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Naples Miscellany 35 (early March 2011)

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  • (Mar 7) Newspapers and local cultural groups in Pozzuoli have commented on the state of neglect of the Pozzuoli amphitheater. The structure was begun under Nero and finished by Vepasian (69-79 a.d.); it could accommodate 20,000 spectators and was the third largest such structure in ancient Rome. Not too long ago, it underwent a tourist-friendly sprucing up and even became a venue for concerts and opera. Now, however, there has not been such an event since 2008. The structure, itself, was obviously reinforced and shored up in order to be able to host public performances, but smaller bits and pieces of ancient Rome  —columns, marble plaques with Latin inscriptions, statues— seem to be scattered almost at random around the site, much of which is untended and overgrown with weeds. Such items are exposed to the elements and further deterioration.

  • (Mar 8) – (Related to this item.) The hyper-modern interchange station at Afragola for the treni alta velocità (high speed trains) has fallen way behind schedule for technical and financial reasons. (Round up the usual suspects.) After a three-year pause in construction, work was resumed last summer, mostly on the foundations for the station. Progress has been slow, and to a non-engineer sidewalk superintendent glancing at it as he drives by, there's nothing high-speed about it. When finished, the station is expected to handle 96 trains a day on nine platforms. The date for completion has been pushed back from the end of 2011 to the summer of 2012.

UPDATE! FINISHED! June 2017, only 5 years late. The new station has been inaugurated. That does not mean that it now takes passengers. It's a photo op for politicos to stand around and pat themselves on the back. "All aboard" starts next month. At least, that's what they say, and they wouldn't just make that stuff up, right?

  • (Mar 11)Besides upcoming celebrations next week throughout Italy to mark the 150th anniversary of the modern nation of Italy, there will be, at least in this neck of the woods, a few counter-celebrations by groups with such names as the "Neo-Bourbon Society" (in reference to the last dynasty to rule the Kingdom of Naples (aka "the Two Sicilies"). I know a few of them and my impression is that they are not advocating a dissolution of the modern state of Italy; they do, however want justice done to the history of the Risorgimento, the events that drove the move for Italian unification. This includes teaching the history of the state in the decade of the 1860s, one of brutal repression against the south. A few local educators have taken matters into their own hands by renaming an elementary school in Scafati (near Pompei) after "King Ferdinand II of Bourbon." He was the last real king of Naples. (His son succeeded him for a few months before Garibaldi conquered the kingdom in late 1860). Ferdinand II ruled Naples for the last 30 years of its existence as an independent state and was largely responsible for making Naples a modern military and industrial nation. Those who have renamed the school in his honor simply say that they want "the real story" to be told. In truth, it isn't, so maybe they have a point, but the new name of the school has unleashed a few letters to the president of Italy bemoaning this kind of agitation against "the unity of the nation." (A crime, by the way, although the on-again-off-again secessionists of the Northern League have yet to be held to account.) 

  • (Mar 17) And more of the above. Yesterday's festivities on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Italy were broadcast on TV for hours. In spite of all that, Umberto Bossi (Northern League) called the celebrations "useless" and "rhetorical" and some of his own party members were noticed not standing for the Italian national anthem. The usual anti-unity rhetoric issued forth from the usual sources: from the north in German-speaking Bolzano, from the north-central region where the Northern League styles its part of the nation as "Padania" and also from Naples. There was indeed a large unity celebration at Piazza Plebiscito with bands and flags and all the trimmings, but the vociferous Society of the Two Sicilies is also about halfway through three days of protests to mark "150 years of lies." One of these events is at the Piazza dei Martiri where someone has suggested erecting a statue of a fifth lion, this one to celebrate the martyrs who died defending the Bourbon kingdom that fell to Garibaldi in 1860. One of their posters is seen here; it proclaims "150 Years of Exploitation Have Reduced You to the Bone." Maybe the celebration in 2061 will be more "unified," but I wouldn't count on it.

  • (April 1) This is not an April Fool's gag, but it might be nice if it were. Scientists from the Earth Sciences department of Frederick II University in Naples are about to release a report that says, essentially, that the Campi Flegrei, the volcanic area to the west of Naples in the suburbs of Fuorigrotta, Bagnoli, Agnano and in the town of Pozzuoli —in short, all the land bordering on the Bay of Pozzuoli— contains volcanic features much younger than previously thought. This does not affect the calculation of the general age of the massive archiflegrean caldera (see this link) that the entire area rests in, but rather the later features that erupted into prominence over the millennia within that area, such as the Solfatara (photo, above) and the volcanic island of Nisida. The Nisida volcano might be less than 4,000 years old rather than 10,000, as previously held. This has importance for those concerned with civil defense in what is now a heavily populated area. The earthquake of 1980 and related aftershocks were bad enough: the outskirt community of New Pozzuoli had to be built to take refugees from the stricken areas; the port of Pozzuoli had to be rebuilt; etc. etc. Now emergency planners want to know if the new calculations will translate into the possibility that the entire area is potentially more active than thought since it is younger than thought. (For more on general geology of the area, see the Underground Naples Portal.)

  • (April 8)  Another "closed until further notice" has popped up, this one at the Fontanelle cemetery, one of the most well-known and characteristic sites in Naples. It is arcane and weird on such a scale that the city recently spent millions to renovate and secure the premises in an attempt to attract tourist trade. It worked and was already starting to show financial benefit in the surrounding Sanità quarter. The cemetery (an ossuary, really) is in a large cavern, one of many in or beneath Naples; the other day a 1,700 kg (about 3,500 pounds) piece of rock fell from the ceiling just inside the entrance! —that is, right where tourists would have been waiting to get in had it not happened at about 3 am. So, they have rightfully closed the Fontanelle with no word yet on how long it will take to guarantee the structural integrity of the premises. (update: Aug. 2011. It has reopened.)

  • (April 22) The police have uncovered an interesting archaeological site —at least potentially. It's a Roman mausoleum in Pozzuoli. The discovery came when authorities were digging around and about to close down an illegal rubbish dump site of some 1,700 sq. meters in area (about half an acre) where 58 tons of "special refuse" had been deposited. That means that the refuse has been separated —you know... bottles here, metal there, paper over there. It was all over the Roman site. I guess the good news is that at least the dumpers separate their trash.

  • (April 23) Selene Salvi of Napoli Underground (NUg) is not only a scholar, she's a cross between watch-dog and passionaria when it comes to the topic of the tunnels, caves and quarries beneath the city. Her latest article on the NUG website shreds yet another bit of urban archaeology in the pages of the daily, il Mattino. Their latest sensational and breathless discovery has to do with the supposed "Templar" symbols, 12 crosses, discovered beneath the church of Santa Maria Maggiore alla Pietrasanta and inscribed on the walls of a mysterious underground tunnel that, according to the paper, connects the church directly to the lair of the infamous alchemist, the prince of Sansevero, Raimondo di Sangro. Except, says, Selene, that is nothing new. We've been down there and filmed the crosses (link to the NUG video from 2009), and there is no evidence of exactly who put them there. Further, the article misstates distances to create the impression of a single specific tunnel between the church and the residence of di Sangro in saying that "all buildings in that area are connected." They are not, says Salvi.) Worse, the newspaper confuses historical persons with similar names and says things that are simply wrong, even inane, such as that the skull and cross-bones, the "Jolly Roger," is a Templar symbol, which it is not. Also, the "twelve crosses" would be nice since that number has such obvious Christian symbolism connected with it, but there are more crosses than that. The journalist just thought it would be a nice touch —"so Templarish," says Selene. In short, she says, stop writing about what you know nothing about.               Photo courtesy of NUG

Here is a separate item about the Templars.

  • (April 28) -The Floridiana park, which was closed late this month (see this link), has been reopened, at least partially. Some areas may be closed off until such time as the trees are  determined to be safe —that is, that they won't fall and kill someone.

  • (April 28) - Hometown philosopher, Giambattista Vico, will be 343 years old in June. That would not surprise him since he is the one who pretty much invented the saying "What goes around, comes around." He might be pleased to know that a library will open in June right next to his birthplace on via San Biagio dei librai. It will, of course, be a Vichian library. Whether or not he would like that adjective, I don't know; it invites confusion with vichyste, a partisan of the collaborationist Vichy regime in France in WWII, itself inviting more confusion with Vichyssois, residents of the city of Vichy, nowhere near via San Biago dei Librai. But whoever said that philosophy was easy?

  • (April 29)-The Capodimonte Royal Wood is in the midst of a grand restoration project, according to Guido Gullo, director of the grounds. When the palace and grounds at Capodimonte were originally laid out and built in the 1700s, farmland was converted into a vast hunting reserve for the royal family. The gardens and orchards within the reserve became the source of highly sought-after fruits and other produce. The current plan is to restore 26,000 sq. meters (c. 6.5 acres) to its original agricultural and horticultural use as well as to make the area suitable for tourism.

  • (April 30) - Bagnoli and the Ruhr. In 2013 the Overseas Fair Grounds (Mostra d'Oltremare) in Fuorigrotta will host something called the "Culture Forum." One of the themes will be the ongoing process of converting the blight of post-industrialism —all the closed and rusted factories, decayed waterfronts, etc.— into pleasant bits of suburbia, places of parks, shops, schools and homes where people will want to live and tourists visit.
One of the most successful such efforts in Europe has been the Ruhr region in North Rhine-Westphalia in east-central Germany. It is one of the most densely populated areas in Europe and was one of the most heavily industrialized. Over the last few decades, "post-industrialization" has taken place, and the Ruhr now has theaters, cultural centers, festivals and museums (including what are now called "industrial museums"). As a run-up to the Culture Forum, a gentleman from the Ruhr, Hans-Dietrich Schmidt, was in Naples the other day to explain the "Ruhr model" to local officials and business persons who would like to use that model for the further development of Bagnoli, once site of the Italsider steel works. Bagnoli has had some successes: a new theater, the North Pier, a hands-on science museum and exposition ground called Science City, a "Turtle Point" extension of the Dohrn Aquarium, a Maritime Museum, etc. There have been failures as well, such as the failure to lure the America's Cup regatta to Bagnoli a few years ago, which would have meant money for the construction of a suitable harbor. Some things are still up in the air, such as a proposed Bagnoli Green Park and an industrial museum. I gather from various sources that Herr Schmidt's presentation was a pretty solid pep-talk. You need two things: money and political will. One of those items alone won't do the trick. Both might. [This item is also included on the Consolidated Bagnoli page.]
END of Misc. p.#35

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