Corso Vittorio Emanuele II: four km of history

by Leonardo Quagliuolo

The Corso Vittorio Emanuele it is one of the longest, most well-known and busiest streets in Naples, capable of giving its visitors, be they citizens or tourists, splendid views and interesting architecture to admire. It connects Mergellina with the historic center, tracing a long furrow at the foot of the Vomero hill. It has an ancient and interesting history: it was thought of as the first example of "ring road" of Naples, is also the longest street in the city center, which touches the areas Avvocata, Montecalvario, Quartieri Spagnoli, Vomero, Chiaia, Mergellina.

Planimetria Corso Vittorio Emanuele via Maria Teresa
Rare image of the Corso Maria Teresa project

The origins: Corso Maria Teresa

Around 1850, Ferdinand II of Bourbon commissioned five selected architects and urban planners, Enrico Alvino, Francesco Saponieri, Luigi Cangiano, Antonio Francesconi and Francesco Gavaudan, to create a new and wide road that allowed to reach Piedigrotta quickly and linearly from the hilly area of Naples, which at the time was at the beginning of its expansion.

This new road had to be easily reachable from the beating heart of Bourbon Naples: via Toledo and the Spanish Quarters. An idea that proved to be particularly far-sighted, considering the almost labyrinthine layout of the pre-Renovation streets of the historic center. The street was dedicated to his second wife, Maria Teresa.

Mappa 1800
Detail of a map of Naples from the first half of the 19th century. In place of the Corso you can see some irregular country paths.

The authors of the project, together with the Building Council, agreed with the sovereign of special laws because it was not built on the left side of the road: it would have been a crime hide the beautiful landscape in the name of money, building palaces there. Unfortunately, in part of the Corso, as well as on many other roads, these rules were not respected in the years that followed. It will be necessary to wait until 1939 for another such measure, which was ignored in the postwar years.

THE works began in 1852. The first section starts from the seventeenth-century piazzetta Cesarea and from the extension of via Salvator Rosa, which comes to Museum. Streets that find the post-unification Piazza Mazzini as a junction.

The road was completely traced, in his four and a half kilometers long, already in the middle of the following year: in 1853 the royal family attended the inauguration ceremony. In the following years, many crossroads connecting with the neighboring neighborhoods would be added, to perfectly integrate the new road into the city context.

Mappa 1860
Detail of a map from 1860, the first section of the Corso in yellow "Vittorio Emanuele II“, Recently renamed. Thanks to Harvard Library.

On the first stretch, buildings for residential buildings were built in a very short time, still visible today, while the west side was almost entirely empty, with the exception of some pre-existing structures, such as the institute Sister Orsola Benincasa, at the time a convent, the sixteenth-century monastery of San Francesco al Monte, today a hotel, the monastery, also seventeenth-century, of San Nicola da Tolentino, also today a hotel and the church, with an adjoining prison, of Santa Apparent Mary. The church is still present, the prison no longer.

One of the oldest structures is the presumably early Christian church from Holy Sepulcher, built in an ancient tuff quarry, as if to simulate the place to which it is dedicated. It was renovated in the 19th century, with the addition of a baroque facade. Today abandoned and not open to visitors.

Santo sepolcro
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The unification of Italy: new monarchy, new life

With the advent of Unity, one of the first acts immediately following the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was a large street renaming: largo di palazzo became Plebiscito square, the "Foro Carolino" became Dante square and, inevitably, The Corso was dedicated to the new sovereign, Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy.

During the second half of the 19th century, there were many changes: they were added many new links like, for example, one with the new one via Tasso and someone with the nascent neighborhood Chiaia, through via del Parco Margherita (In reality there is no park with that name, although the street is called that way) and also via Pontano.

Further connection was made with the extension of the ancient Calata San Francesco, a long and steep road almost entirely with steps, which connects the Riviera of Chiaia with one of the oldest places in Vomero, the first stretch of via Belvedere, intersecting corso Vittorio Emanuele and via Tasso and which took the name of “Salita del Vomero”.

In the Umbertine era, many elegant residential buildings were added, especially in the stretch of the Corso which is part of the Chiaia and Mergellina neighborhoods and also some suggestive luxury hotels, some of which are still active.

Another fundamental intervention at the end of the 19th century was to connect the Corso with the funiculars of Chiaia and Montesanto, still a fundamental link today. In 1928, a stop will also be created for the newest central funicular.

Panorama Corso Vittorio Emanuele
The view from a side street of the Corso

The luxury of the '900

With the beginning of the century, it is affirmed Liberty style, which cannot be missing in the most elegant stretch of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, to whose construction very well-known architects and engineers contributed, but the contribution that perhaps stands out the most is that of Lamont Young, Scottish architect, author of the suggestive Grifeo Park of the Princes of Partanna, a complex of residential buildings close to the Vomero hill, with access from both Villa Lucia and the Corso, whose original buildings are of a particular neo-medieval style and boast a priceless panorama.

Many other buildings with different styles were added to the park between the 1930s and 1960s. There is still an elevator that takes you to the Bertolini hotel, already built at the time.

Among these buildings, one of the symbols of Naples in the early twentieth century is the Aselmeyer Castle, on which it is impossible not to look when passing through Corso Vittorio Emanuele or when you spot it from piazza Amedeo di Savoia, perhaps the best known work of the brilliant British architect, built for the Grifeo di Patranna family, then purchased by a wealthy German banker, today it is a very special condominium.

Castello Aselmeyer
Aselmeyer Castle, on the right. Photos from the 30s / 40s.

The course ends at the gates of Mergellina, with another building that has maintained its elegance over time: the Mergellina station, built in 1925.

After the Second World War, Corso Vittorio Emanuele was not exempt from the building speculation which smothered the green of the city with concrete, but many stretches of the road still have a clear view of the beautiful panorama that has always characterized the hills of Naples.

-Leonardo Quagliuolo

For more:

Architecture and urban planning of the Bourbon period"By prof. A. Buccaro and G. Matacena

Harvard Library


Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya

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Carla 30 June 2020 - 12:39

It was nice to meet you and read you. You have given a noble sense to FB. Thanks Carla

Federico Quagliuolo 1 July 2020 - 4:06

is a wonderful comment. Thank you with all my heart

Italy-Portugal association 31 December 2020 - 12:57

The lift leading to Bertolini is existing and active!


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