The Faculty of Engineering of Naples, the oldest in Italy

by Federico Quagliuolo

The University of Naples is not only the oldest public institution in the world, but it also has another medal: it has hosted the first Faculty of Engineering in Italy.

The credit is entirely French. In the short historical period in which the French dominated the whole of Europe, Gioacchino Murat was king of Naples. In those years they exported innovations which, even today, have made the history of law, science and the arts.

On March 4, 1811, the "Application School in Bridges and Roads"With real decree signed personally by Murat (still present in the state archives, signed "Joachim Bonaparte", Since the King loved to sign himself with his wife's surname)

The University was a historic innovation in Italy: it was inspired by the model of École nationale des ponts et chaussées of Paris (the oldest engineering faculty in the world, founded in 1747) and, for the first time, he also trained engineers in the civil field.
In Italy, in fact, there had already been engineering schools for some time, but they were institutions linked exclusively to military careers.

The Faculty of Engineering of Naples, the oldest in Italy
The sign of the Faculty of Engineering in the ancient site of Via Mezzocannone

The nineteenth century in fact brought airs of change, progress and innovation. There Industrial Revolution it loomed and, just in that period, it began the unstoppable rise of engineers in the job market: the production machinery began to be more and more refined and continually needed revisions, improvements and innovations. As well as bridges, roads and infrastructures began to become more and more complex and closer to the modern world and the state needed to train technicians just as, six centuries earlier, Frederick II had understood that the universities would produce the ruling classes of the societies of the future. The Faculty of Engineering was therefore the necessary expression of the future centuries.

The very difficult entrance tests

The Faculty of Engineering of Naples was a university for the few. The first course was held precisely in 1811 and only 12 students were admitted.
Gods were in fact needed very strict admission tests, which required "the knowledge of all pure mathematics and of statics applied to the equilibrium of machines“.
But they were also fundamental classical knowledge: the engineers of the Kingdom of Naples had to have "perfect knowledge of Latin and French, as well as Italian“.

And it didn't end there. Having passed the first test of the test, it was also necessary to make one proof of technical drawing.

The course lasted 4 years and the first graduates arrived in 1814. Among these the name of a nineteen year old stands out Luigi Jura, the author of the revolutionary Bridge of the Garigliano and, subsequently, of the Maria Cristina Bridge near Solopaca, now destroyed. Works that, for the time, were considered unimaginable.
The results of such intense and intense studies were not long in coming and the benefits were all in favor of the renewed Bourbon monarchy.

Surprisingly enough, actually, Ferdinand I decided initially close the School of Engineering immediately after the restoration.

bridge over the Garigliano
The bridge over the Garigliano, the work of Luigi Giura, the first engineering graduate

Then he thought better of it and, in 1818, he entrusted it to the most faithful officer Carlo Afan de Rivera, which brought great prestige to the institution, excellently preparing students in all fields of civil, hydraulic and mechanical engineering.

Ironically, until the beginning of the twentieth century, it is estimated that the Neapolitan engineers were the poorest in Italy.

It was calculated that in 1889 Neapolitan civil engineers had an income of 1183 lire per year (in any case very high for the average of the time), just over half of a Milanese colleague. To do a paradoxical comparison for our times, the humanistic school counted graduates with income quadrupled than those of an engineer.

A department of illustrious men

The Neapolitan engineering class, throughout the nineteenth century, was covered with honors and primates. Just imagine the the first railway in Italy, the Naples-Portici, as well as the works of memorable characters such as Alfonso and Camillo Guerra, pioneers of reinforced concrete in Italy and authors of the colossal Schilizzi Mausoleum or the Palazzo della Borsa in Naples. Without forgetting the technical excellence of San Leucio and Pietrarsa, all designed by the best engineers in the kingdom.
The University, after the Unification, continued to train wonderful minds, by Renato Caccioppoli a Umberto Nobile, arriving at the very recent Scipione Bobbio, just to name a few. It would be impossible to list all the names!

The Faculty of Engineering of Naples, the oldest in Italy
The bust in honor of Umberto Nobile inside the Faculty of Engineering

How did Engineering in Fuorigrotta get there?

The current headquarters of the Engineering Department was designed in 1955 by Luigi Cosenza, who was also a lecturer at the University, as well as being heir to a family of engineers since its foundation.
The choice fell on the Fuorigrotta district because, in the post-war years, it was imagined as university citadel by the urban planners of the time.

In reality the seat of the new Faculty of Engineering, according to i fascist projects built in 1937, it should have been built near the Scudillo, in hilly area of Naples, where the city's hospitals were already under construction.

Previously there were two engineering offices: several courses held in the classrooms of theAcademy of Fine Arts. Then the teaching found its home in Gravina Palace, where today the faculty of Architecture. Finally it was moved to Via Mezzocannone in 1863. Even today there is a rusty plaque that remembers the entrance to the "Directed Faculty of Engineering“.

Two centuries have passed since the first engineers graduated and, even today, the University of Naples forms the excellence of the future.

-Federico Quagliuolo


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