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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Sept. 2003

San Paolo Maggiore

The Church of San Paolo Maggiore is on via dei Tribunali, one of the three original  east-west thoroughfares of the Greek city of Neapolis. As such, it is a simultaneous lesson in the history of Naples, the history of Neapolitan architecture and the history of at least a bit of religion. The church stands above a spectacular stairway, and, in the form you see today, was built at the end of the sixteenth century. However, it was erected on the ruins of a preexisting eighth-century church built to celebrate a Neapolitan sea victory over Saracen invaders. [For a separate item on early Christian churches in Naples, click here]. That church, in turn, was built on the site of —and even incorporated part of the structure of— a Greek Temple dedicated to Castor and Pollux. There are still two columns of this temple left intact within the present-day church, anachronistically connected to a late 16th century facade. It is precisely this out-of-time aspect which is so characteristic of Neapolitan architecture. There is  fascinating and undeniable  confusion, especially in the original center of the city; perhaps this is an unavoidable phenomenon when 2,500 years of architecture have to coexist. 

The most important work of art within the church is the sacristy with the fresco done in 1690 by the great Neapolitan painter of the Baroque, Francesco Solimena. Other works, such as the fresco of The Dedication of the Temple of Solomon are more recent in the history of the church, dating back to the first years of Bourbon rule in the 1730s.

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