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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Feb. 2011
The many very large and very old monasteries and residences of the nobility in the Naples of once upon a time have long since been transformed into museums, hotels, hospitals, apartments, police stations and even the City Hall. What each one of these buildings now needs—and I intend to take this up with the mayor—is an H.G. Wells-type Time Machine (such as the one shown on the right!)—a chair but at once a precision masterpiece of Victorian craftsmanship, comfy and velvet-padded but yet agleam with crystals and gears and burnished brass levers. You could sit there and fiddle with the controls and have it, for example, take you back one year per second until you get to the point at which there is no building at all and you are on an open field. Don't make it longer than one or two seconds per year, though; you don't want to hang around a given time too long in the twinkling succession of years because at any given moment in Naples there will excited soldiers running around or maybe angry mobs ransacking around you. At the very least, you'll get mugged. You want a taste of time and travel, yes, but you don't want trouble. With that caveat, then, most buildings in Naples would give you one fine ride! The Grand Hotel Caracciolo in Naples (photo, above) certainly would. It's a new addition to the Mercure Gallery hotels in the Accur chain and has been open for about a year and a half. The hotel gets good reviews even though it's in a seedy part of town. The super-starred luxury digs are on Via Carbonara only about a ten-minute walk from the train station—maybe five if you run, which you probably should.
Technically, the name of the building is the Palazzo Caracciolo di Santobuono, and your trip back to the point when nothing was on that spot would land you in the early Angevin rule of Naples—that is, the late 1200s, when the French House of Anjou had just wrested the kingdom of Sicily from the previous dynasty of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. Charles I of Anjou (1226-1285) built some sort of a structure on this site, which at the time was outside the old city walls. It was the field where jousting and duels took place, and Petrarch, himself, says that this was where people could settle their differences "without running afoul of the law." Later, Charles' grandson, Robert of Anjou (1278-1343), gave the property to Landolfo Caracciolo, the famous Neapolitan monk and exponent of the ideas of John Duns Scotus.
In 1584, the property—now sheltered within the expanded Angevin and, later, Spanish walls—passed to Giovan Antonio Caracciolo, prince of Santobuono, who rebuilt the structure in the configuration that we more or less see today. The noble residents were hounded out during the turmoil of Masaniello's revolt in 1647 and for a short while after Masaniello's death the building was the headquarters of the revolutionaries, who thought they could hang on as the Serene Royal Republic of Naples, protected by the French, an idea that came to naught once the Spanish rulers of the vice realm regrouped their forces.
In 1692 the property found its way back to its owners, the family of Caracciolo di Santobuono. When the Spanish rule of Naples ended in 1700, the power void was filled by a short period of Austrian rule, and in 1712 Prince D'Elbeuf, who had come to command a cavalry regiment for the Austrians in Naples, took up residence in the building. He became well-known as the first modern excavator of Herculaneum. In 1799, the building was the residence of French General Championnet in the French Republic's support of the young Neapolitan Republic (which lasted just a few months). The building was also one of the residences of Murat and his family during the "French Decade" (i.e. 1808-14). After that, the building went through times of decay alternating with periods when it served commercial or military purposes.
The property was not directly in the path of the Risanamento, the urban renewal of the city between 1885 and 1915; thus, the building was spared. Also, in WWII, it was close to the train station, a target for Allied air-raids but was not so damaged that it couldn't be patched up. Now, it's a hotel. Go in and ask for the H.G. Wells suite. Mention my name. Have fun.
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