Category Archives: Castles

Royal Palace

This harmonious structure dominates Piazza del Plebiscito.

It was built to a design by the architect Domenico Fontana and work was begun on the construction in 1600 to coincide with the arrival in Naples of King Philip II.

The building work lasted for more than fifty years; during the final phase the imposing staircase at the main entrance was completed.

The building, as it appears today to the tourist’s admiring gaze, owes its present form to a series of transformations, modifications and renovations carried out over the centuries; these have left only the façade and the “cortile d’onore” (courtyard of honour) unaltered in their original appearance.

The palace was renovated and extended in the first half of the 18th century, and restored by Gaetano Genovese who bought about some substantial neo-classical transformations to the building, following a fire which had damaged it at the time of Ferdinand II (1837).

The last restoration work was carried out in 1994 when the palace hosted the summit of the G7 (the seven most industrialized countries in the world).

The impressive façade above which stands a clock with a small ribbed campanile, contains two mighty rows of windows, alternating with pilaster strips.

On the ground floor, the original portico was partly modified by Vanvitelli for reasons to do with the building’s stability.

Royal Palace Entrances

There are three entrances on the ground floor.

On the outside, the niches built by Vanvitelli contains statues of Naples’ most important sovereigns: Roger the Norman, Frederick II, Charles of Anjou, Alfonso of Aragon, Charles V, Charles III of Bourbon, Joachim  Murat and Vittorio Emanuele II.

In the entrance-hall, near the beautiful 17th century grand staircase by Picchiatti, modified by Genovese, is a bronze door transferred here from the Maschio Angioino; this artistically magnificent work was carried out by Guglielmo Monaco and Pietro di Martino.

Some of the palace wings now house various offices, while the National Library has been housed here since 1804, containing thousands of volumes and an important collection of papyri from Herculaneum.

Of particular interest inside the palace is the Court Theatre, a large hall on the first floor, built by Ferdinando Fuga in 1768. It was here that the royal families gathered for plays, concerts and performances.

Other halls of importance include the Central Hall, the Throne Room (containing the Portrait of Pier Luigi Farnese by Titian), and the Hercules Hall, all of which, along with many others rooms of the Royal Apartment, make up an authentic museum (The Royal Palace Historic Apartment Museum).

The museum abounds in interesting period furniture, porcelain, tapestries, gobelins and paintings from the 17th-18th centuries, mainly by local artists.

Note especially the works by Titian, Guercino, Andrea Vaccaro, Mattia Preti (Prodigal Son), Spagnoletto, Massimo Stanzione and Luca Giordano.

The 17th century Chapel is also worthy of note and clearly shows the interventions carried out by Genovese.

Maschio Angioino Castle

This castle, also called Castel Nuovo (New Castle), situated opposite the Molo Beverello on one side of Piazza Municipio, was built on the orders of Charles I of Anjou.

It was called “nuovo” (new) to distinghuish it from the city’s other castles, and it is named Maschio Angioino in honour of Charles of Anjou.

Its construction was undertaken in the second half of the 13th century under the Angevin sovereign who entrusted the work to the French architects Pierre de Chaulnes and Pierre d’Angicourt even though Vasari assigned  the project to Giovanni Pisano.

Almost two centuries later, Alfonso I of Aragon took measures to carry out considerable renovations and rebuilding work which practically led to its total reconstruction. This work, which was carried out in the first half of the 15th century, was assigned to masters from the Tuscan and Catalan schools who left their own architectural mark on the building.

It was during this period (1455 – 1468) that the Triumphal Arch was erected: from an architectural, artistic and stylistic point of view, this is one of the finest elements in the whole complex.

It can easily be defined as one of the most outstanding works of Renaissance honorary architecture, since it represents an inseparable union between the art of the most important sculptors of the time, and the traditional canons of the Roman celebratory arch from which the former clearly gained its inspiration.
The arch stands admirably between the Torre di Mezzo (Middle Tower) and the Torre di Guardia (Watch Tower), forming a clear chromatic contrast between its own whiteness and the darker piperno (a particular kind of trachyte often used in Naples for building).

Constructed to celebrate Alfonso I of Aragon’s entrance into Naples (24th February 1443), the arch is a complex structure made up of an archway flanked by Corinthian columns placed side by side (in the intrados there is some relief work depicting Alfonso among Relations and Dignitaries of the Kingdom); these columns support an attic storey which holds the splendid sculptural representations of Alfonso I making his Triumphal Entrance into Naples.

Above the attic is a second arch  which opens between coupled Ionic columns; these support a second attic decorated with niches containing the statue of Temperance, Strength, Justice and Magnamity.
Dominating this remarkable achievement is a semi-circular tympanum bearing the allegorical representation of two rivers, and above this stands the statue of the Archangel Michael.

The most prominent names of those responsible for the admirable cycle of sculptores include Francesco Laurana, Domenico Gagini, Isaia da Pisa and Pére Johan.

Having been renovated and modified several times (16th – 18th centuries), The Maschio Angioino today displays the 15th century appearance it assumed following conservative restoration work carried out in the first half of the 20th century.

The castle has provided the setting for many historical events.
Within its walls Pope Celestine V pronounced his decision to abdicate, laying the ground for Boniface VIII.
It was frequented by literary men like Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio, and by the artist Giotto who painted some frescoes here, though these have been lost.

The castle is surrounded by a long, deep moat which used to be covered by the sea.
It is said that many prisoners were thrown into the moat where their bodies mysteriously disappeared.
After a series of inspections, a hole was discovered through a crocodile used to enter the moat and devour the bodies of the unfortunate victims. The huge reptile was killed and stuffed, and hung above one of the castle doorways where it remained until the mid-19th century.

Within Castel Nuovo it is possible to visit the Palatine Chapel, the Baron’s Hall and the Civic Museum.
There is a curious story regarding the caste’s great bronze doorway which still has a cannonball embedded in it. This was apparently fired by accident by French soldiers who were defending the castle from an attack by the Spanish. They are said to have fired it from the inside while the doorway was being closed.

The Palatine Chapel, with its square plan, is characterised by its cross vaulting with windows very similar to those of the church of Santa Chiara. The chapel is also known as the Church of Santa Barbara or San Sebastiano and is said to have been painted by Giotto, but very little remains of this work. Inside the chapel some interesting sculptures by Laurana and Andrea dell’Aquila can be seen, as well as traces of frescoes by Maso di Banco.

The Museo Civico di Castelnuovo, only recently founded (1990), is situated in the St. Barbara Hall and on the two floors above this in the eastern wing of the castle of the same name, better known as Maschio Angioino.

The museum contains a collection of 14th century frescoes come from the Castello di Casaluce, in the province of Caserta. Others from the 15th century were brought here from the Neapolitan  Church of the Annunziata which has been in disuse for many years. The St. Barbara Hall contains fragments of sculptures by Neapolitan artists, produced around the middle of the 15th century, as well as tabernacles by Jacopo della Pilla and Domenico Gagini, and statues by other artists from the same period (of special note is the Virgin Mary with Child by Laurana).

Of particular interest on the second floor is the panel painted by an unknown Neapolitan from  the 15th century.

There are also works by important artists such as Battistello Caracciolo, Mattia Preti, Francesco Solimena and Francesco Jerace.

The silver exhibits are also on this floor: of particular note among the most valuable and beautiful ones is the Blessed Virgin by Giuliano Finelli, a 17th century artist from Carrara, and a St. Barbara by Lelio Ciliberto.
The third floor contains two magnificent works by Vincenzo Gemito, the Boy’s Head and the Fisherman.

Saint’Elmo Castle

Together with the adjacent Certosa di San Martino, this forms an important group of buildings situated on the hill on which the quarter of Vomero has grown up.

Castel Sant’Elmo was also built on the orders of Charles of Anjou: its construction, in tuff, was begun in 1329 and completed in 1343 by the work of the architects Tino da Camaino, Atanasio Primario and Francesco di Vito.

The building, whose architectural features from a distance resemble those of the Castel dell’Ovo, was one of the city’s fortifications and was used above all to protect it from invasions from the sea.

It was built where the Normans, in 1170, had a fort called Belforte surrounded by rich vegetation.
All Naples’ historic events involve Castel Sant’Elmo.

The King Charles V, through the viceroy Pedro de Toledo, rebuilt completely the castle by the work of the Spanish architect Pier Luigi Scribā, that designed the star-shaped plan of the castle.

It has witnessed numerous sieges, fierce disputes between the various dominating powers, and repeated popular uprisings, including the now legendary Masaniello revolt of 1647.

The old fort has risked destruction several times.

During the Second World War the Germans had intended to blow it up before they left Naples, changing their minds only at the last minute.

The castle, which has now been restored, having been freed from its use as a military prison, houses exhibitions of art and history and also contains the Molaioli Library of Art and a videotheque which supplies information on all of the city’s monuments.

The complex also contains the 16th century Church of Sant’Elmo and the Chapel of Santa Maria del Pilar (17th century).

From the communication trenches and the Castle’s upper square there is an extensive view over the city and Vesuvius, the Neapolitan plain, and the marvellous gulf bounded by Capri and the profile of the Phlegraen islands.

It is worthy to visit the Church of St. Erasmo that has a rich floor in maiolica and tile. Behind the altar there is the tomb of Pietro de Toledo, a viceroy’s relative and first lord of St. Elmo.

In front of the entrance of the church there are the prisons where were imprisoned, among many others :

  • the Princess Giovanna di Capua
  • Tommaso Campanella
  • Angelo Carasale the architect of the San Carlo theatre and many revolutionaries
  • Mario Pagano
  • Domenico Cirillo
  • Gennaro Sessa di Cassano
  • Francesco Pignatelli
  • the Count Ettore Carafa
  • Luigia Sanfelice
  • Pietro Colletta
  • Carlo Poerio
  • Silvio Spaventa
  • and many others. 

Dell’Ovo Castle

dellovo castle

Built on the small island of Megaride, which it is said the place where the Mermaid Partenope got entangled, Castel dell’Ovo rises up in the centre of the gulf, between the marina of Mergellina and the Borgo Marinaro, a short distance from the Villa Comunale.

It was the place where the Cumani founded the first part of the city during the 6th century BC.
In Roman times the site was occupied by the Castrum Lucullum, a fort belonging to the Roman patrician, Lucius Licinus Lucullus, an immensely rich man .

In this place St. Patrizia sheltered from his uncle, emperor of Eastern; the Duke Sergio’s soldiers expelled the monks to built a garrison and, during the centuries which followed, the Normans  and the Angevins extended and fortified the tuff building.

The castle was the royal residence of Charles I of Anjou and of Alfonso of Aragon and in the 17th century it was converted into a prison where was imprisoned also Romolo Augustolo, the last Roman Emperor,  the monk and philosopher Tommaso Campanella, the Princess of Acaja, the King Manfredi’s son and several liberals among them was Francesco de Sanctis.

The castle is well worth visiting.  Note especially the bastions constructed in yellow tuff, the Monks’ Refectory and the splendid view of the gulf from the terraces  on the upper levels, taking in the promontory of Posillipo and the island of Capri which rises up in front of it.

According to a medieval legend, the Roman poet Virgil, who in ancient times was considered a powerful wizard, hid an egg inside a jug hanging in one of the rooms of the castle. Tradition has it that when the egg falls and breaks, the castle and the entire city will fall to ruin.

The interior of the fortress contains medieval structures and includes examples of both Gothic style and much older remains, such as the ruins of a place of worship named after San Salvatore.

Also worthy of note are the Torre Maestra (Master Tower) and the Torre Normandia (Normandy Tower).