1819. The statue, the work of Alfonso
Bazzico (1825-1901), was
installed in 1886 and originally showed the composer
above allegorical representations of Norma,
Giulietta, Amina and Elvira, four heroines of his
operas, but the city decided to remove them,
possibly to protect them from vandalism. There is no
word as to when, if ever, they are to be returned.)
(Among Bazzico's other works in Naples is the large
bronze equestrian statue of Victor Emanuel II, the
first king of united Italy, now at Piazza G.
Bovio/alias Piazza della Borsa and originally
installed at Piazza Municipio in 1900.)
Piazza Bellini is the site of a
section (photo on right, below) of the original west
wall of the Greek city of Neapolis, the massive
blocks still lying where they were put in place four
centuries before Christ. The wall ran the length of
what is now via Costantinopoli; presumably,
if you could tear up that street and tear down all
the nearby buildings and dig down a few meters, you
would find the whole wall, portals and all—in
addition to making modern residents very
The square is also at the
point along via
Costantinopoli where the Spanish chose to
breach the original walls of the city in the first
“modern” expansion of Naples, in the 1500s, putting
in place the gate right across the street that now
leads to Port’Alba and Piazza Dante. There are some
prominent buildings in Piazza Bellini. One is
Palazzo Conca (the prominent building in
sunlight in the top photo on the right as well as
the white building in the upper-right quadrant of
the tile image at the top). The origins of the
building go back to 1488 and it has long considered
one of Naples’ major repositories of period
furnishings and works of art, belonging, as it did
during its long history, to two of the city’s most
important families, the Concas and, later, the
Orsinis. The premises were also the site of
the church and convent of Sant' Antonio delle
Monache a Port' Alba and now house a
university library and research center. (See that
Also, on the west side of via Costantinopoli, directly across from the composer, is the Palazzo Firrao (photo on left), also known as Palazzo Bisignano, built in the 1500s. The Baroque façade of the building is due to the facelift given the building in the 1600s by the greatest Neapolitan architect of the age, Cosimo Fanzago, whose countless other works in the city include the arched courtyard within the monastery of San Martino and the chapel in the Royal Palace.
The façade is ornamental in the extreme and is listed in a 1718 catalog as one of the "most conspicuous" in the city. Among other things, the façade presents an array of statues of seven kings of Spain, ranging from the 15th century to Charles II (1661-1700).
Today, the square is a gathering
place and watering hole for whatever passes as a
‘Bohemian’ element these days. It is, as noted,
right next door to the music
conservatory—and right down the street from
the Royal Art Academy
on via Costantinopoli. Music shops, coffee
houses and art galleries abound, and there is an
open-air antique fair on Sundays.
entry Sept. 2003Bellini (Piazza) (2)
Persons described in the morning paper as “Neapolitan intellectuals” have written an open letter to the city administration protesting the proposed renovation of Piazza Bellini.
I am always amused by the definition of people as “intellectuals,” as opposed to just plain “intelligent” or even “very intelligent”. It makes you wonder if “intellectual” is a profession or, at least, an official position. Maybe they have a guild, union or club you can join where you get an ID card or decoder ring and learn a secret handshake—all contingent upon your oath that when others go bowling with the boys on Wednesdays, you go deconstruct Kierkegaard and smoke French cigarettes.
Whatever the case, this time they are right. The charm of Piazza Bellini is that it is cockeyed and a bit seedy. Is it dirty? Yes, it can be, but that condition, says the letter, won’t be helped by getting rid of the irregular, bleacher-type irregularities that make you step up once or twice and then down again as you cross the square. If you level the square and turn it into the planned black-and-white checkerboard design with a shallow platter-shaped fountain in the middle (with no water!), put in a single central palm tree (after getting rid of all the other trees), and even out the staggered entrances to the “literary” cafes that open onto one side of the square—if you do all that, you will then have a useless and inappropriate bit of urban surgery that will have cost the city 700 thousand euros—and it will still get dirty.
Why not leave the square the way it is and just clean it regularly? Also, clean the statue of the square’s eponym, Vincenzo Bellini. The statue is the target of graffiti vandals and has been so abused over the years, that the four secondary busts of women from the composer’s operas have had to be removed from the niches that surround the base of the central figure of Bellini, himself. (In the course of the removal and transfer to God knows where, one of the busts disappeared.)
Modernization is not the
answer to everything, says the letter. The city
modernized the Villa
Comunale and no one likes it (what happened to
all the trees?); the city modernized Piazza Dante after the
recent subway construction and turned it into
wide-open flat space with no shade and very few
places to sit. And so forth and so on. Spend
the money on regular maintenance and Piazza Bellini
will be just fine.