Naples:life,death &
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© Jeff Matthews      entry June 2009

Via Tasso

The commitment of the urban renewal of Naples, the risanamento, undertaken in the 1880s was, of course, to clean up and clean out the crowded downtown area. Just as important, however, was the move to spread the population out into areas that had not yet been developed. This meant building new roads to get to the areas that would then undergo development. Much of this was to the west, along the Chiaia seafront towards Mergellina and onto the Vomero hill above the city. (See Urbanization of Vomero.)

Until the 1850s, there was no easy way to get up to the top of the Vomero hill, (nor really much need to, since there wasn't much up there). From the center of Naples, you went up the long road called via Salvator Rosa; from almost anywhere else you still went up that road, which meant that you had to go into the city first.

In the 1850s, the Bourbon government built the long Corso Vittorio  Emanuele (C.VE) (called Corso Maria Teresa at the time); it started in the west at Mergellina and angled up onto the Vomero hill until it got to a point about a third of the way up; then, it went straight across for a couple of miles to hit Salvator Rosa coming up. That was a start; once C. VE was built, area was open for development all along that new road. What was then needed was an additional road to connect that new road to the top of Vomero. Enter via Torquato Tasso, via Tasso, for short.

Via Tasso was opened in 1886 and was the first main road to be built in the Chiaia and Vomero sections of Naples after the unification of Italy. The road started at about one-third of the way along the C. VE and angled up and back (i.e., away from the downtown area) and connected to the extreme western end of Vomero about 2 km away. (There was already a road at the top that ran all the way along the top of the hill back over to the Sant' Elmo fortress at the eastern end). Also, in the 1890s, an additional road, via del Parco Margherita, was built to come up from near sea-level between Mergellina and the Castel dell'Ovo to meet the C. VE. Thus, by 1900, you could start near the long public park, the Villa Comunale, at the sea, go up via del Parco Margherita to the C.VE., swing over onto the new via Tasso and keep going up. (Later, in the 1920s, a further road, via Aniello Falcone, would angle down from top eastern end of Vomero and run parallel to and above Corso VE to join via Tasso coming up and going down.

Development along via Tasso was not long in coming. It started at the C. VE; at the juncture of the two roads, two large hotels sprang up in 1890, the Parker's and the Brittanique, both still in existence and doing well. The road, itself, makes a tortuous run up the hill. Early development was on the eastern side of the street (that is, on the right side, going up), the assumption being that you would have a nice, unobstructed view of the bay because no one is going to build on the other side of the street; after all, the house might slide down the hill. As is the case elsewhere in Naples, that proved to be a severe miscalculation. Someone always builds on the other side of the street, and that is what happened (mostly in the post WWII construction boom). Some of the old hillside villas (bottom picture, villa Leonetti, for example) that were perched up there many years before via Tasso was built were high enough above the new road so that they still had and, indeed, still do have a good view, but many of the people who today live on the right side of via Tasso have a beautiful view of buildings on the left side of via Tasso.

ll of the photos on this page are of buildings on via Tasso; the buildings represent somewhat of an architectural hodge-podge. Some of them are in the art nouveau style very popular in Italy at the turn of that century; others are obviously from the 1920s and 30s (another significant period of expansion.) A few very old villas persist (see The Villas of Naples), and some are land speculation boxwork.

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