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Etimologia e storia di tutti i quartieri di Napoli

Etymology and history of all the districts of Naples

by Francesco Li Volti

Today the districts of Naples are 30 and each of them is essential to describe the beauty and controversies of this city. But that wasn't always the case. In fact it was 1779 when Ferdinand IV decided to divide the city of Naples for the first time into 12 districts, in order to establish and reside in each of them a judge of the Grand Criminal Court. This was a brilliant way to maintain public safety.

Thus the first twelve districts of Naples were born:

1) District of San Ferdinando

2) Neighborhood of Santa Maria della Vittoria

3) District of Monte Calvario

4) Neighborhood of San Giuseppe

5) Neighborhood of San Giovanni Maggiore

6) Portanova district

7) Neighborhood of San Lorenzo

8) District of the Advocate

9) Neighborhood of the Star

10) District of San Carlo all'Arena

11) Neighborhood of the Vicariate

12) District of the Carmine Maggiore

As we said in the opening words of this article, there are 30 districts in Naples and despite having been grouped into 10 municipalities, each inhabitant of a district feels particularly attached to his or her area. Below is the etymology and a brief historical summary of the districts of Naples.

Etimologia e storia di tutti i quartieri di Napoli

The neighborhoods and their etymology

Arenella: the canon Celano recalls its etymology, through the words of Gino Doria, in this way: "It takes this name from the arenas that the torrents of rainwater that descend from the Camaldoli mountain, to which it rises from this side, leave it". The Arenella was in ancient times the favorite holiday resort of the Neapolitans.        

Lawyer: Comes from the Latin attribute Advocata, given to the Virgin Mary, Defender of men and Mediatrix for sinners near a church founded in these areas in 1580 by the Carmelite Alessandro Mollo. It is the past participle (advocatus), rendered feminine noun of the verb advocate what does it mean "To call in the presence".           

Bagnoli: This toponym, which used in the singular is also found in other regions, derives from the name of the spa Balneolum (in vernacular the Bagnuolo) existing here. This bath was however very small and cramped; it originated from the roots of Mount Olibano. The oldest evidence of Bagnoli dates back to the thirteenth century, in the Latin poem "De balneis terrae laboris”By Pietro d'Eboli, who wrote that the name of the spa extended to the whole locality.

Bar: Thanks to its proximity to the Sebeto River, Barra was a very popular area since Roman times, but with the end of the Empire, this territory gradually fell into abandonment, and the once fertile lands became swampy. It owes its name to the development of numerous farmhouses and in 1275 the entire area was donated to the Coczi family by King Carlo I Angioino, and this farmhouse was called, due to the presence of numerous towers, Barra de Coczi.

Chiaia: Chiaia is the Neapolitan corruption of the very ancient playa and already in the sixth century epistles of Pope Gregory the Great this term was used to designate the entire western maritime coast of Naples. During the Roman era this was an ancient street called via Puteolana, as it was the fastest route to reach Pozzuoli.

Chiaiano: It would derive from the medieval Latin plagia (slope) - anus (derivation). During the Angevin period this territory took the name of Clojanum; In the coupons of the Dukes of Durazzo and the Spanish viceroys the place is indicated with the names Plajanun, Chiaianun and Chiaiana.         

Fuorigrotta: In the Augustan age there was the need to build a road between Naples and Pozzuoli to improve direct communications; for this reason Agrippa, Octavian's general, decided to open a gallery under the Posillipo hill, later called Crypta Neapolitan. Once the work was finished, the Roman soldiers began to call an ancient village of a few pious souls called Casapagna, placed on the street, Foris cryptae. And here is the etymology of Fuorigrotta revealed!

Materdei: The whole area takes its origin from the name of the small church Santa Maria Mater Dei, built in 1587 by Father Agostino de Juliis of the Order of Servites.

Marianella: About the origin of the name, there is little or no news. Marianella is listed as one of the casalia regis in the second Angevin coupon. Perhaps it even derives from Marillenellum, or the merger of three words: Maria ille nellum, new place (dedicated) to Mary. On the other hand, there are those who argue that the name Marianella derives from an ancient family, i Marinellum, dating back to the times of Charles of Anjou.       

Market: This area owes its name to the square that once served as a market: precisely twice a week since 1270. In ancient times here was the Great Forum, nothing more than an uncultivated field that in later times took the name of Campo del Moricino.        

Miano: It derives from the merger with a village a few hundred meters away, Mianella. Myana e Mianella they were two realities with few inhabitants and a few hamlets. When the number of inhabitants increased, the two centers merged definitively.

Montecalvario: This district takes its name from the sixteenth-century church which today exhibits the simple name of "Montecalvario". We know that the construction of the church was commissioned by the Neapolitan noblewoman Ilaria (or Iberia) of Apuzzo in 1560.

Pendino: Gino Doria writes that the descents that led from the hill to the sea were called hangers.

Plains: The origin of the inhabited center dates back to a group of workers involved in the excavation, cutting and transport of piperno, a very hard stone that has been widely used to pave the streets of Naples and its surroundings, to embellish noble palaces, including palaces real. The toponym derives from its flat territory surrounded by hills.

«The village of Pianura, called in ancient times Casale Planurii and Villa Planuriae Majoris (Angevin Registers of the Archive of the Mint of Naples), rises 180 meters above sea level, at the foot of a tuffaceous hill in the north-east end of an ancient crater of an extinct volcano of the Phlegraean Fields of the perimeter of seven kilometers; four miles from the city of Naples [...]. " (Giuseppe di Criscio, Historical notes on the Municipality of Pianura).

Piscinola: An uncertain etymology. The first inhabitants of these areas were the Roman soldiers returned from the Punic wars. Then the Opici, the Osci and the Samnites lived there. The etymology of Piscinola derives from the term piscinula, that is "swimming pool" or "tub", perhaps referring to an ancient hydraulic structure in the vicinity of the primitive residential settlement. Despite the very clear reference to water, the location and functions of this tank are completely obscure.

Apparently there were two pools: there was a smaller and older pool, called "piscinella", located near the farms of the dark Filanda, Teverola and Perillo, from which perhaps the etymology of the locality, still called "Piscinella", derived and another basin, located further south and larger than the first, of later construction. Other hypotheses have it that the village was called Piscinola due to the numerous wells, but here there are no pozzolanic veins or springs.

Poggioreale: The Neapolitan Renaissance saw as its protagonist an absolute king: Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Calabria. In 1487 the Spanish king entrusted the works for the construction of the Duchesca a Giuliano da Maiano; in the same year, although the Duchesca's renovations had not yet been completed, Alfonso of Aragon always gave Giuliano da Maiano the task of erecting an enormous villa, from the highly decorated and frescoed halls, to the gardens that extended with vineyards, rose gardens, sculptures, fountains and swimming pools. Today none of this remains, but it was once nicknamed the villa of Poggioreale.

Jumpers: The toponym indicates a series of bridges that were used to go from one part to another.

Port: It owes its name not to the port area as many imagine, but to the seat of Porto, one of the oldest in the city. By seat we mean the constituency (a part of the territory of a state, within which the competence of an organ is limited). The districts were abolished in 1800 by King Ferdinand IV. Small historical-football anecdote: the de Laurentiis family was registered in this seat.

Posillipo: The name Pausilypum was given by Publio Vedio Pollione to his villa in memory or in honor of Zeus Pausìlipos, of which he speaks Sophocles in the Nauplio. Literary translation is a respite from pain. On his death in 15 AD the house was donated to the Emperor Octavian, who made the villa in Posillipo into his own villa.

San Carlo all'Arena: The name of this district is rooted in the church of San Carlo Borromeo, built in 1602 at the expense of Silvestro Cordello and the canon Giovanni Longo. The addition "at the Arena”Is due to the fact that right in front of the church, the via Foria at the time it was nothing more than a drainage of rainwater, muddy in winter and sandy and dusty in summer. In fact, arena in Spanish means beach, sand.      

San Ferdinando: The name of this district is due to the presence of the church of San Ferdinando in piazza Trieste e Trento, begun in 1636 on a design by Cosimo Fanzago. Initially the church was to be dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, by the will of the Jesuits.

San Giovanni a Teduccio: The Romans were in love with the land of Campania. A testimony is given to us by the fact that the villa of Teodosia, daughter of the Emperor Theodosius, was built in this area. According to some scholars in 390 d. C. Theodosia erected a column in his villa in honor of the emperors Valentinian, his father the Emperor Theodosius and the son of the latter Arcadius. Great celebrations would take place around this column, in which the most important families of Naples and the surrounding area used to participate.

Due to the notoriety of the villa, the column and the feasts celebrated there over time, it was customary to refer to the whole area “To Theodociam“, Thus referring to the villa of Theodosia, a term that over time would later become Teduccio. Now that column is kept in the church of San Giovanni Battista

St. Joseph: In 1779 the city was administratively divided into 12 districts and therefore the limits among others of the San Giuseppe district were defined, which takes its name from the church of San Giuseppe Maggiore, church which no longer exists but which was located approximately on the site now occupied by the Police Headquarters. It stood in via San Giuseppe, a continuation of via Medina towards Monteoliveto, where today via Armando Diaz begins, at the point where the road intersects with via Medina, via Monteoliveto and via Cardinale Guglielmo Sanfelice, a few steps from piazza Bovio and piazza Town Hall and in front of Piazza Matteotti.

Saint Lawrence: The name of this magnificent district derives from the presence of the San Lorenzo Maggiore Monumental Complex.

San Pietro a Patierno: On the cadastral maps of the Angevin period this area was indicated as San Petrus ad Paternum.

Scampia: The denomination in ancient times referred to a village that no longer exists today. It is part of those neighborhoods that took their name from their ancient village.

Secondigliano: The Roman Secondili family was a power. They lived right in this area of Naples. Here was discovered the second mile of the Via Appia that led to Rome.

I was helping: This is one of the many neighborhoods that dates back to the Roman era. In fact it was used by the Greeks as cultivation fields and only thanks to the Romans was it possible to understand the potential of the extraction of piperno. Hence the origin of the name sub-quarry.

Star: This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Naples. The whole area takes its name from the sanctuary of the Star, named after a Marian icon that depicts the Madonna with a star on her head.

Vicar: The Vicariate derives from the construction of the district Vast, close to the central station, characterized by the toponymy dedicated to Italian cities and whose etymology is very dating back and derives from the corruption of failure. The name of "Vicariate" (Vicaria nova) comes from the viceregal court located in via dei Tribunali, formerly via della Vicaria, which gave its name to the entire district; the oldest part of the "old Vicariate" remains in the San Lorenzo district.

Vomero: The etymology of the Vomero district derives from the Greek Bomòs (βωμός, that is "high ground") but there are those who bet that instead originates from the game of ploughshare, a peasant pastime that sanctioned as the winner who, with the ploughshare of the plow, had traced a furrow as straight as possible. 

Bibliography: The streets of Naples, Romualdo Marrone 1996 Newton & Compton- The streets of Naples, Gino Doria 1979, Riccardo Ricciardi Editore- The twelve districts of Naples, Salvatore Di Giacomo 2009, Treves Editore

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