updates through June 2023
These four items appeared separately in the original version of the Around Naples Encyclopedia on the dates indicated. They have been consolidated onto a single page here.
(1) directly below (2) Camaldoli (3) S. Maria la Nova (4) Cilento (5) Palinuro
Oct. 20021. I see that the university my wife graduated from here in Naples has started a new degree program in art restoration. That's a good idea in a city with as much art and history as Naples has. The newspapers never tire of reporting how this monument is falling apart or that building is crumbling, and you do notice the small run-down churches, some closed for many years. Yet, much of the time, the city does a good job of using the past. I am referring to the great number of the city's public buildings, universities, hospitals—and even police stations—that are in well-restored monasteries.
"Camaldoli" in Naples is now a place name. We all call that hill behind the city "Camaldoli" and that is the name on all the maps and street signs. The toponym has absorbed its history, so to speak—it used to be a hermitage for the Camaldolese religious order; thus, the area around the site is still Camaldoli even though this particular site is now in the hands of a different order.
At one time in the early 1600s there were a number of 'Camaldolis' (that is, hermitages of the Camaldolese Order) in the Campania area of Italy—in Naples, Salerno, Torre del Greco, etc. One of them is shown in the image (above). It is Camaldoli of Visciano (near Nola), incorporating the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (of the angels) (pictured). It is on the way from Naples to Avellino, atop Monte Corona, just past Nola and before you enter the bounds of the Partenio National Park. Monastic life, of course, is not what it used to be. Under Napoleon and then after the unification of Italy, monasteries and convents in Italy were closed or at least went through decades of change, a kind of forced secularization. Today, many are again active centers of religious activity, community life, and social involvement. Camaldoli of Visciano advertises that it is always open to visitors; it pursues educational and agricultural programs, and the site hosts meetings and takes paying guests who want to stay a while. (So does Camaldoli in Naples.) And who wouldn't?
The original monastery and home
of the Franciscan order that inhabits the church of Santa
Maria La Nova was where the present-day Castel
Nuovo, or Maschio
Angioino, stands. In 1279 the order ceded that
property to Charles of Anjou for his new royal palace
and, in return, got the new site for their church.
Thus the name “Nova” (new) for this house of
worship with the elegant Renaissance façade. The
original ‘new’ church, then, was built in the late
1200s. That original Angevin building was removed in
1596 to make way for a new structure planned and built
by Giovan Cola di Franco. It is the church you see
today as you start into the old center of town via a
small side-street (photo) off of via Monteoliveto
across from the east side of the main post office. The
main altar is from 1633 and was designed by Cosimo
The most spectacular work of art within the church—indeed, one of the most spectacular in the entire city—is the magnificent 46-panel gilded fresco on the ceiling (photo, right). The fresco dates back to 1600 and is the collective work of a number of artists, including Luca Giordano. Various magnifying mirrors are set up at ground level within the church to enable visitors to view the ceiling more easily. The church, itself, is an integral part of the whole monastic complex, much of which now houses municipal office space.
Santa Maria la Nova was closed in 1980 due to damage caused by the earthquake in that year; it was reopened in 1992 for a few years, at which time visitors had the opportunity to view the splendid magnificent interior of the church. It was closed in 1997 for repairs to the building and, in particular, to restore the ceiling fresco. It will reopen on Jan. 4 with an orchestral and choir concert that will be taped for later broadcast by the Italian national television network.
This will mark the
beginning of what everyone hopes will be a
prosperous future for the building and adjacent
monastery. The church will no longer be a house of
worship. “There are enough churches in this area to
handle the demand,” says Father Giuseppe Reale of the
resident Franciscan order. Santa Maria La Nova will be
transformed into a Center for Sacred Music; the
acoustics are already known to be outstanding, and the
church organs are fine instruments and have been
restored. Most interesting—this is where the
“prosperous” part comes in—is the plan to turn part of
the monastery, itself (photo), into a four-star hotel!
This will be the second such Franciscan venture into
the hotel business in Naples. The San Francesco al
Monte hotel on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele,
overlooking the whole city of Naples and with a direct
view of Mt. Vesuvius and the Sorrentine peninsula, has
been open for a few months and seems to be doing well.
The Santa Maria La Nova hotel with “monastic style”
furnishings (for those who wish to engage in some
4-star meditation) with easy access to the auditorium
of the Center for Sacred Music) should be open in
Naples is the name of the city as well as of the larger administrative unit—the province—of which it is the capital. The province is, in turn, part of the yet larger unit—the region—of Campania. The province of Naples is not the largest in area in the Campania region, however. That distinction goes to the neighboring province of Salerno to the south.
The province of Salerno occupies about 3,000 square miles. About one-third of that area has been given over since 1991 to the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, an area of great natural beauty and extreme historic interest. The park is almost all mountains and starts just below Battipaglia, running down to Sapri on the coast at the end of the Campania region. The bulk of the park occupies the rugged terrain called "Cilento," a bulge on the coast that accommodates a section of the Apennine mountain range that has wandered over from the main line to drop off into the Tyrrhenian Sea.
That spur of coast
separates the Gulf of Salerno to the north from the Gulf
of Policastro in the south. Although the mountains are not
high by the absolute standards of the Alps (Monte
Cervati at 1900 meters—5700 feet—is the highest
summit in the Cilento), the relative height is impressive,
especially near the coast, where the immediate change in
altitude is from sea-level to the 1200 meters (3600 feet)
of Monte Bulgheria, a mountain that rises
immediately from the coast above and behind the town of
It is this section of the Cilento that provides some fascinating glimpses into the history of Christianity. If you stand in the little harbor of Scario, you look up at Monte Bulgheria (photo, right)—an archaic Italian spelling for "Bulgaria"—Bulgarian Mountain. It is in the middle of southern Italy but is so-called because the area was settled by refugee monks from the east over 1000 years ago. The great Iconoclast controversies of the 8th and 9th centuries drove a number of monks to escape the severe persecutions of Constantinople (indeed, the most severe of the "icon smashers" aimed to destroy monasticism, itself). The monasteries founded in the immediate area of Monte Bulgheria are Santa Maria di Pattano, San Giovanni Battista, San Marcurio di Roccagloriosa, Santa Maria di Centola, San Nazario di Cuccaro, Santa Maria di Grottaferrata in Rofrano, Santa Cecilia di Eremiti, San Cono di Camerota and San Pietro di Licusati. All of them were founded between 750 and 950 a.d.
The southern Italian peninsula of the 700s and 800s was not a bad place for people looking to be left alone. There were long periods when sections of the south were under only the nominal control of a central authority. The Lombards had invaded Italy late in the late 500s. In 800, they were replaced by Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, but even that affected mostly central and northern Italy. In the 800s and 900s the south stayed Lombard. First, it was the large Duchy of Benevento; then, that splintered through civil war into smaller units, one of which was the Duchy of Salerno. All of this was then gobbled up in the 1000s by the Normans. Important for this brief discussion is that Lombards, Salernitans, Normans— whatever—were all devout followers of the western church. Yet, followers of the eastern Greek church were, to my knowledge, pretty much left alone to worship as they pleased, even after the schismatic movements from Constantinople, first by Photius in 867, and, finally, the schism in 1054 that officially separated Christianity into east and west. There was not then —nor has there ever been in southern Italy— any particular persecution of the Greek Orthodox religion by Roman Catholics. It is true, however, that, little by little over the centuries, these eastern religious orders in southern Italy became westernized and in many cases were simply absorbed into the mainstream of the western monastic tradition.
flash mob sprang into action the other day to protect the
pine trees in the Palinuro Antiquarium Park from being cut
down. The Campania Tourist Agency says it's a "pruning
operation". A good rule of thumb is not to trust any
agency that wants to cut down trees. Palinuro (the town, dead center on the coast,
is at Cape Infreschi (sticking
out at you in the image), a short stretch of coast-line before
rounding that cape (far
the Gulf of Policastro and points south. That stretch
gives you the illusion that you have sailed through a
portal to timelessness. Savor it. You are moving along the
protected marine preserve of the Infreschi and Masseta
coast. There are creeks, coves, grottos and olive
trees, but there is no sign of the works of man along the
shore or the cliffs above except for an occasional small
and abandoned tower put there a few centuries ago.The
reason is quite simple. The cape sticks out and the main
north-south motorway by-passes it 10 km (6 miles) inland.
Palinuro, itself, is a small town 80 km (50) south of the
city of Salerno (to your
left in image).
Pop. about 1500.
The name of the town comes from Palinurus, the helmsman of Aeneas, in the fifth and sixth books of Vergil's Aeneid. Palinuro is part of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park. The Antiquarium (image, right) is in the town on via Ficocella and displays pottery and other artefacts of interest to archeologists and anthropologists going back 6000 years.
The two structures atop the cape are:
(1) the Capo Palinuro Lighthouse, (closest to you, the viewer, in this image, an active lighthouse built in 1870. Although there is a quaint 2-storey white keeper's house, the lighthouse is completely automated, powered by a solar unit and is run by the Italian Navy. It is 206 meters (676 ft) above sea level and emits three white flashes in a 15-second period, visible up to a distance of 25 nautical miles (46 km; 29 mi);
(2) the Capo Palinuro meteorological station, kept in service by the Italian Air Force. The instruments measure wind conditions, rainfall, humidity, etc. It is untended, and since 1997 data are transmitted and collected electronically. A ceremonial plaque still in place at the station says it started its activity in Nov. 1935.
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[related articles: The Abbey of Santa Maria di Pattano
"Cattolica" in Stilo & Greek churches in Calabria