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I sette castelli di Napoli e la loro magnifica storia

The seven castles of Naples and their magnificent history

by Arianna Giannetti

Let's start with a fact: Naples is the only city in Italy to have 7 castles within its city perimeter. 

The Neapolitan capital, which has always fascinated poets and artists, teeming with life and colors, has always been the scene of the deepest paradoxes of our civilization, which have made it one of the most complex and fascinating cities in the world.

In the Neapolitan tradition there are many mysteries that surround the most important monuments, especially those woven around the castles that rise in the most strategic areas of the metropolis and which in ancient times served as a defense against the enemies of the sea.

So let's discover the seven castles of Naples.

Castel dell'Ovo

Romolo Augustolo, l'ultimo Imperatore Romano che visse al Castel dell'Ovo
The castle at sunset

First of all the Castel dell'Ovo, Castrum ovi, in Latin, is the oldest castle in the city. It stands on the tuff islet of Megaride and is joined to the mainland by a thin isthmus of rock.

The well-known legend that circulated as early as 300 AD traces the name of the castle back to the poet Virgil, who would have hidden in the dungeons an egg capable of keeping the entire fortress standing. The breaking of the egg would have caused not only the collapse of the castle, but also numerous catastrophes in the Neapolitan city.

Protector of its people, the castle has always been a testimony of the passage of time, of the passage of foreign dominations that have governed, subdued or made proud. The Swabians, the Angoines later, made the Castel dell'Ovo symbol of this city.

Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino)

Maschio Angioino castello

One of the castles that represents a great example of engineering and refined architecture is the very famous Castel Nuovo, better known as Male Angevin. The castle that dominates the monumental Piazza Municipio, defended by five large cylindrical towers, one in tuff and four lined with piperno (a particular type of volcanic rock widespread in Naples), was rebuilt by Alfonso of Aragon  and is characterized by a trapezoidal plant.

The origin of the double name is soon explained: the French castle, built by Carlo D'Angiò, was the Male Angevin and it was much smaller, as it included only the internal building. It was the Spaniards who transformed the castle into its present form, the Castel Nuovo.

The name "Castel Nuovo", however, should not be confused: already in the times of the Angevins it was called "Chateau Neuf ”! The distinction between "Maschio Angioino" and "Castel Nuovo" was born only later, to distinguish the two castles built one on top of the other.

Details mysteries they are linked to the basement of the castle where prisoners were segregated and tortured. Famous is the Cell of the Crocodile, also known as the millet, grain deposit of the Aragonese court. An ancient legend tells of frequent and mysterious disappearances of prisoners that created fear in the people and in the court itself. However, it was not long in discovering that these disappearances occurred due to a crocodile that penetrated through an opening in the basement and dragged the prisoners into the sea by the leg after having bitten them. To kill the crocodile, a large poisoned horse's leg was used as bait and, once dead, it was stuffed and hooked on the entrance door of the castle.

Another famous spectator room of a grim murder is the Hall of the Barons which takes its name from the conspiracy of some barons against Ferrante I of Aragon  in 1487. These were invited by him to celebrate the wedding of his niece. It was actually a trap: the barons were arrested and some of them put to death.

Castel Capuano

Castel Capuano - Sette castelli di Napoli

Certainly less known, but no less important is the Castel Capuano, the oldest after Castel dell'Ovo, which is located in via dei Tribunali.

Erected by Normans in the ancient neighborhood of the Vicaria, was born in 1176 on a Byzantine fortress. It is so called because it is located close to Porta Capuana, which led to the ancient Capua: it was from there, in fact, that the greatest dangers for Naples came, with the Longobards at the gates of the city. With Frederick II it became a royal palace with austere and militarizing environments, then it was destined, in the Aragonese period, for the first time to the function of Justice palace with prisons.

The portal of the castle is decorated with a large double-headed eagle, the coat of arms of the royal house of Spain, work of Sangallo, with nearby the Pillars of Hercules, which still appear on the Spanish flag today. After the portal you enter a courtyard, the latter is the real heart of Castel Capuano, the place where lawyers, judges, defendants and witnesses gathered to discuss justice and freedom until a few years ago.

Sant'Elmo Castle

Castel Sant'Elmo dall'alto
Castel Sant'Elmo from above, with its famous "star" shape

The Sant'Elmo Castle, medieval fortress that rises from the hill of the neighborhood Vomero overlooking the city, very high and imposing, today a museum full of works of art and history. During the Neapolitan Revolution of 1799 he was a spectator of terrible clashes, animated by the ideas of the French Revolution. The Neapolitan people, enraged and led by the intellectuals of the time, managed to reconquer the fortress, but at the fall of the Republic it became the prison of the most important protagonists of the revolution: Eleonora Pimentel De Fonseca, Francesco Pignatelli ,Justin Fortunato e Domenico Cirillo .

Castle of the Carmine

Castello del Carmine, uno dei castelli distrutti
What remains of the castle

The Castle of the Carmine , built in 1382 by Charles III of Durazzo, the building was erected at the southern corner of the city walls as a defensive bulwark, in Piazza Mercato. It had a tormented history: during the revolt of Masaniello, in fact, it saw the last battles between the people and the Spaniards. One time Masaniello died, then, it became the home of his successor, Gennaro Annese.
A man of little pulse and with an arrogant and brusque manner, he did not understand that making a war also meant doing politics: after coming to power, a modest port gunsmith found himself confronted with highly refined French, Spanish and Papal ambassadors, all interested in control of Naples. After pressure, alliances and confusions, in the end, the last act of the Neapolitan revolt was celebrated in this castle, with the Cardinal Ascanio Filomarino who triumphantly entered the Carmine for capture Annese and take him to another castle, the Capuano one, to try him and sentence him to death.

Just a hundred years later, during the Neapolitan revolution of 1799, the castle saw the same script: after bloody battles, with French and Spanish resistances that have always tried to conquer Naples, another cardinal arrived triumphant, Fabrizio Ruffo, with his army of the Holy Faith: he transformed the castle into a prison for all the revolutionaries of 1799 and had them slaughtered afterwards atrocious torture. 

After the unit, part of the castle was demolished in 1864 to make room for the new Via Marina, then, after having escaped the Remediation, in 1906 the entire structure was razed to the ground, to make room for Corso Garibaldi.
And so it was that, after revolutions, resistance, battles, blood and dreams of justice, the castle was left in total abandonment, until the 90s, when modest fences were built.

Nisida Castle

Bagnoli Nisida Tramonto

Arose on Nisida, islet of the archipelago of the Flegrean islands Nisida Castle dates back to the first half of the sixteenth century, when Giovanni Piccolomini, grandson of Joan of Aragon, he decided to build the castle on the highest point of the island. Only later was the Watchtower which was used as a hunting lodge. In the sixteenth century the viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo, after a careful and accurate restoration, made the castle a strategic one point of defense against the looting of the famous "Barbarossa pirate”On the Neapolitan and Ischia coasts.
Then, under the Bourbon dynasty, it became a prison for political prisoners. Ironically, after theUnification of Italy, the castle instead welcomed the ex-officials of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

It is currently one of the few Juvenile Penitentiaries of Italy.

Fort of Vigliena

I sette castelli di Napoli e la loro magnifica storia
What remains of the fort

There  Vigliena Fortress, located in the neighborhood of San Giovanni a Teduccio, is so called because it was built in 1706 by one of the last viceroys of Naples: Giovanni di Zuniga, count of Villena, a small Catalan town close by Valencia.

It was a very special fort, almost unique in Europe for its shape: it was indeed only 6 meters high just to be Invisible from the sea and avoid bombing from the port.

The historical importance of the fortress is above all linked to an episode that saw the supporters of the Neapolitan Republic clash with the Sanfedist forces of Cardinal Ruffo who destroyed a large part of the fort. And then, abandonment it was the condemnation of the fort, almost like a damnatio memoriae for having supported the republicans of 1799.

During the Renovation it was planned the demolition of this fortress as well, but Pasquale Villari and Matteo Renato Imbriani managed, desperately, to save the structure, after fierce battles in parliament. After their death, however, in 1906, there was no one to defend the walls that had lost all meaning for the administrators of the time: it was demolished large part of the castle, with a eternal damage to the history of the city.

Despite having been awarded the very important titles of "historic building in the city" And "national monument“, Today it is in a profound state of abandonment.

Degradation, lawlessness and corruption have contributed to pay off the restoration of this almost impassable site and today the recovery proposals are oriented towards the creation of an archaeological park.

We have told and deepened the history of the fort in this article.

Curious to find out their location? Click on the map!

Castelli Mappa

-Arianna Giannetti

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