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Castel Sant'Elmo, la fortezza invincibile diventata un palco su Napoli

Castel Sant'Elmo, the invincible fortress that has become a stage on Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

Castel Sant'Elmo dominates Naples. With her privileged position has been the protagonist of the history of Naples for 700 years, appearing overbearing in all the paintings of the city and, today, giving one of the most evocative views ever to the photographers who visit it.
When it was built, in fact, it had no such peaceful intentions at all: it was indeed considered an "invincible" fortress and it does not betray its military nature that it remained in the hands of the military property until 1976!

It is also thethe only six-pointed fortification in the world and, when it was built, it was criticized even because "too sure“: It was practically impossible even to demolish. Among other things, it was also useful for bomb the city in case of riots.
How many adventures he has seen from up there!

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Castel Sant'Elmo da Chiaia
Castel Sant'Elmo seen from Chiaia, Alexandre Dunouy, 1810

An Angevin birth, but there was already something before

Roberto D'Angiò he was a king remembered with great esteem by the Neapolitans. On the other hand, in addition to Santa Chiara, also Sant'Elmo Castle it is a work that bears his signature. Or rather: it bears the signature of the Sienese sculptor Tino da Camaino, invited by the king to build a fortification to defend the city: the Male Angevin he was in fact too vulnerable and he was unable to defend the entire city.
Not much is known about the shape that Sant'Elmo originally had and it is pretty sure that there was already one on the Vomero before Norman fortress called "Belforte", but it was completely razed to the ground for the construction of the new castle.

There resistance of Castel Sant'Elmo it was immediately tested after the inauguration which took place in 1343: it was in fact used for the defense of Naples from the army of Louis of Hungary, Andrea's brother, the failed king of Naples.

The old castle did not fare well in its early years, passing from siege to siege, between the Angevins and the Aragonese. It was also sold it: Queen Giovanna II D'Angiò sold it for 10,000 ducats to Alfonso of Aragon.

Castel Sant'Elmo
Castel Sant'Elmo in 1790, Cozens

Why is it called Castel Sant'Elmo?

Is there a saint named Elmo? No. Actually the saint is called Erasmus of Formia and he is the man to whom an ancient one was dedicated church under the castle. He was the protector of sailors and stomach patients and he is credited with the phenomenon of Elmo's fire, or those blue flashes that appear just before the storms near the masts of the ships. They were considered a good luck.

The Vomero hill was in fact previously called "Colle di Sant'Erasmo". Even earlier it was known by the Romans as Patruscolo.

Sant'Elmo drone
Sant'Elmo seen from the drone, photo by Luca d'Apuzzo

The invincible fortress

The castle we know now is thanks to Pedro Luis Escrivà, an architect of Valencia particularly keen on tips. In the sense that all of its military fortifications were drawn in the shape of a star, to maximize the force of fire.
Escrivà already knew Naples well, since he had defended the city from the siege of the bloodthirsty Count of Lautrec and, when he was summoned by Pedro of Toledo, a man of a thousand resources, did not hesitate to let his imagination work. L'emperor Charles V in 1537 he had given White paper for the funds of the reconstruction of the old Angevin fortress: something incredible had to be created.

In fact, Escrivà's project was so much extreme to be criticized by many military engineers of the time: 60,000 square meters of fortress covered with thousands of tons of brick and concrete, iron and lead; the six points allowed the cannons to aim easily in any direction; the walls were so thick to be impossible to break down "not only for modern weapons, but also against any possible future invention“; there was a deep moat with drawbridge; there were huge warehouses of water, weapons and food. The project went very well until, in 1587, a lightning was attracted to the enormous mass of metal accumulated in the castle e blew up the powder keg, killing 150 men and devastating military housing and the church.

Domenico Fontana, lo Swiss superstar of architecture of those times, he was then called to finish the work.

Panorama Napoli 700
The panorama of Naples in the eighteenth century, you can see Castel Sant'Elmo overlooking the city from Vomero

A castle against the city

The new invincible castle it was tried a few years later not against the invaders, but against the Neapolitans: it was in fact 1647 and Naples had been turned upside down by one of the many popular uprisings. That case was particularly serious: with Masaniello the estate of the Spanish government really seemed come to an end and the viceroy, Rodrigo Ponce de León, desperately ordered the bombing of the city by Sant'Elmo, which until then was the only Neapolitan castle not conquered by the commoners.

In those years it took shape the new destination of Castel Sant'Elmo, which was 300 years old: it became a large and well protected military prison. Under the Bourbon an infinity of celebrities: from Giustino Fortunato to Domenico Cirillo, arriving in Bausan, Pietro Colletta, Carlo Poerio and Silvio Spaventa. Without to forget Gennaro Serra of Cassano e Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca.

There were also two illustrious guests before the Bourbon period: the philosopher Tommaso Campanella probably wrote "The city of the sun" just during his incarceration at Vomero. A few years later he passed by these parts Angelo Carasale, the architect of the San Carlo.

Panorama di Napoli Castel Sant'Elmo
The panorama of Naples from Castel Sant'Elmo: you can see it perfectly Spaccanapoli

Sant'Elmo protector of Vomero

Archived the unification of Italy, two world wars and a good resistance even to the last American bombings (with all due respect to the good Escrivà: who knows what satisfaction for him!), Castel Sant'Elmo it always remained in the hands of the military in the form of prison, even if the vision of an ancient medieval castle frequented by soldiers equipped with machine guns and helmets!
The Ministry of Defence, which in 1978 ceded the castle to the civil state property and in 1988, long last, the fortress was open to citizenship, which before then had never had the opportunity to enjoy wonderful views which can be seen from the parade ground.
Sant'Elmo Castle was therefore born as protector of Naples, then it became one threat on the head of the Neapolitans, protected by a wild and isolated hill, and today it has become the privileged terrace of the crowded Vomero, the residential district par excellence.

How history changes!

-Federico Quagliuolo

References:
Gennaro Ruggiero, The castles of Naples, Newton, 1996

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