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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Dec. 2010

Urbanology

The following numbered items were all indexed separately under "urbanology" and appeared at the dates indicated on different pages in the original version of the Around Naples Encyclopedia. The shorter items have been consolidated here onto a single page in chronological order with links to longer items on other pages.

1.
entry Nov. 2002
construction, urbanology

A cabdriver complained to me the other day about all the construction sites in the city. "I can't get people where they're going, and they all think I'm trying to run up the fare on them by driving through the Panama canal just to get them home. There are 50 open construction sites in town!" 

The paper this morning more or less confirmed what he said as well as what I can see from my own window. Near my house, there is a street that has been torn up for five weeks and shows no signs of being ready for traffic in the near future. 

The paper today ran a map showing the  locations of 35 sites that traffic simply has to avoid or try to go around somehow. They range from the complicated and eternal construction for the new Naples metropolitana—the subway—to simple ditches along the streets for fiber optic lines and assorted plumbing—all of which, however, close the road. 

"Eternal" brings to mind the great Italian expression, "La fabbrica di San Pietro!" used as a metaphor of things that take too long to build, referring to the great length of time it took to finish St. Peter's in Rome. You hear that figure of speech a lot these days.
                                                                                            


2.
entry Jan. 2003
Bagnoli; Risanamento; Urbanology

This item is also included on the Consolidated Bagnoli page.

Whatever may become of Bagnoli, today it is still blighted by the abandoned relics of its industrial history.

pan shot of ex-inustrial section of
                    BagnoliThe president of Italy was in Naples yesterday to attend the opening of a new section of La Città della Scienza (The City of Science), a large area—about 4 square miles—in Bagnoli, devoted to the development of a combination hands-on science museum and exposition grounds. 

The Gulf of Naples really has two bays. In the east, the Bay of Naples, itself, includes—at the extreme end—Sorrento; then, the towns along the slopes of Vesuvius, the city of Naples, proper, and the areas known as Mergellina and Posillipo. Rounding Cape Posillipo, you come to the other bay: the Bay of Pozzuoli. It is very historic and includes the small isle of Nisida, the town of Bagnoli, the fabled Flegrean Fields, Pozzuoli (with Lake Averno, the entrance to Hell in The Divine Comedy) and Baia, the site of the Roman imperial port. The bay—and the Gulf of Naples—ends at Cape Miseno, directly across from the islands of Procida and Ischia. 

At the beginning of the 1900s, the eastern end of the Bay Pozzuoli—precisely, the town of Bagnoli and the area running out to Nisida—went through years of extended industrial development. A steel mill was built there as part of the mammoth development of the whole Neapolitan area, a project lasting decades and known as the Risanamento of Naples. The alternative plan—the one that was not chosen—involved a quite different approach, architect Lamont Young’s plan that would have turned Bagnoli into a pseudo-Victorian imitation of a British seaside resort. 

As a result of the extreme industrialization of Bagnoli, the area simply turned into an overbuilt blight of grime, noise, traffic and all those things that one would rather not associate with what is, by common observation, one of the most scenic bays in the Mediterranean. Things changed in the 1990s: they closed the steel mill and started a gradual conversion to a post-industrial local economy more based on tourism. The City of Science has been open since November 2001 and is the cornerstone, so to speak, of the whole plan. It fronts the sea with a beach and small port for recreational craft. Eventually, the rejuvenation of the area should "ripple" along the seaside past Bagnoli and Pozzuoli to Baia at the other end. It is an ambitious plan, and one hopes for the best.

[See unfortunate update from March 2013.]



4.
entry May 2003
Risanamento, Corso Umberto, Urbanology  

The urban renewal that swept Naples in the last decades of the nineteenth century went by the pleasant name of ‘Risanamento', meaning, literally, ‘making healthy again’. In the name of achieving this worthy aim, a large number of old —even ancient— structures were cleared away. In some cases, the results were quite pleasant; a case in point would be the magnificent Galleria Umberto finished in 1890. Some controversy, however, surrounded the massive clearing of a wide swath of buildings between what is now Piazza Giovanni Bovio (called, simply, Piazza della Borsa—the stock exchange—by most Neapolitans) and the central train station, over a mile away, in order to build a broad and modern boulevard named Corso Umberto and called by most the rettifilo— the straight line. 

Cutting the downtown area in half separated the port area and the old Market Place from the rest of the city. Whether or not that was truly the solution to what seemed like intractable conditions of overcrowding, it was done—much in keeping with similar urban renewal projects in other European cities in the same period. The Italian word for the operation is sventramento, meaning “gutting”. The negative connotations of that world were lost on no one. The architectural results, paralleling the social results, were by general consensus, mixed. 

Piazza Bovio, itself, is dominated by the Stock Exchange building. It was built in 1895 and is the work of the architect Alfonso Guerra. Only after it was decided that there would be no place for such a building at Piazza Municipio was the Stock Exchange built at Piazza Bovio.  The center of the square used to showcase the Fountain of Neptune, a work from 1601 by Bernini and Naccherino, done to a design by the great Neapolitan architect Domenico Fontana.  That fountain has now been moved back to one of its previous sites on via Medina near Piazza Municipio. From Piazza Bovio all the way to the train station, thus, there is an unbroken chain of similar, somewhat monotonous, turn-of-the-century architecture, with a few pleasant exceptions such as the neoclassical main building  of the University of Naples, located one block away from Piazza Bovio on the north side of the street. Further on, similarly, there is an interesting configuration of four identical buildings occupying the four corners of Piazza Nicola Amore. They are called the "quadruplets" by Neapolitans.


5.
entry June 2003
Risanamento; Matilde Serao; urbanology 

The last sentence in the entry about the Risanamento, the urban renewal of Naples in the late 19th- and early 20th century,  is this: 

It is a sad irony that the Risanamento of Naples coincided almost exactly with the period of greatest emigration away from Naples by the very persons who, at least on paper, were to have benefited from the rejuvenation of their city.

ventre di napoli coverI certainly would have written that differently if I had thought more about it. The fact of the matter is that the connection between the Risanamento and massive emigration was not a coincidence—it was cause and effect. 

Somewhere in the back of my head, I think I knew that large numbers of people had had to pick up and move when the project to rebuild Naples started in the 1880s. Then I heard someone mention the other day that "half the population of the city was displaced". That comes out to hundreds of thousands of people. They either moved to state-built shanty towns hastily cobbled together for the duration of the project (30 years), or they moved in with relatives or friends outside the affected area—or they left Italy. Thus, the Risanamento was largely responsible for massive emigration to the New World; they didn't just happen to coincide. 

I was again made aware of the enormity of the project the other day by looking at a map of the area of Santa Lucia before the Risanamento and one of the same area after it had been rebuilt. The project changed the entire coastline of the city from Mergellina to the main harbor—well over a mile. The beautiful new sea-side road, via Caracciolo, from Mergellina to the center of town was, perhaps, necessary, and it looks fine today. Yet when they extended that road along the coast to make it the new road into town and lined it with high hotels, they (1) hid from view the original height of Pizzofalcone, the cliff across from Castel dell'Ovo (the hotels are higher than the cliff), and (2) relegated the historical sea-side road, via Santa Lucia, to the role of a secondary road running behind the hotels. That part of the Risanamento, alone, involved the construction of 15-20 blocks of buildings built on landfill in the original waters of Santa Lucia. (See the above link to Pizzofalcone for an illustration.)

When Agostino Depretis (1813-87) was the head of the Italian government in the early 1880s, he used the phrase, "Bisgona sventrare Napoli"—Naples must be gutted. It was a bad choice of words. Another translation might prefer "disembowelled," but, either way, it's a violent metaphor. That is the phrase that stuck in the craw of those who were, if not totally against the Risanamento, at least very circumspect in their approach to solving the problems of overcrowding and disease, both of which were undeniable facts of life in the Naples of the 1880s. On the other hand, these critics weren't too happy with the state-coined euphemism, Risanamento, either—which means, literally, "Making Healthy Again". 

The project, for better or worse, went ahead. Matilde Serao used Depretis' infelicitous phrase in the title of her book, Il ventre di Napoli (The Bowels of Naples, book cover above). The book first appeared in serial form in nine installments in a newspaper in Rome, where Serao was living in 1884. In August and September of that year, Naples suffered its fifth and worst cholera epidemic in the 25 years since its incorporation into united Italy. The death toll was seven thousand, and Prime Minister Depretis was convinced that the overcrowded and filthy center of Naples simply had to be torn down, aired out, and cleaned up (with a modern sewage system, among other things). The first chapter of Serao's book is in the form of a letter to Depretis, taking him to task for not really understanding Naples and its problems. Did he really think that building a few new streets was going to fix the problems of a city where poverty is so endemic that an entire family lives in one room—where they are born, where they eat, sleep, and die in a single room?  In 1904, 20 years after the project started, and at a time when much of the Risanamento had either been completed or was in various stages of completion, Serao damned it with faint praise—the new university building is nice, she said.


6.           see Lamont Young and Utopian Naples.


7.         see  America's Cup, urbanology

   

8.      see The Risanamento


9.       see Naples Today


10.     see Munnezza



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