The oldest panorama of sixteenth-century Naples hidden in San Pietro ad Aram

by Federico Quagliuolo

In the church of San Pietro ad Aram there is a painting that testifies to the oldest panorama of the city of Naples view from the east.
And yet so, after a first glance, initially no attention is paid to the detail that makes this painting special, as the view of Naples seems a simple background behind one of the many paintings that tell episodes of saints.

It is also about an unusual perspective for those used to seeing the classic background of the city with Vesuvius: Naples is in fact seen from Ponte della Maddalena and we are sure this is it the oldest view of the city from the eastern side.

A photograph of Naples from the 16th century

The painting itself also has a very important value: it depicts Saint Peter during a religious service, near Santa Candida and Sant'Aspreno.
There church of San Pietro ad Aram it is in fact nicknamed "the cradle of Neapolitan Christianity”Not by chance: it went down in history to be born at the point where St. Peter would have baptized and converted to Christianity precisely the two Neapolitan saints: 1500 years later they will become patron saints of the city.
Sant'Asprenomoreover, it will go down in history for having been also the first bishop of Naples.

Net of the religious history of the city, which almost always intertwines and merges with the secular one, the value of this painting is inestimable, as it is a real photograph of a Naples that no longer exists.

panorama di Napoli quadro San Pietro ad Aram
The painting of San Pietro with the panorama of Naples

A panorama of inestimable value

This panorama of Naples is attributed to Ramorino, called Girolamo da Salerno, represents one behind San Pietro Naples in the early 1500s (it is assumed 1516). Even though we are already in the viceregal era, the city still is identical to that of the Aragonese, as it has not yet been affected by the innovations of Don Pedro of Toledo.

The perspective, however, must still be fruit of the painter's interpretation, in quanto la chiesa di San Pietro ad Aram si trova molto prima del punto di osservazione. Oggi il suo ingresso è a Corso Umberto, circa 100 metri prima di Garibaldi Square, but its structure was completely transformed during the Remediation e much of it has been destroyed.

Let's take a look at the details: immediately behind San Pietro is in plain sight the Castle of the Carmine, which today is reduced to rubble. Then there is a vision that no longer exists: i sloping roofs of the Neapolitan houses.
This is a detail that we also find in the Strozzi table which, being about 40 years older, is in fact another perspective of the city as it was known in the last years of the Middle Ages.

These houses, which were regular and beautiful to look at, were worth the nickname of "gentle city" in Naples in very ancient times, before the creation of the famous fondaci and unhealthy neighborhoods of the city.
And again, we continue to look at the panorama of Naples: it is perfectly visible at the foot of the Castel Nuovo the ancient Angevin pier, which today was rediscovered during the underground excavations. And how not to be fascinated by hills of Naples, still bare and wild, dominated by the imposing Sant'Elmo Castle, which was still in its original version when it was still called Belforte? Below are also the gardens of the Charterhouse of San Martino on display: those have remained instead identical.

We find the surprise in the little things!

The history of this "secret panorama" also gives a great teaching: details, the smallest or seemingly secondary elements, can turn into historical documents and moments of great emotion. We are often moved in front of black and white photos of recent times, yet it is enough for us to enter the church of San Pietro ad Aram to have at our disposal a "photograph" of 500 years ago. Right in front of our eyes.

-Federico Quagliuolo

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