The rail transport part of the industrial revolution in Europe started
in 1825, when the Stockton and Darlington Railway in
north-east England opened as the first public steam
railway in the world. The first railway to open in Italy
was in the eastern suburbs of Naples in October, 1839 (see this link). (This
Naples-Portici line narrowly beat out the Milano-Monza
line that opened in August of 1840.) It is worth noting
that the locomotives, carriages and tracks of the first
Naples railway were not built in Naples but rather by a
French company, and for a while all the rolling stock was
imported. Then, the Neapolitan monarch, king Ferdinand II,
decided to free the kingdom from foreign dependence in
this brave new age of the train and declared in 1840 that
a Royal Foundry be built in the eastern Neapolitan suburb
of San Giovanni a Teduccio, precisely at a spot named
Pietrarsa. The etymology is interesting; the spot was
originally called Pietrabianca—White Rock, but the great
explosive eruption of nearby Vesuvius (photo, below)
in 1631 sent lava out as far as White Rock, turning it
into Pietrarsa —Burnt or Scorched Rock.
At first, the
stated goal of the plant was to produce metal for both
wartime and civilian use, employing ore and materials from
the iron foundry in Mongiana in Calabria, a facility
dating back 1770. Then, in 1843, Ferdinand decreed that
the new facility at Pietrarsa would also build and
maintain steam locomotives, train carriages and tracks
with the goal of building a railway line from Naples to
Capua. Accordingly, the first project was undertaken
in 1844, consisting of repairing two steam locomotives,
the Impavido and the Aligeri, originally
built in England. In 1845 production started on home-grown
locomotives with some of the components, however, still
being imported from Britain. By the 1850s, however, the
Pietrarsa foundry was making its own boilers and steam
engines for locomotives and ships, building the
locomotives, themselves, as well as the carriages and
tracks; it was, in fact, one of only two factories on the
Italian peninsula to make steam locomotives. It also made
artillery pieces. In 1853, the plant had 700 employees.
The plant had become independent of foreign rolling stock.
Pietrarsa also received some prominent visitors such as
Czar Nicolas I of Russia who eyed the plant as a model for
his own foundry in Kronstadt. By June of 1860, the
Pietrarsa foundry had 1125 employees. It also had 75
cannoneers standing by, protecting what was now the
largest facility of its kind in Italy.
The assimilation of the kingdom of Naples into
the new nation state of Italy in 1861 meant the beginning
of economic decline for many sectors in southern Italy,
and Pietrarsa was no exception. The plant was leased to
northern interests in the 1860s, workers were laid off,
and there were strikes and confrontations with the police.
Yet the plant remained in operation and in the 1870s was
still a vital part of the Italian production of steam
boilers for trains and ships, this in spite of the great
reduction in the work force at Pietrarsa (down to 100).
Between 1877 and 1885, the facility turned out 110
locomotives, 800 freight cars and 300 passenger cars. The
Pietrarsa facility was incorporated into a larger national
corporation in 1905. The advent of newer electric railway
systems led to the gradual but inevitable obsolescence of
the facility. Pietrarsa made its last locomotive in 1975.
In 1989 it opened as a railway museum, was then closed
again for repairs and finally opened again in 2007. The
facility is 36,000 sq. meters in area (about nine acres)
and is set right at the water's edge (photo, left).
It is long and white and quite noticeable from the sea.
The museum, itself, is magnificent, and the grounds are
pleasant and not a bad place at all to look at the water
when you get tired of trains.