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main index © Jeff Matthews Dec. 2010
These six items about Procida appeared separately on the dates indicated. They have been consolidated onto a single page here.
entry Mar. 2009
Modern-day travelers in the Bay of Naples can sail by and miss the Isle of Procida as easily as the Greeks did three-thousand years ago. Even from the vantage point across the bay on the Sorrentine coast or the heights of Capri, the isle of Procida rides so low in the water that in bad weather it is hard to spot. At best it looks like a smudged extension of the mainland. Approaching it dead on from the south, you may not even recognize it as separate from the neighboring island of Ischia.
Procida has an equally low figurative profile: compared to the other islands in the bay, Ischia and Capri, the island is relatively unfrequented by tourists. And certainly, after the flood of English and German that accosts your ears on those other islands, you get the distinct and accurate impression that on Procida, Italian is the native language.
Tourist brochures about Procida
usually read something like this:
Of the islands embracing the Gulf of Naples, Procida has best succeeded in preserving its original, genuine beauty, unpolluted nature and simplicity of life. This tiny isle, cradled in clear and shining waters, is a precious jewel case inbosoming natural sceneries of exquisite green shades, colors of bygone ages, iridescent views, and a wealth of marvelous sights of a primitive and wild grandeur. The natural harbors abound with fishing boats, reminders of the ancient traditions cherished by the inhabitants…
Inbosoming. Native Procidians are embarrassed by that kind of language. After all, they pride themselves on not being a tourist Mecca. They are mainly farmers and sailors. They work for a living and have many of the same problems as working people anywhere else.
Corricella harbor. The peak in the background is
Mt. Epomeo on
The most prominent physical feature of the island is the medieval fortress, the so-called “Terra murata,” set high above the sea (photo, above) on the eastern approach to the main harbor. It has, over the years, gone from being a fortress to a penitentiary to what it is today, a monument open to the public. Besides the main harbor, there are two smaller harbors, Corricella, set right below the imposing ex-fortress (photos, left and top of page), and Chiaiolella, a small natural harbor at the southern extreme of the island. Here is where you can believe the tourist brochures—these two tiny harbors are truly peaceful and picturesque.
Also worth a visit is the
neighboring islet of Vivara (below, #3); flanking
Procida to the south-west and connected to it
by a bridge, this crescent-shaped remnant ridge of
an ancient volcanic crater is now a nature preserve.
It is also the site of recent archaeology that has
uncovered fragments of Mycenaean pottery, left by
Greeks who were there many centuries before
the "original" Greeks colonized the bay (#2,
another view of the Terra Murata
added: April 2014 - The name of the island may derive from the Roman Prochyta, itself from the Greek for 'near Cuma' which is how the island appeared to the early settlers from Greece. Or perhaps it's from the Greek prokeitai, that is, flat, prostrate, lying, a description of the island's appearance in the sea. In Greek mythology, the island was connected to Mimas, one of the Titans of Zeus thrown into the sea as punishment. Mimas landed at Procida. His struggles, as well of those of the other Titans bound in the sea nearby, to free themselves, were the mythological cause of eruptions and earthquakes.
Middle Ages the island became a feudal holding of
the Da Procida family that had taken its name from
the island in the first place. The fief included a
section of the mainland, Monte di Procida. That
section became separate in 1907.
Administratively, Procida is a comune (a
town or number of villages with a separate city
hall) in the province of Naples. The current
(2014) population is about 10,000.
entry May 2003, update Sept. 2015Procida (2)
Uncovering the Bronze Age on Procida
The tiny island of Procida lies inconspicuously moored next to its big sister, Ischia, in the Bay of Naples; yet, even this little isle has a smaller relative: Vivara. Separated from Procida by a few meters of water and now connected to it by bridge, Vivara, a crescent-shaped remnant of the rim of an ancient volcanic crater, is now a nature preserve, one of the last unspoiled bits of greenery and wildlife havens in the area—and as a result of recent archaeological work, a place to catch a glimpse of the first great civilization of the ancient Greeks: Mycenae.
In 1470 BC
the Greek island of Thera exploded and put a
cataclysmic end to the grand Minoan civilization
of nearby Crete. It was the end of what might be
called the “southern dimension” of great early
cultures, the last link in a chain that had
started with the Sumerians and carried on
through the Babylonians, Egyptians and Minoans.
The end of Crete left a void that would be
filled by the proto-Greeks, a branch of the
Indo-European peoples who a few centuries
earlier had started drifting south into the
Greek mainland. By 1400 b.c.—a thousand years
before Aristotle and Plato, and many centuries
before the great city-states of Greece or any of
the renowned Greek cities of Magna Graecia in Italy
such as Cuma, Paestum and Velia—these early Greeks
had formed a league of separate kingdoms
centered on Mycenae on that part of the Greek
mainland known as the Peloponnese.
This is the civilization from which stems much of our vast Greek cultural heritage and familiar repertoire of Greek mythology. Indeed, Mycenae—today a small town near the original site, a few miles inland from the Gulf of Argolis in the foothills guarding the road to Corinth—was the home of “proud Agamemnon” who rallied his fellow princes to sail forth and besiege Troy to avenge the abduction of Helen in 1200 b.c. Mycenae, then, turned out to be the dominant Mediterranean civilization for almost 400 years, from 1450 to 1100 b.c. Though there was not yet a single major city anywhere in Italy (the first would be built by the Etruscans in about 900 b.c.) the Mycenaeans carried on flourishing trade with small outposts scattered on Sicily and the islands and coastal areas of southern Italy. One such outpost was Vivara.
The Bronze Age
inhabitants of Vivara of 1500 BC looked out on a
coastline and bay somewhat different than what
we see today. Indeed, even since the time of the
Romans—much less a millennium and a half
earlier—the waters in the Bay of Naples have
risen about 6 meters. This accounts for the
ruins of submerged Roman
port facilities in nearby Baia, for example.
Vivara, itself, was joined to Procida by land at
the period in question.
The first archaeological digs on the island (carried out in the 1930s) revealed remnants of a system of Bronze Age huts on what would then have been the plateau of the island as well as on the heights. One of the most interesting finds at the time consisted of two clay jars bearing traces of ornamental varnish—interesting in that they were of the same type as found on Filicudi, an island further to the south in the Aeolian archipelago north of Sicily. It was pottery of a type clearly Greek/Mycenaean and datable to the middle of the second millennium before Christ. Mycenaean pottery—as well as the produce it contained, such as wine and olives—was known to have been highly valued and to have been exported throughout the eastern Mediterranean and at least as far west as Sicily.
Such finds on Filicudi and then on Vivara are now taken as evidence of trade between Mycenae and Italy even at such an early date, trade supported by a network of coastal and island trading posts. Much of that commerce was concerned with the search for metals, and on Vivara, besides ceramic shards, remnants of habitations, jewelry and bits of weaponry of early Greek origin, there are signs that the area was, indeed, mined for copper at some time in the distant past—and there even appears to have been a foundry of sorts. This would be in keeping with collateral archaeology elsewhere in Italy, which indicates that the peninsula was somewhat of a Bronze Age mine for Mediterranean cultures to the south.
Starting in the early
1990s, archaeological research on Vivara has
been in collaboration with the Orientale University of
Naples and the Naples Superintendent for
Archaeology. It is work undertaken with
enthusiasm and intensity by university
archaeology students on the site. Their recent
discoveries include the floor and collapsed tile
roof of a large structure, uncovered half a
meter below the surface; also, they have found a
series of clay tokens of varying shapes and
sizes. The tokens were stacked and had
apparently been joined by a long-since decayed
ring of some sort, indicating that they were
used as a means to keep track of merchandise and
update Sept. 2015 -
to Ancient World
Oct. 2009The Campania region has allocated €2,400,000 to repair the 140 meter bridge (photo, right) that leads from the island of Procida to the small satellite isle of Vivara. Construction is expected to start soon. The bridge was originally built in 1957 and functioned more or less regularly until 1999. By that time, the isle had become a nature reserve, successfully resisting efforts over the years to—among other things—sell it off for development as a tourist trap village. Speaking of bridges, on July 15, 2001, Vivara got into the Guinness Book of World Records when a group of instructors from the FISS (Italian Survival federation) strung the world’s longest Tibetan bridge from the S. Margherita promontory on Procida over to Vivara. A traditional Tibetan bridge consists of a rope used as a footpath and two upper lateral handrail ropes at about a meter above that footpath. The triangular configuration of the three ropes is made firm by thick lateral braces running the length of the bridge. The Procida-Vivara version was 362 meters long. The rope bridge was put up just to set a record and was taken down shortly thereafter; it was somewhat less than traditional in that it used a special synthetic rope. I think those clever survivalists should come back and build another one from the National Archaeological Museum up to the Capodimonte Museum instead of a screwball cabin lift affair that someone has proposed.
4.entry Feb 2011
On February 11, the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, will inaugurate the Jubilee for Naples, a year-long period of civic and religious commitment meant to reawaken social values in a troubled city. Part of the activities on the first day will be the placing of a large bust of the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro, at the old city gate that is still called Porta San Gennaro at the modern square of Piazza Cavour. It is significant that the cardinal chose the Ragazzi dei Misteri from Procida to sculpt the four-by-three meter display of the saint. Procida is just four-square-miles in area and is the smallest island in the Bay of Naples but it maintains one of the most interesting religious traditions in Italy: The Procession of the Mysteries on Good Friday. That tradition is kept up by a loose band of dedicated young artists and craftsmen who are traditionally called the Ragazzi dei Misteri—"Children of the Mysteries."
"Mysteries" in this sense refers to Biblical events commemorated by Christians as having a special or mystical significance (such as, for example, The Last Supper). The procession is a display of large shoulder-borne floats with allegorical displays of the "mysteries" drawn from Biblical sources. The floats are made of wood, and the displays are a combination of wood, cloth, plaster, copper and papier-mâché. The floats are decorated with fruits and flowers. The procession on Good Friday is part of the Holy Week celebrations on Procida that last from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. The Procession of the Mysteries follows a fixed path from the old Terra Murata, the fortress at the highest point of the island, down to the port of the Marina Grande. Those involved in the procession will have spent many weeks crafting their displays. Typically, those who build a particular float will be the ones to carry it and, in theory, the only ones to have seen the display before it is moved to the staging area before the procession.
Traditionally, the floats are unique each year and are disassembled or destroyed after each procession. There are however, some perennial, fixed pieces such as representations of Mary as the Mater Dolorosa as well as the center-piece of the entire procession, The Dead Christ, a large wooden sculpture from 1728, crafted by Carmine Lantricene. Activity starts on Thursday night when torch-bearing, cloaked and hooded townspeople make their way up to the staging area at Terra Murata and wait for Good Friday to dawn. The procession of about 80 floats will start at sunrise and last for some three hours. A full one-third of the island's 10,000 inhabitants can be expected to participate in the procession at some point; they wear the traditional costume of hooded white tunic and sea-blue cape. Children as young as two years of age help lead the procession; they wear black robes embroidered with gold and pearls and caps adorned with black and white ostrich plumes. These children are called angioletti—"little angels." Eerily, the procession is accompanied by a town band playing a traditional funeral march, punctuated by blasts on a trumpet. This recalls the trumpet sounded in Roman times to announce executions, for this is the Friday on which Christ was crucified.
The tradition of the procession goes back to the 1627 when the Congregation of the Turchini (so named for the turquoise color of the garb worn by the altar boys of the congregation) in Naples started services on Procida. The first processions are said to have been somewhat gruesome affairs of self-flagellating penitents, and only somewhat later to have developed into the colorful and choreographic displays that they are today. Procida is a natural place for such skills to develop as go into the construction of these ornate floats; it is an island of fine craftsmen who truly know how to work with their hands, trained over the centuries by building their own sailboats for their own fishermen. Of the island's 10,000 inhabitants, at least 2,000 work in some maritime capacity.
For about five years, there has been an actual organization called "I Ragazzi dei Misteri," formed to preserve the tradition of the procession. Traditionally, the floats were built in relatively large spaces such as the large entrance ways or courtyards of old 17th-century buildings, places that had not been used in many years. Little by little, however, those spaces have been gobbled up for renovation as various commercial ventures—a restaurant, a bar, etc. or have been condemned as unsafe. The young craftsmen were running out of spaces where they could work. That situation has apparently now been resolved. The organization counts about 600 members on the island; they are self-financed through contributions and have managed to procure a number of large tents to work in. As well, in the interest of preserving mementos of past processions, at least some of the used floats are no longer disassembled but, rather, wind up in a display hall where they can be viewed by the public. Lending permanence to the artifacts of the Procession of the Mysteries should encourage outside interest and help maintain the tradition.
add: April 2011
With the event right around the corner, newspapers have carried two interesting items:
—(1) There is extreme interest shown in the creative handicraft involved in the preparation of the floats and sculptures for the procession, interest from a surprising source: the Design Department of Jian-gnan University in Wuxi in the People's Republic of China. Professors from that university source are now in Procida;
—(2) UNESCO is considering adding the procession to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list; that is, the grand array of oral, musical and performance traditions in the world that have to be protected.
5. added 21 February 2016: see miscellaneous item here.
This view is of the old church before the restoration.
The view is to the southwest over the Corricella section
of Procida. The mountain in the extreme background is
Mount Epomeo on the island of Ischia. The old monastery
is out of sight, above and to the right.
See also: An Act of Faith by David Taylor.