History of the Pedamentina di San Martino, 414 steps to reach the Certosa

by Francesco Li Volti

The pedamentina of San Martino

Naples is all ups and downs, we know. There are 135 stairways and 69 tiers that unite, intersect and fork the whole city. Many of these are beautiful, with spectacular views, worthy of the best photos for Instagram. There is one, perhaps the most famous, but it has a particular, almost extravagant origin. We are talking about the pedamentina of San Martino, which unites the Charterhouse of San Martino with the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and where also Charles Baudelaire he stayed there during his stay in Naples.

Marguerite Yourcenar set you there "Anna, soror", one of the three stories that make up "Like flowing water", written in 1982. Sometimes unknown even to Neapolitans, a destination for sophisticated tourists, inhabited by a few brave, flows behind the military hospital and from here the Montesanto ramp allows you to access the most central part of the city.

Pedamentina di San Martino claudia cerulo
The pedamentina of San Martino in a drawing by our fabulous Claudia Cerulo

The pedamentina of San Martino at the time of the Angevins

We are in 1325 and there are the rulers of Naples Angevins. Always very believers and faithful to the Catholic Church, the rulers decided to erect a house for theOrder of the Carthusians, very close to the royal family. Not just any house but a Chartreuse, beautiful, magnificent, which would have housed all 13 monks. Just think, only 13 people within the walls of the humble Charterhouse of San Martino. Returning to us, he was the king Charles of Calabria (Charles of Anjou called the Wise), son of the king Robert of Anjou, to personally take care of the project together with the two architects Tino di Camaino and Francesco Di Vito.

The first Vomero road

A place was not chosen at random to build this Charterhouse. At the time the hill of Vomero was completely uninhabited, only an expanse of monasteries, farmhouses and fields and that of San Martino dominated from above, isolated, Sant'Elmo Castle. Until then, on that hill there was a small church dedicated to St. Erasmus and a lookout tower, perhaps Norman. What better place than the hill of San Martino, to give peace and quiet to the Carthusians? And here is where the project for the first road ever built to get to Vomero takes shape.

Probably on the first day of the works, the two architects, who arrived at the construction site early, looked at each other slightly confused. Something had to be built to bring the materials for the construction of the Certosa up the hill. EUREKA! “Let's build a pedamentina” - they must have thought. Indeed the term pedamentina derives from the Latin pedemontanus, which means, in fact, "ascent to a pole of attraction located at the top". And the workers knew that rise well. Who knows how many times they will have gone up and down this road and with how much effort.

Over four hundred steps, 414 to be precise, which from the square in front of the Certosa di San Martino reach up to Corso Vittorio Emanuele. At the beginning the Pedamentina was formed only by a few bends that go up the hill, as appears in the Duperac Lafrery's card of 1566.

Storia della Pedamentina di San Martino, 414 gradini per arrivare alla Certosa
There Duperac Lafrery's card of 1566 with the detail on the pedament of San Martino

We must not imagine the staircase as it is today. Most likely at the time of construction there was no staircase, no type of comfort. Since it was a question of building an uphill slope for the workers, to avoid the long journey that would otherwise be up to them, the Angevins demanded a very simple road, without too many comforts, even if terracing was needed, the hydrogeological arrangement of the slope, the settlement of rows of pines, cypresses and olive trees. Only later, with the increase of its use and the insertion in the wall perimeter, are the stairs built, as represented in the plan of the Duke of Noja of 1775.

Storia della Pedamentina di San Martino, 414 gradini per arrivare alla Certosa
There plan of the Duke of Noja of 1775 with the detail on the pedament of San Martino

During the war some innocent poor were murdered and today a plaque is there to remember the bad event. Between vegetable gardens, the green spaces that once belonged to the Certosa, and glimpses of the bay, the road was also used in ancient times as a defense outpost of Castel Sant'Elmo. The revolt of Masaniello and the rebellion of the 4 days of Naples I'm an example. And after 700 years the pedamentina is still there, ready to surprise us with its exciting views.


Steps and ramps, ups and downs of the city of Naples, Claudio Giussani, Edizioni Gaeta, Naples, 2003

The streets of Naples, by Romualdo Marrone, Newton and Compton Editori, 1996, Rome

The Streets of Naples, by Gino Doria, Riccardo Ricciardi Editore, 1943, Naples

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