Vico Soprammuro and the history of the ancient walls of Naples hidden in the streets

by Chiara Sarracino

There are some streets in Naples called or nicknamed "Street" or "Vico SoprammuroWhich are the best testimonials to understand the size and extension of the ancient city walls, which brought so many sorrows to the various invaders.

Naples in ancient times was in fact famous for its impassable walls and strong enough to be "invincible". but yet there is no trace of this wall, if not some meager testimony Made of battered doors and towers sprouting like bumps from modern buildings.

Vico Soprammuro market
Vico Soprammuro, with its crowded market and a piece of an Aragonese tower that became an expansion of the nearby building.

Vico Soprammuro

It is the most famous and well-known "soprammuro" of the city. It is located behind Porta Nolana and still has today the same function it had 600 years ago, when the Aragonese walls of Naples were built: it was a market at the time and it is also now.

Vico Soprammuro Ave Gratia Plena
Vico Soprammuro Ave Gratia Plena

Vico Soprammuro Ave Gratia Plena

It is located behind the Duchesca and has this name due to the particularity of being close to a small altar dedicated to the Madonna, then it was built the nearby church.
The peculiarity of this alley is that physically it is located on a small hill, which was also perfect like lookout point.

Map of the walls of Naples
A map of the walls of Naples in the 1600s

The ancient walls of Naples

The works to reconstruct the size of the ancient city walls took a long time. From Benedetto Croce a Bartolommeo Capasso, reaching the most skilled and expert modern historians of urban planning such as Giancarlo Alisio and Alfredo Buccaro: each gave his own contribution in the story of a town fortification who, having defeated the French, Spanish and other foreigners, it collapsed only in front of the pickaxe of the Neapolitans themselves.

But it's no wonder: the first modern fortification, that of Roman origin, was really a lot small. Even before that the city still lived with its Greek walls, which today sprout at Bellini Square, in Sant'Agnello, a Fork and in numerous other points of the city.
The ancient walls were strengthened in the Augustan era and enlarged around the 4th century: with a swamp to the east, the rivers that protected it to the north and the sea in front, Neapolis was considered "invincible. And it was just like that: even centuries after the fall of the Empire, he managed to drive the formidable Belisario mad, which he managed to enter only with a trap, also exploited by Alfonso of Aragon 1000 years later. But also the Count of Lautrec in the 16th century he was forced to stop his advance against Naples.
In the early Middle Ages, the city remained a small independent duchy for well 600 years also thanks to his mighty walls in piperno gray, which protected it from the very powerful Benevento and Salerno. Still today many streets of the historic city center they are modeled precisely on the basis of the shapes of the protective walls.

Palaces walls Porta Capuana
The palaces built over the ancient walls of Porta Capuana

The expansions of the walls

The expansions of the ancient walls of Naples were regular, one for each domination: the ducal city, of Sergius and Athanasius, was the first to update them, expanding them to the current one Piazza Mercato, which used to be a Saracen camp. The Normans, for the short period of domination, simply took care of strengthening them with the best construction technologies of their time.

They were the French of Charles of Anjou to do the first major update, bringing the walls up to Piazza del Gesù, where Robert of Anjou will build Santa Chiara, incorporating Market Square and Via Medina, while the extreme limit to the east remained Via Carbonara which, still today, is straight just like the old wall side.

Then came the Aragonese, with Ferrante of Aragon, which they gave the major impulse and still today more evident in the development of the Neapolitan walls. Today again the last remains of the fortifications of Naples are of Aragonese origin: right here we find Vico Sopramuro, which in the din of the market still shyly shows a piece of tower incorporated in a building. Different fate for Porta Nolana and Capuana, which enjoy a better state of health and have remained standing and visible complete with defensive towers.
The peculiarity ofdefensive architecture of the Aragonese it was in fact the presence of very many watchtowers along the entire perimeter, which they could guarantee an almost perfect surveillance of the capital.
Ferrante I and his heirs had in fact already understood that their crown was more shaky than ever and, actually, in the 1500s they lost it together with the independence of the city.

Aragonese Walls Vico Sopramuro
The Aragonese walls on the Vico Sopramuro side, with the names of the watchtowers. Extraordinary work produced by "Naples Aragonese".

The viceroys and the first openings

The viceregal era, under the careful administration of Don Pedro of Toledo and successors, began to mark the first openings: the Neapolitans grew in number visibly and if at first it was aimed at restructuring of the Aragonese fortifications (who saved the city again in 1525 fromsiege of Lautrec), in the following centuries the opposite happened: the fortifications began to be demolished and doors opened and in their place they arose streets like Port'Alba. From Charles of Bourbon onwards (but already in the 1600s), all this was now over: the city was expanded to the north and east, with no architectural limits: there was faith in the future and now the invasions, protected by State of the Church and a new stable government, they considered themselves outdated: thus it was born Dante Square and continued the demolition of the walls, increasingly incorporated into private and religious buildings.

Gabella del Vino border
In Capodimonte there is the border of the Gabella del Vino of the City of Naples. Picture of Federico Quagliuolo.

The Financial Wall

There was, however another wall, a bit anomalous, which we could define last in order of birth: the financial wall of Ferdinand I, ordered in 1824: it was not supposed to protect the city from enemies and invaders in that case, but by tax evaders. King Ferdinand IV, with the speakers in red for the numerous wars waged by the kingdom, he had in fact increased customs duties to be paid to import products to Naples, but with them evasion also increased.

And so it was decided to entrust Stefano Gasse with the construction of a wall structure around Naples in order not to let possible tax evaders enter without going through customs: the central office was located in Capodichino, in the current Piazza Di Vittorio, but there are numerous testimonies of the "Financier wall" also al Vomero and in Capodimonte, where there is still a plaque bearing the inscription "Here you pay for the wine gabelle“.

All this lasted until Remediation, which gave the penultimate blow to the walls with the construction of Corso Umberto which gutted the ancient medieval center and finally in the 50s that, during the graduate period and later, erased almost entirely the last traces of the city defenses.

On the gates of Naples, we have written this deepening.

-Chiara Sarracino

Alfredo D'Ambrosio, The streets of ancient Naples in the modern city, New Edition, Naples, 1976

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