The history of Piazza Garibaldi, a place without peace

by Federico Quagliuolo

Piazza Garibaldi is transformed dozens of times in the course of its approx 170 years of history: each generation remembers it with one different shape and, from decade to decade, it has never been the same as itself.

La storia di Piazza Garibaldi, un luogo senza pace
interior of the ancient station, 1920s

The Bourbons and the "road of ditches"

Before the unification of Italy, the railway structure did not even exist. There Naples-Portici railway, the first railway in Italy stopped in Bayard station, who today is in a very sad state abandonment. The other railways built over the following decades instead arrived at the current Porta Nolana station.
Under the Bourbon monarchy, in fact, there were two stations in Naples and they were close to each other, since the concession companies were different.

The street that would become the modern Piazza Garibaldi was on the edge of town ancient, bordering on "The marshes" which, some time later, would become the Industrial Zone. He was called "Road of the ditches”Because it was built following the layout of the ancient city walls. Today it has become Corso Garibaldi, to commemorate the arrival of the leader by train.
Ferdinand II, in 1840, had in fact sensed the potential of the eastern area of Naples and commissioned to the engineer Luigi Giura the design of a road that could host the first railway station in the city.

Esterno stazione Garibaldi

The railway of the Unification of Italy

There first central station of the railway it was built immediately after the unification of Italy, with the aim of making Naples the most important railway hub in Southern Italy.
It will come as no surprise to know that too the construction of the original building, today often regretted in its neoclassical architecture, was accompanied by endless controversies. In fact, Neapolitan architects and engineers split between "interventionists" And "conservatives“, Among those who claimed that the ancient stations of Porta Nolana went simply refurbished and who, on the other hand, even claimed that it was necessary gut the entire neighborhood, to build a revolutionary railroad with 10 tracks and infinite expansion possibilities. Among these innovators there was also Lamont Young.

The gutting came twenty years later, in 1884. While the first Central Station was inaugurated in 1866, in the presence of Vittorio Emanuele II.

Interno stazione Piazza Garibaldi
Interior of the station, 1950s

If we were to immerse ourselves in the shoes of a traveler from 1870, we would find outside the station a gigantic ancient wall of Aragonese origin, similar to the one that survived at Porta Capuana, and behind it an infinity labyrinth of narrow streets between which it was impossible to orient oneself, chaotic and claustrophobic like the Sanità plant.

The idea of giving a patriotic name to "Railway SquareThe inspector came to mind Giuseppe Saredo, the magistrate of Savona who became famous in 1900 for having made the first investigation into the Camorra in the history of Italy.

The square was in fact renamed in "Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia“, as part of a broader project for the "improvement" of city names. If they hadn't built the Garibaldi road, today the metro stop should have been called "Unit“!
In 1891 Saredo himself wished for the construction of a statue dedicated to the Hero of the Two Worlds, in order to welcome new visitors to Naples with two very strong messages: on the one hand, the brand new Corso Re d'Italia (which later became Corso Umberto), on the other the Piazza dell'Unità, with the statue of Garibaldi.
This innovation too it lasted very little.

Distruzione mura aragonesi Piazza Garibaldi
The destruction of the ancient Aragonese walls, 1892. The statue of Garibaldi will be installed 10 years later right here

The statue of Garibaldi, a monument without peace

Saredo died in 1903 and could not see the inauguration of the statue of Garibaldi, which arrived, ironically, in 1904.
It was built by the Florentine sculptor Cesare Zocchi and was positioned in the place that, up to twenty years earlier, housed the last stretches of the Aragonese walls still in good condition. What remains of it has been literally incorporated by the many buildings in the Porto, Mercato and Pendino neighborhoods.

La storia di Piazza Garibaldi, un luogo senza pace

The new statue of Garibaldi it was not well received by public opinion, that raised a lively debate around the new monument, among whom would have preferred one fountain (alongside the one already present) and those who instead wished to name the square a historical characters of Neapolitan culture.
The statue, in the lower part, bears a bas-relief of "Partenope released“, Which recalls the arrival of Garibaldi's soldiers in the city.

In recent years, the controversy surrounding the figure of Garibaldi has returned to the fore, this time in the context of anti-unity revisionism.
Recently it has been covered with red paint, while some time ago she was "hit" by toilet paper. Without forgetting the many petitions to eliminate the statue from the square. It was famous, for example, the one that collected thousands of signatures to dedicate the ancient Piazza della Ferrovia to Pino Daniele.

La storia di Piazza Garibaldi, un luogo senza pace
A piece of an Aragonese tower finished inside a 1960s building

Fascism and Line 2

Two years after the march on Rome, Piazza della Ferrovia immediately had the first makeup: the Fountain of the Parthenope siren, which was initially located near the statue of Garibaldi.
Today we find that fountain in the center of Sannazaro square.

Inaugurazione metropolitana 1925
Metro inauguration

Then, the following year, Mussolini inaugurated the first underground line in Italy.
He was called "FS Subway", Which then became famous among the Neapolitans with the name of"Directly“, A term still famous today in common jargon. It was the first example of an Italian underground train and was used by connect the nearby Pozzuoli with Napoli Centrale. Then over the years more and more stops were added.
The stretch was only completed in 2014, with the inauguration of the terminus San Giovanni-Barra, well 90 years old after the unveiling of the original railway!

The 1960s and the demolition of the ancient station

Clean slate again. The moment more controversial for Piazza Garibaldi arrived 15 years after the end of the war, when Mario Ottieri and Neapolitan politics became accomplices of uncontrolled urbanization of Naples, that gave life to havoc like the famous one Ottieri Palace in Piazza Mercato.

Piazza Garibaldi abbattimento
The demolished old station, the new station under construction can be seen in the background

In 60's we studied how connect Naples to the Northern Italy "train", who was discovering hers industrial boom (with the famous first big mass emigration of the southerners in Piedmont and Lombardy). Among the weak points that could have been limit city development the central station was identified, which had just 4 tracks, all technologically very backward and, in the opinion of the studies of the time, was too bulky to be expanded or improved in any way. The only solution was to pull her back and tear it down completely.
Actually the need was already felt during the fascist period, but the master plan of 1939 provided for the construction of a new, huge, station near thecurrent Headquarters. The war completely changed the plans.

Interno di Stazione Piazza Garibaldi
Interior of the new station with the business center in the distance, photo by Federico Quagliuolo

The work was entrusted to the architect Luigi Piccinato, who decided to create a completely different building compared to the canons of the past. The architecture was to be the signature of the modern times, of concrete and progress. Here was born the modern Central Station and, immediately after, the railway skyscraper.

The columns of the ancient station were saved. And they were "scattered" in monuments all over Naples.

A new square

After forty years of relative stability, Piazza Garibaldi returns under the pickaxe: the first to be destroyed is the bus station, which was very popular in the 80s and 90s. Then, the third millennium began with a complete renovation project of the square, with construction sites that lasted for twenty years, up to December 2019, when the mayor De Magistris announced the "new life" of Piazza Garibaldi. This time signed by the French architect Dominique Perrault.

Naples is a bit like the mirror of its station: restless, beautiful, damned by the renovations and by the faces of the people who govern it.
And today, with the construction sites finally concluded, it is back there, to welcome her children who, for one reason or another, have left the city.

Federico Quagliuolo

La storia di Piazza Garibaldi, un luogo senza pace

Giancarlo Alisio, Naples and the reorganization

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1 Comment

Vittorio Gulfo 18 November 2020 - 15:57

Thanks and congratulations for the complete, albeit concise, history of this beautiful and important square in our city.


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