Port'Alba: history of the street of books born from a hole

by Federico Quagliuolo

Port'Alba is one of the most characteristic places of Naples, unmistakable for its crowd at any time of day or night, for his book stalls that occupy the entire street and for the unmistakable flavor of oldest pizzeria in the world which, after 3 centuries, is still there to honor the culinary history of Naples.

Actually, if we were here in the 1625, the year of its opening, we would have found many around us carob trees. One thing, however, would have remained the same: the stalls which, instead of hosting the books, at the time they housed fruits and vegetables.

Port & #039; Alba late 19th century
Port'Alba at the end of the 19th century

Port'Alba, a name that the Neapolitans did not like

It is one of several places that they were born in the viceregal period in Naples: if in scope social the ancient kingdom was devastated by many malpractice of the Spanish era, within urban planning Naples he completely changed his face, having remained in some places even still atRoman times (was served bySerino aqueduct until the 16th century!)

Almost all the viceroys they built roads and improved the ancient infrastructure of the city and that is why we have numerous streets that bear foreign names: Via Toledo from Don Pedro of Toledo, Via Medina by Ramiro Felipe de Guzmàn, Duke of Medina and, among the many, Port'Alba opened in 1625 by Antonio Alvarez de Toledo, 5th Duke of Alba.

The Neapolitans, however, were always rebels against the official toponymy and they decided to call it “Porta Sciuscella”, due to the presence of numerous carob trees that came from the neighbor garden of the convent in Via San Sebastiano.

Alexandre Dumas Father, instead, in the "Corricolo" I call her "White door“, But it was probably right a mistake of the French writer, as this nickname for the door is nowhere to be found.

Largo Mercatello Micco Spadaro
Largo Mercatello before Port'Alba: you can't see it, but on the left was the hole that would have become our street.

What was there before?

In place of Port'Alba there was a part of the ancient ones Angevin walls, built in medieval times by Charles of Anjou and his successors. 300 years after the construction of the defensive structure, the world had completely changed and fortified cities were no longer needed: to make a comparison of the time jump occurred, today we should compare the Naples of Charles of Bourbon with the modern city.

The Neapolitans, rebels against names and impediments, they then decided to do a hole in the wall to pass more smoothly: the closest entrances were there Gate of Constantinople, from the parts of Largo delle Pigne (today Piazza Cavour) and the Door of the Holy Spirit near Via Toledo.

Anonymous "Artists of the hole" they therefore decided to abusively demolish part of the defensive walls of the city for enter more smoothly near Piazza Bellini: not a small work, considering the fact that the Neapolitan walls were so thick as to be considered "impenetrable": they had stopped Alfonso of Aragon, Odet of Foix and even Belisario 1000 years earlier. But they didn't stop the illegal traders.

Piazza Dante did not exist yet: the area called "large market"Was the second market in Naples, born spontaneously just like Market Square. The handicap of the area was the difficult accessibility: the opening of Port'Alba it was an excellent opportunity for expand the city to the north, side Cavone e Via Pessina. Not surprisingly, the current building was also born in those years National Museum.

Antonio Alvarez of Toledo
Antonio Alvarez of Toledo, Duke of Alba: the viceroy who had the gate built

Carlo di Borbone arrives: the "living room" of the city

King Charles wanted to revolutionize Naples, creating a new elegant face for Naples thanks to genius Luigi Vanvitelli, one of the best architects of the time: together with the building of the Foro Carolino, the current Convitto Vittorio Emanuele in Piazza Dante, Vanvitelli he also redesigned the face of Port'Alba, making it in line with the new architectural style of the square. The latest modernization it was made in 1796, with the statue of San Gaetano, one of the patrons of Naples, which was placed on the upper part of Port'Alba after the demolition of another of the many gates of Naples.

It was from that moment that Port'Alba slowly started from the fruit market it began to host booksellers and printers which in the meantime were moving from their original location, which was San Biagio dei Librai. The stalls meanwhile were still there and for a while they hosted both fruit and books. This area of the city, at the strong push of Charles and Ferdinand IV, it began to be more and more populated, so much so that it was in the eighteenth century that the plaque of a sentence which requires traders to do not place more stalls or other clutter that obstruct the passage of residents.

Since that time the road has remained virtually unchanged and even today we can see it with the same eyes of King Ferdinand.

Port & #039; Alba Naples back
The back of Port'Alba in the evening

The stalls, the symbol of Port'Alba

After more than two centuries the sentence signed by Ferdinand IV continues to be only one decoration of the road: ironically it is right above the tables of Pizzeria Port'Alba, which occupied part of the street, and next to dozens of shelves and book stalls that characterize the street, despite the closure of the historic Guide Library.
However, progress has been made: the Neapolitans have stopped calling it "Porta Sciuscella“, Even if there is a sign that remembers its name right at the beginning of the road. For the rest, the chaotic beauty of Naples it is summed up there, in that stretch of road where they live together ghosts, stories and culture.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Gino Doria, The streets of Naples, Ricciardi, Milan, 1982

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