The church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini, a place sacrificed in the name of cement

by Federico Quagliuolo

Behind the small gardens of Via Ruoppolo, with its regular architecture and the simple white lines, the church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini gives a corner of peace.

Let's not be fooled by its modern forms because it is actually about a literally dead and risen place: the church takes its name from a 15th century temple demolished in the 1950s in the name of some new real estate unit.

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Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini
The original church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini

A tribute from the Florentine community

There presence of Florentine merchants in Naples has very ancient origins. We are sure there was one very active community already at the time of Frederick II, in the thirteenth century, and under the Angevins greatly increased in number. They initially congregated in a small church behind Port Caputo then, under the patronage of Isabella Chiaromonte, the wife of Ferrante I of Aragon, had the opportunity to build a first church nearby. And the latter was named after San Giovanni Battista, patron saint of Florence.

The church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini as we have known it until the 1950s, however, was built under the viceroyalty of Pedro of Toledo: during his urbanization project with the construction of the new one Via Toledo, in fact, he gave the order to also create a dignified home for the faith of the Florentine community. And so it was over the centuries, since the traders coming from Florence, many of these were bankers and wealthy men, they spent a lot of money to beautify their church.
We think that, in addition to works of art by Naccherino, Bernini, Pino and Balducci, all the marbles and decorations were the result of artists who came from Tuscany.

Chiesa dei fiorentini crollata
The demolition of the church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini to make room for the new building

A church to be demolished

"The word to His Majesty the Pickaxe"was the slogan of fascist propaganda. The construction of the Rione Carità did razing numerous ancient buildings to the ground, on all of us it is enough to see the history of Post Office Building, built in place of the largest convent in Naples. The expropriation of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini was decided in 1935 and, to justify the Cardinal Alessio Ascalesi, explained that the church could be torn down because "It does not cause any damage, being located near the most beautiful and famous places of worship". In fact, according to the Cardinal, it was more important build new churches in the suburbs such as Vomero, precisely.
In short, San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini was expendable because, in fact, Naples had too many churches and a demolition was altogether tolerable. The church stood in fact near the Fernandez Palace which today characterizes Largo Berlinguer, opposite the Toledo Metro stop.

The war interrupted the fascist building project, but the news was not good at all for the buildings in the historic center: the rain of American and British bombs, in fact, it cost dearly to Santa Chiara, which was razed to the ground, and many other buildings. And instead luck saved the Florentines again, as the building was not even touched by an explosion.

War ended, the Regime fell and the time of the reconstruction. The church of the Florentines seemed to have breathed a sigh of relief, being remained intact. However, he was not of the same opinion, however technical committee of the Municipality of Naples. It was the 1950 and we find on this date the authorization from the Municipality for the demolition of the church, taking up the original fascist project. The goal was also the same: the construction of new housing units for the Fernandez Palace, which was enlarged with a new staircase that still exists today.

San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini facciata
The new church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini. Photograph by Federico Quagliuolo

St. John the Baptist of the Florentines is back

It was the 1959 and, in just 5 years from the laying of the first stone, the new church was inaugurated and opened for worship. There was nothing ancient, if not the original works by Tuscan artists, that they were saved thanks to dozens of petitions presented by Enrica Viviani della Robbia, a Florentine noblewoman who made herself spokesperson for numerous Tuscan intellectuals that yes they opposed the demolition of the old church. The only concrete result obtained was the commitment of the Supervision to preserve the artwork, which was actually kept.
The rest, including the tomb of Bernardo Tanucci and the remains of Artemisia Gentileschi, were irremediably destroyed.

The church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini, in its placid life on the edge of the gardens of Via Ruoppolo, has today a whole story to be rewritten from scratch.
The last episode of this church is written for example in tomb of the Servant of God Angela Iacobellis, buried there in 1997. But the true origin of this place of worship, preserved in a name with unequivocal origins, still remains as the shadow of a past erased in the name of concrete.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Italo Ferraro, Naples: atlas of the historic city, Volume 3, CLEAN, 2008.
Giancarlo Alisio, Alfredo Buccaro, Naples nineteenth century, 2001
Francesco Strazzullo, - the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Naples, Naples, 1984.

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