Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry May 2009

This is page 2 of the series: Stalking the Lost Villas of Naples.

Introduction to series is on page 1

On this page: villa Ricciardi, villa Leonetti, villa Winspeare and family, Poggio dei Mari;

and these links to:    villa Craven    villa Maraval (alias Pierce, Lauro, Rocca Matilde)      villa Livia          villa d'Elboeuf 
Corte dei Leoni    villa Favorita   article: Vesuvian Villas    villa Fermariello     villa Elena e Maria   villa Ebe


Villa Ricciardi. Very little remains of the original neo-classical construction; the building stands at the western end of the Vomero section of Naples at today’s Largo Martusciello (where the streets Corso Europa and via F. Cilea meet). It is at a point where the original propery overlooked the slope to the northwest and the Soccavo area of Naples in the plain below the Camaldoli hill. It is not to be confused with a lower-lying property (originally called “Masseria Miniero”) [Massera=roughly, ”estate”] also often cited as “Villa Ricciardi,” set in the plain, itself. (To avoid confusion, the lower one is also cited as “Masseria Ricciardi.)

The villa was built in 1817 as the residence of Francesco Ricciardi  (1758-1842), a jurist and important figure in the Murat government in Naples and then a noted political figure in the restored Bourbon government after 1816. Both properties—the villa on the hill and the lower-lying estate—were awarded to him by Murat and had originally belonged to religious orders. The villa hosted guests such as Giacomo Leopardi and Alexander Dumas (the elder). During the political upheavals of May 1848, the library of some 15,000 volumes was destroyed by Bourbon sympathizers. (At that point, the villa was in the hands of Ricciardi’s son, Joseph, a political figure in his own right and part of the risorgimento, the move to unify Italy. Father Francesco, besides having defended some of the accused revolutionaries after the failed Republic of 1799, had also come out for the separation of church and state as well as against such things as arbitrary arrests. The entire family was obviously a nest of liberals and progressives, which fact did not bode well for the library!)

At the beginning of the 20th century, the villa became a vacation spot for students of the Vittorio Emanuele Convitto (high school). Since 1956, it has housed the Domenico Martusciello Institute for the Blind as well some offices of the World Wildlife Foundation.

The property is set off from the heavily urbanized sourroundings by a high wall. Originally, the gardens of all the Ricciardi properties were created by the noted German botanist, Friedrich Dehnhardt (1787-1870) (director of the Botanical Gardens and also the one who created the gardens of the Villa Floridiana) and were an important center for botanical research at the time. The trees on the grounds of the villa still stand out. They have been through a lot, but they are still there.

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Villa Leonetti

It is still spectacular, but you might miss it on your hectic morning drive up via Tasso unless you look almost straight up (which you really shouldn’t do as you drive).  The building is well above the corner of via Tasso and via Aniello Falcone; indeed, it was there well before either of those streets existed. The villa grounds used to be part of what is now another piece of property, that of the Villa Winspeare (which still stands and is currently undergoing restoration - see item directly below this one) about 70 yards higher up the hill on via Santo Stefano, the road that runs east-west along the top of the Vomero hill.

The villa was built for the Winspeare family in the early 1800s and has also gone by the name of Poggio Fiorito. It has changed hands over the years, finally winding up as property of the Sant’Anna dei Conti Leonetti society. The impressive grounds and gardens are the result of the work of Pietro Porcinai (1910-1986), one of the best-known Italian landscape architects of the 20th century. To accommodate the presence of via Aniello Falcone (a road from the 1920s) that passes beneath the villa, an entrance was built on that road and a Baroque portal originally at via Medina in the downtown area was moved to serve the new entrance (photo, right).

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Villa Winspeare & Winspeare family

For some years I noticed a large old abandoned villa on Corso Europa at the west end of the Vomero section of Naples. “Non-descript” doesn’t begin to non-describe it. Then I noticed that it was being restored. That has now been going on for a few years. The northern façade (on the main street) has now been done and painted. The southern side (photo) is in various stages of restoration. The internal courtyard is a mess, but they are making progress. The original property extended quite down the southern slope to include what is now villa Leonetti (see entry above this one), which overlooks via Aniello Falcone. The distance between the old villa at the top and the lower-set villa Leonetti is about 70-80 yards, and the land between the two has since been subdivided such that there are other buildings that lie between them. In any event, one hopes to see the finished product sooner or later.

Once upon a time, the large old villa belonged to a family with one of the least Italian-sounding names in Naples, a family entrenched in this area since the 1700s: Winspeare (occasionally spelled “Winspear.”)

The first Winspeare in Naples was David (b. London, 1704—d. Naples, 1764). His son, Antonio (b. Naples, 1740) became an engineer and major in the army of the Kingdom of Naples; he founded the first engineer corps, responsible for bridge and road building in the kingdom. His son, Davide (b. 1775 in Naples), became one of the most important legal scholars of his time in the kingdom and was the author of Storia degli abusi feudali (History of Feudal Abuses), written at the time of the French rule of Naples under Murat. During that time, he was made a baron, which accounts for the titles and crests since connected with the name. After the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1816, he figured prominently in the government and in 1820 was on the commission before which restored king Ferdinand announced the new constitution for the kingdom. (Not that that did much good; Ferdinand reneged shortly thereafter.) Davide Winspeare died in 1847 in Naples.

His brother, Francesco Antonio (1778-1870) was a lieutenant general in the army and then war minister for the kingdom of Naples in 1860 before the kingdom was incorporated into the new united in Italy in 1861. He married Raimonda Ricciardi; among their children, we find

Davide (b. 1826—d. 1905 in Cannes, France). He was a graduate of the Nunziatella military academy in Naples and then a major in the Neapolitan army. He took part in the heroic but futile defense of Gaeta, the last stand of the Bourbon army against the forces of the new Italy. After the unification of Italy, he chose self-exile in Russia and was an officer in the army of the Czar; and—

Antonio (Naples, 1822—Depressa [near Lecce], 1918). He was the mayor of Naples from November, 1875 to May, 1876.

Poggio dei Mari

The word "poggio" means hill or hillock. "Mari" in the name is not the plural of "mare" —the sea. It is simply a family name— technically, de Mari; thus, the de Mari hill will do. It is, in fact, a small hill on the eastern Vomero slope; in today's terms, it is on the street named via Salvator Rosa and, precisely, across the street from the metro station of that name. A giveaway that this large white building, the villa dei Mari (now totally subdivided into apartments), is centuries old are the two high, arched loges in the retaining wall, all of which support a plush bit of greenery not yet fallen victim to urbanization.

The de Mari name is traceable back to the days of Pepin the Short, Charlemagne's father, when the de Maris were active in helping to liberate Genoa from the Franks in the late 700s. Members of the family were later counsels in the government of the Republic of Genoa, the great commercial city-state of the Italian Middle Ages; they served, as well, in the imperial fleet of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen and later in the Angevin fleets of Naples. Thus, the mari in the name perhaps does originally go back to the Italian word for sea —men of the sea, sailors. The family was one of the most prominent banking families in Genoa and by the early 1500s the name is found in Naples. The historical archives of the Bank of Naples has the name listed as "a banking family resident in Naples." They had numerous pieces of property not only in the city of Naples, itself, but as far south as Otranto in Puglia. The particular piece of property in the photo (above) was the family's summer residence in what was then a nice hilltop in Naples where you could go to get away from it all. It is known to have been the property of the de Maris by at least the mid-1600s since the premises display a family crest with heraldic particulars showing that Charles de Mari had been elevated to the nobility, which event occurred in 1665.


Villa Craven on the Posillipo coast   Villa Maraval (aka Pierce, Lauro, Rocca Matilde) 

villa Livia    villa Elena e Maria    villa Ebe

villa d'Elboeuf       villa Favorita        Corte dei Leoni         article on the Vesuvian Villas            villa Fermariello

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