Il Risanamento di Napoli: history of the gutting of the city between corruption, Camorra and politics

by Federico Quagliuolo

Cement, dirty money and organized crime behind the largest public work never made in Naples. It is not a modern news story, but the sanitation scandals of the City, dated 1884.

It all started with the Law for the Rehabilitation of the city of Naples, approved after the visit to the city of King Umberto I, Depretis and Mancini, accompanied by the mayor Nicola Amore.

The law gave almost unlimited powers to the Municipality of Naples, which it should have copy what had been done in Paris and London a few years earlier with the reclamation of the entire city.
The result of the Sanitation was a chaos of rigged contracts, corrupt politicians and financial scandals which ended in works gigantic, beautiful, but incomplete. In fact, only a fifth of the budget was made, spending more than three times the amount allocated.

Inaugurazione Risanamento
The inauguration of the Renovation works in Piazzetta di Porto (now part of Piazza Borsa)

Gut Naples? A Bourbon project

The idea of "Gut Naples", as Minister Agostino Depretis said, she was not exactly Italian. Many projects were taken over by the archives of the Bourbons that already in 1828, they considered essential the construction of wide and bright arteries in the city to restore the popular districts of Naples. Some were commissioned preliminary studies, never really implemented.
The reason that blocked the projects of Francesco I and Ferdinando II was the religion, which then was more or less the motivation that pushed Ferdinand II not to accept the proposals for the unification of Italy.

Explains Giancarlo Alisio, the greatest expert of the reorganization in Naples, that the Bourbon projects were never implemented for the opposition of the hundreds of convents, monasteries and churches scattered throughout the Neapolitan territory. Era impossible to build a straight road without demolishing at least two churches or razing some cloisters and, for the very Catholic Bourbons, such an activity was impossible to realize.

The problem of the corruption of politicians

In new and anticlerical times, the problem was different: the corruption of politicians and entrepreneurs at the sight of a river of money paid for the Sanitation.
Depretis knew that one would surely be born speculation building and said in one letter to Pasquale Stanislao Mancini who "the hygiene issue is known, instead, you need to know the building part e financial (…) Therefore we need the opinion of competent technicians rather than of politicians who would also profit from this circumstance for their partisan ends".

Depretis had seen it right.

The first tenders were established with extremely strict admission criteria: the result was a flop because no entrepreneur was going to hire risks wasting time with the expropriation of thousands of ancient civil and religious buildings, as well as not believing much in the economic potential of new popular neighborhoods.
Prime Minister Crispi resolved it in the most Italian way possible: a company with public capital was established, the "Society for the reorganization of Naples".
Today the company still exists and is a spa based in Milan and deals with real estate purchase.

Mappa di Napoli prima del Risanamento
The map of Naples before the Risanamento. Piazza Mercato is noted

Chiaia and Vomero are born

If the entrepreneurs did not look favorably on the gutting of the historic districts, the Savoy banks understood that there was a goose that lays golden eggs in the hills and in the west of Naples, anticipating by a century Mario Ottieri. Except, instead of building the monsters of the 1950s, they were made very elegant, rational and well connected neighborhoods.

The Banca Tiberina and the Esquiline Company, strengthened bypolitical support of the House of Savoy and a large part of national politics (which a few years later would be involved in the biggest financial scandal in Europe, lo scandal of the Roman bank), they won all the public contracts of the Municipality of Naples.

Emblematic is the strange affair which involved Bruno, Ferraro and Cigliano, three Neapolitan engineers who, in 1880, had won the construction of the Vomero funicular.

The consortium of entrepreneurs was convinced to sell the precious order to Banca Tiberina, own while the bank bought all the land in Vomero to build the new Piazza Vanvitelli, the sewers, the streets and everything that could affect the urban structure of the new district.
Not even Santa Lucia and Vasto were spared from the restoration pickaxe, with the Geisser Company and the General Real Estate Company winning the contracts. They were all businesses with based in Turin: had begun on first building lot in Naples.

Il Risanamento di Napoli: storia dello sventramento della città fra corruzione, camorra e politica

The Camorra intervenes in tenders

Naples was an immense construction site. After 5 years of expropriations that emptied entire neighborhoods, construction work began on June 15, 1889.

The occasion was too good for the Camorra: Sidney Sonnino writes that "for at least fifteen years, the local parties have paid a payback alliance with the rogue of all kinds and qualities". He was referring to the Honored Company which, through its affiliates in the Municipality of Naples, managed tenders, labor and construction sites.
The tenders for public works they came always won by the same subjects, with discounts unusual and unjustifiable or, in the case of expropriations, there were colossal rises in land prices to expropriate, which scandalized public opinion and caused much discussion on politics in the parliament of Rome.

All this also led to a commissariamento of the Municipality in 1891 (Naples was police station 10 times in 20 years) due to slowdowns in the works, financial scandals and administrative offenses: a Ligurian magistrate, Giuseppe Saredo, arrived. It was the same one who, in 1900, would become the protagonist of theinvestigation into the "Administrative Camorra" of Naples.
Precisely in that year Matteo Schilizzi, a banker who moved to Naples for health reasons and attracted by the building speculation of those years, was the main financier of Edoardo Scarfoglio, the founder of the Mattino, in which he launched into very strong accusations against the corruption of all the powerful of Naples.
The story of Lamont Young who, twice, presented the project of the "Rione Venezia" in Bagnoli, a visionary tourist and residential district consisting of hanging gardens, crystal palaces, recreational and bathing facilities, connected by highways, navigable canals and railways.
The project was wrecked in 1888, because it was impossible to find financiers. And Bagnoli was immediately after donated Ansaldo in Genoa for the construction of the Italsider.

ILVA in costruzione
ILVA under construction in Bagnoli in 1904

Precisely in that year the chief engineer of the municipality, Adolfo Giambarba, wrote alarmed that "The fever of the purchase of land has invaded speculators, they have bought funds doubling their value and this has led to a significant increase in the resale prices of building areas ".
In short, in 1888 it was by now clear that the Risanamento di Napoli operation had transformed itself from a public utility intervention into one speculation which involved every sinister aspect of politics, business and crime.

In Naples, at the end of the 19th century, there was a real one power triangle led by the deputy Alberto Casale, the mayor Celestino Summonte and the director of the Mattino Edoardo Scarfoglio, who managed every aspect of public information, politics and the Neapolitan economy.

Just think of the elusive figure ofMr Alberto Casale who was considered the "shadow man" of Naples: he managed every aspect of the administrative and political life of the city without any direct charge. A term was even coined, "housework", To indicate that political current closely linked to criminal power of Naples at the end of the 19th century.

The only politician who condemned the Neapolitan political system was Francesco Saverio Nitti. He wrote in the Morning of "do not count the votes of the Neapolitan" Why, "despite the fact that many honest people lived in the city, each election was already decided“.
Gaetano Salvemini increased the dose with one lapidary sentence: "Naples has the reputation of being like this now deeply immoral that he is no longer able to redeem himself".

caricatura sindaco di Napoli risanamento
A caricature of the mayor of Naples and his "dogs", the corrupt administrators of the city

An Italian-style renovation

The Rehabilitation was never completed, but nevertheless left an eternal mark on the face of the city.

When the job was declared concluded in 1910 (it was initially supposed to last 12 years), the company had built 180,000 square meters of the approximately 375,000 minimum required by the contract. Overall, the rehabilitation project involved the construction of 980,686.76 square meters, of which it was only one fifth made.

The 100,000,000 lire paid in 1884 (equivalent to approx 500 million euros current), instead, they disappeared in the first year because of the expropriations that became very expensive. Already in 1888 (thus a year before the construction work began!) The state company declared that it was on the verge of bankruptcy because of continue unexpected expenses. In order not to leave a city gutted and devastated by construction sites, the company was recapitalized several times, a bit like Alitalia, and costs of the operation yes swelled out of all proportion. A decree was then issued in 1885 which allocated another 120 million and 303 thousand lire, with the obligation of the Municipality of Naples to bear all further expenses. Needless to say, there were expenses and the Municipality got so much debt to request the intervention of a special commissioner in 1899.

If we were to make a comparison with modern expenses, the approximately 250 million lire of 1884 are equivalent to approximately 1 billion euros of 2020. To build only the sewers, Corso Umberto, Chiaia and Rione Santa Lucia. All other places, including the Umberto Galleryin fact, they were built by private individuals with their own funds.

There more serious deficiency was that of having "renounced the construction of any public building“, As the socialist deputy De Martino denounced in 1899. In addition to Stock Exchange Palace (which by the way never came into operation) e the University Frederick II, in fact, during the reorganization they were not never built hospitals, schools and public services provided in the original project.

Via Sedile di Porto
Via Sedile di Porto before the Renovation, you can see the Colapesce plaque which today is located in Via Mezzocannone

In practice, one was spent 10 times the number than that budgeted to build half of the expected minimum.

Matilde Serao called the Straightforward "A screen", just to ridicule one facade who hid the poor city. The poor did not see it better: after having been evicted, were piled up in the remaining warehouses or, the more fortunate, they fled to the farmhouses in the province of Naples, giving rise to the uncontrolled growth of the Neapolitan hinterland.
They were also 63 medieval churches demolished, but only a few finds were inventoried and brought to Donnaregina museum.

The approach of the private speculators in free areas, namely the Vomero and Chiaia: the first remained, until the 1950s, developed around Vanvitelli Square like an oasis in the desert. Chiaiaon the other hand, with the flooding into the sea, it completely erased the ancient beach. The Rione Santa Lucia, became the "Rione della Bellezza" of Naples.

The reorganization marked the separation between rich and poor city, creating an anomaly never seen in the city: nobles and beggars had frequented the same streets for millennia. Starting from the end of the 19th century, the bourgeoisie she happily moved between Vomero, Corso Umberto and Chiaia, living for a long time closed between lounges, theaters and gambling houses. And nobody wanted to hear more of the plebs.
The Castel dell'Ovo was saved by sheer luck from the demolitions, since it had to make room for a new ward. It was indeed built only the Borgo Marinari, a kind of ghetto for fishermen of Santa Lucia evicted, moreover in an area unable to contain the very high number of new homeless people.

-Federico Quagliuolo

The story is dedicated to Giuseppe D'Angelo, for his generous donation to Storie di Napoli. Support our activities too!

Giancarlo Alisio, Naples and the Risanamento
Vittorio Gleijses, History of Naples
Francesco Barbagallo, History of the Camorra

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