Piazza Mercato, the story of an area of Naples that is the daughter of Arabs and French

by Federico Quagliuolo

More than a thousand years ago in the parts of Piazza Mercato there was an area known as "Campo dei Saraceni".
The city was a lot different as we know it today, but the square was almost identical in terms of size. Among the dusty tents frequented by oriental accents, the Neapolitans bought spices and products from every part of the then known world. Just like in a bazaar, precisely.
Only the Angevins they transformed it into the present Market Square, when the Saracens in Naples were now a thing of the past.

Piazza Mercato, storia di una zona di Napoli figlia di arabi e francesi

Campo dei Saraceni or Campo del Moricino

Neapolitans and Saracens have always had very complex relations. We are around the ninth century, Naples was a duchy free ruled by Sergio I e Cesario Consul was the hero of the city. Just beyond outside the walls, built by the emperor Valentinian III at the time of the Roman Empire, once stood a little Ribat for centuries. For Ribat, the Muslims meant some small fortifications or outposts.
Right here lived a small and lively community of oriental merchants which, in the clearing of beaten earth that was in front of the city gates, they spread carpets and positioned banquets on which they displayed products from foreign lands.
Precisely in these meetings, which took place in the heart ofHigh Middle age, that spirit of tolerance and integration typical of the Neapolitans began to be born, already used to living with exponents of other cultures.
The city market, the internal one, took place in the place even known by Greeks: the current Piazza San Gaetano, which was once the agora of the city.

The area was also called "Campo del Moricino", indicating a territory "adjacent to the walls ".

Piazza Mercato ai tempi di Masaniello
Francesco Saverio Gargiulo, Piazza Mercato at the time of Masaniello

The head of Corradino di Svevia and the birth of Piazza Mercato

The ribat remained there for other centuries, outside the city walls, while Naples passed through the hands of Normans, Swabians and then Angevins. It was the last dynasty, of French origin, who arrived in Naples leaving one trail of blood throughout Southern Italy. Charles of Anjou he was a sovereign of few words and with great expansionist aims: he wanted expand its territories and had no scruples inkill anyone who stood in the way between him and his goal.
It was he who did behead, in 1268, the sixteen year old Corradino of Swabia in the center of the square, thus extinguishing the dynasty of the marvelous Frederick II.

Poor Corradino had no peace even after his death: during the World War II, indeed, a handful of German soldiers went in search of his body, to take it to Germany. They were in fact convinced that the Swabians were of Aryan race and, consequently, they belonged to the German people.

Piazza Mercato, storia di una zona di Napoli figlia di arabi e francesi

Piazza Mercato is born

Market Square it was therefore officially born in 1270, just after the death of the young Corradino, up decision of Charles of Anjou.
The will of the king of Naples was to invest decisively in the mercantile potential of the city, since it was located at center of the Mediterranean Sea and enjoyed a strategically exceptional position. The historical market, that of the ancient agora, was too far from the sea and by now it was wedged in a maze of buildings, even if the streets were still wide and the famous "vicarielli" of Spaccanapoli did not yet exist. With Piazza Mercato, on the other hand, shiploads could be sold immediately.

However, the Saracens had already understood this about 600 years earlier.

The city was then expanded into east direction and it is no coincidence that, in the following centuries, the Borgo degli Orefici in the immediate vicinity e the whole area developed decisively which today was razed to the ground by Corso Umberto.

Piazza Mercato nel 600
Piazza Mercato in the 17th century, by Francesco Saverio Gargiulo

Uncontrolled construction and anticipated disasters

The Angevin intuition was a success. And the square was the seat of a lively market until the 1970s. The only problem, then as now, was the illegal building.
As there was no master plan, Piazza Mercato soon became a gigantic pile of wooden buildings which, as expected, in 1781 caught fire before the eyes of the people and the court of Ferdinand IV during the feast of the Madonna del Carmine.
The architect was then commissioned Francesco Sure for the reconstruction of the area, with the task of transforming it into the most modern international showcase for the Naples market.
The present church of Santa Croce del Purgatorio at the Market.

There were also in the square four fountains, existing today. Two of these are still present today in the original points (and have recently been restored) and were built, with theirs obelisks, from Sure. Another fountain, known as "Fountain of the Dolphins", was bought by the Municipality of Cerreto Sannita in 1812 and still today it is located in the main square of the Benevento city. The last one, called "Of the lions", was moved to the Fascist era Molosiglio Gardens.

A fifth fountaininstead, it no longer exists: it was called "Fontana Maggiore" and had been designed by Cosimo Fanzago. It was destroyed in the 1930s.

Piazza Mercato Palazzo Ottieri
Palazzo Ottieri covering the fountain of Piazza Mercato

The square of executions

Piazza Mercato, due to its natural attendance by all social groups of the people, was chosen by all the Neapolitan sovereigns, from 1268 to 1800, to carry out sensational and punitive acts on the occasion of revolutions.
As well as Piazza del Plebiscito (at the time Largo di Palazzo) has been better seen in its history: until the 19th century, the "Feast of the Cuccagna", which was an atrocious sight in which the nobles enjoyed seeing the beggars stabbing themselves for a ham.

The first head to fall after Corradino was that of Masaniello, in 1647. The famous fisherman, who became leader of the popular revolution against the arrogance of the viceroys, was captured and then executed before the people on July 16, 1647.

The last head to fall in Piazza del Mercato was that of Luigia Sanfelice. It was September 11, 1800 and the Neapolitan revolution it ended between arrests and capital executions, with Ferdinand IV resuming the throne. Also here.

With cruel irony, the protagonist of the last death sentence was the square itself. The latest update had it in fact in the 50s, when the reconstruction postwar period. In that case, the executioner was Mario Ottieri: decapitated the square with a gigantic 12-storey building which today, with its gray mantle, hangs gloomily over 1500 years of Neapolitan history.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Gino Doria, History of a Capital
Mario Forgione, Naples Ducale, Newton Compton, 1996

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Fernando Popoli 3 September 2020 - 10:53

Hello, you have forgotten another illustrious character who left his head in Piazza Mercato, together with Eleonora Pimental, Gennaro Serra di Cassano who, although noble and rich, fought with his family for the affirmation of democratic principles.
Fernando Popoli.


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