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Piazza Grande

Piazza Grande is the name of a gigantic, circular residential complex in the Arenaccia section of Naples, at the foot of the eastern slope of the Capodimonte hill. It is quite visible from the height of the tangenziale highway that bridges the entire area on the way to the Capodimonte airport. It is also quite visible and distinct in satellite shots of the area. For all I know, it is visible from Mars, its home planet, for it is perhaps the most gloriously incongruous bit of architecture in the city (with the Jolly Hotel a most inglorious second). Piazza Grande looks as if it has just landed for a while to ask directions to the asteroid belt.

The complex opened in 1989 and was designed by the Neapolitan architects Aldo Loris Rossi, Donatella Mazzoleni, Annalisa Pignalosa and Luigi Riviecchi. It won the 1989 Engineering and Architecture Prize from the National Institute of Architecture. It is described in various sources as an example of “organic architecture” (If that means that it fits in with the surrounding area, it doesn’t.)

Piazza grande is said to have its inspiration in semi-circular structures in Britain of the so-called Georgian school (roughly 1720-1840), specifically, the Royal Crescent and the Circus, both in Bath.



“Piazza Grande” (Grand Square) refers to the 100-meter diameter of the internal courtyard (photo, right) of this large wheel-shaped building. The multi-story “rim” is composed of residences and shops; there are really no “spokes” into the hub, just the large internal space set below the first floor of surrounding residences, creating an amphitheater effect.

There are six large residential silo-towers (top photo) on one side of the rim (each 36 meters high) and a dozen smaller towers containing stairs and elevators spread around the entire perimeter. There is parking within the complex and it seems to be self-contained or self-sufficient or whatever the term is for modern castles where you will close the drawbridge and wait for Armageddon to pass. It reminds me of the octagonal Castel del Monte of Frederick II in Puglia minus the numerological hocus-pocus surrounding the towers. (At least I don't think there is any numerological hocus-pocus going on, but I was really afraid to ask. It seems to me you could get a pretty easy Number of the Beast out of 6 main towers and 12 smaller ones.) In spite of being space-age modern, it is in keeping with the ancient European urban concept of the village square: the gathering place in the middle with the shops and homes of the people ringing the center.

The entire complex has 219 units, including residences, shops, offices and recreational facilities. Part of the incongruity of the building is that it is simply too modern for the area, but I understand that that could be said to be the fault of the area and not the building. Change has to start somewhere, I suppose.

Piazza Grande happens to be in one of those crowded “popular” sections of Naples that crop up in period films about the teeming masses and fish markets of Naples. It is also next to the well-known ponti rossi (red bridges), remnants of a Roman aqueduct (second photo from top).


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