Maschio Angioino - Castel Nuovo: the protagonist of the history of Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

Maschio Angioino or Castel Nuovo? Many Neapolitans had to clarify their ideas to confused tourists: it is the same castle which, strangely, still retains its original name, albeit of Angevin by now he has very little and the "male" does not even exist anymore.

What is certain is that, more than any other city monument, was the absolute protagonist of the history of Naples capital, from the times of Charles of Anjou to the collapse of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Its stones have known kings, popes and queens. They lived wars, conspiracies, assaults and bombings from land, sea and even sky. If we had to look every wound on the tuff of the Maschio Angioino, we could find halberds of 600 years ago as well as i bullets of the Nazis during the Four Days. It was also the seat of the Papacy.

And let's not forget the legends surrounding it: from crocodile in its moat to the ghosts of the queen's lovers.
This castle is the true king of Naples, still alive and in excellent shape despite its 7 centuries of life. Its appearance, however, has changed dramatically over the centuries. Let's find out all its history.

Castel Nuovo Antonio Joli
A painting by Antonio Joli in which the Castel Nuovo appears as it must have been in the 1700s

The palace of power of Naples Capital

The Angevins led by the powerful son of Louis VIII of France, Charles of Anjou, arrived in Southern Italy with a bloodbath. They were called by the Pope to settle once and for all his problems with the Kingdom of Sicily, ruled by rebellious and overly independent Suebi of Frederick II and then by his son Manfredi. We are in the midst of the conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines and the pontiff did a real all-in worthy of a game of poker, personally financing the French and all the sovereigns loyal to him for wipe out the Swabians. It was a success, indeed, many barons betrayed poor Manfredi with a gesture that the suspicious King Charles did not take kindly: convinced that he too could be betrayed in turn, he had them massacred.

We are in 1266 and Charles I of Anjou took a decision that forever changed the course of Italian history: moved the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily in Naples, which at the time was the main inhabited center of the Terra di Lavoro and, above all, the closest city to Rome.

The royal fortress of the city was at the time the small Castel Capuano which, in the King's opinion, was not suitable. Ditto for the Castel dell'Ovo, which was a former Roman villa transformed into a dilapidated fortification.

Castello di Durazzano
It seems that the Castle of Durazzano, in the province of Benevento, was built inspired by the original Maschio Angioino. The structure was probably very similar.

A different castle

Not even the architect who designed the castle was Neapolitan: in 1279 in fact Pierre de Chaule arrived from Paris, in charge of building a castle worthy of a king in record time: it took him only three years to complete it, a record time also for the third millennium. Its original structure was completely different as we know it today: it was in fact much smaller and square in shape.

In reality, however, Charles of Anjou never saw it completed because he died a few years after the construction began. In 1285 he moved Charles II and, from that time until the time of the construction of Royal Palace, the Maschio Angioino remained the house of the kings of the Kingdom of Naples.

Castel Nuovo Tavola Strozzi
The Castel Nuovo as it appears in the Strozzi table

The seat of culture and the Papacy

At the time of the Angevins, the Maschio Angioino became not only the place of power of one of the most powerful European monarchies, but also the house of culture.
At the time of Robert of Anjou, the "Wise King", the castle was frequented by the best artists and intellectuals of his time: Giotto, for example, frescoed the Throne Room, where the municipal councils are held today, and the Palatine Chapel. Unfortunately, almost everything has been lost.

Precisely in these rooms King Robert examined Petrarch to confer upon him the poetic coronation, the highest honor to which a man of letters could aspire, and a few years earlier the king wished to host a young talent named Giovanni Boccaccio.

If we go back a few years, precisely in 24 December 1294, within the walls of Castel Nuovo one of the Popes most famous in history: it was Boniface VIII, per century Bendetto Caetani, that Dante taught us to to hate in multiple ways in his Comedy.
Even its predecessor, Celestine V, became Pope in Naples: will be famous for the "great refusal" and for having left the leadership of the Catholic Church, but also for having fixed the seat of the Curia in the Castel Nuovo and for ratifying a treaty it would have returned Sicily to the hands of the Angevins after the death of Pietro d'Aragona.

Castel Nuovo pianta
The plan of the Castel Nuovo

A Catalan castle in Naples

Alfonso of Aragon, the first Rex Utriusque Siciliae, arrived in Naples putting an end to the Angevin dynasty, who by now for several years had been carrying on amid a thousand difficulties, wriggling between noble intrigues and not very charismatic heirs like the poor Renato d'Angiò.

When he came to town, the Catalan king besieged the Castel Nuovo, then symbolically entering his courtyard. Then, when he became king of Naples, he wanted completely renovate the palace of power. Again it was called a foreigner to build the new fortress: era Guillem Sagrera, Majorcan architect, who completely revolutionized the building, giving it that Catalan taste that it still has today: it has in facti the circular towers and an architectural structure typical of Iberian castles, with the features "Catalan scales" And the floors made with white and blue majolica coming from Valencia. Let's not forget then the colossal triumphal arch who welcomes us at the entrance: showto King Alfonso as he triumphantly enters the city.

Alfonso, just like Charles of Anjou, never lived inside "his" castle, since it was completed several years after his death.

The son will live there, Ferrante I, which will link him to one of the most famous memories of his personal history: the Conspiracy of the Barons of 1487, which ended with a massacre just as Ulysses did with the suitors: after having spent his entire life a fight against the nobles who had made his life impossible with plots, plots and internal wars, Ferrante invited all the nobility of the Kingdom to a party and, after having blocked the doors, he had all the traitors arrested and sentenced to death.

Ferrante also did make a wonderful bronze door that, like every detail of this castle, it has a story of its own that still today tells with its cannonball in the hole.

Sala dei Baroni
The Sala dei Baroni, where Ferrante consummated his revenge

Why Male?

In reality it is a story that arises from a misunderstanding. Its original name is Castel Nuovo, since it was a castle that went to join the two already present in the city. Because of its shape was called Mastio, which is a type of fortress, and of course Angevin for the royal dynasty that commissioned it. Then the people crippled the name until it became "Male", the term still used today.

Even when it was renovated it kept its ancient names: albeit all of Campania is full of Aragonese Castles arose on the rubble of old fortresses, such as that of Ischia you hate Bay, the Maschio Angioino continued to be called with the name of the old dynasty, or we continued to use the term Castel Nuovo, although new it was no longer: at the time of Ferrante I, this royal mansion was already 200 years old.

A retiree in the war

The last 400 years of the Maschio Angioino they weren't as beautiful as his youth. After the fall of the Aragon, Naples became a province of the gigantic Spanish Empire and, from there, for 200 years no kings will be seen in the city.
The castle was first abandoned, then transformed into an infantry barracks, while it lost the honors, the tapestries and the elegance that made it unique and distinct. Meanwhile the city began to expanding in an irregular, clumsy and chaotic way towards the current part Piazza del Plebiscito, thanks to the creation of Via Toledo which took its name from the homonymous viceroy. In those years the Royal Palace of Naples, a colossal residence destined to stay abandoned for almost two centuries, and the castle became a bulky old wreck loaded with Spanish troops.

Maschio Angioino
The Maschio Angioino in pitiful conditions in the early 1900s

Under the Bourbons they tried to restore it, but the taste of the time turned to the royal residences of Capodimonte, of Caserta and at the same Royal Palace, so our castle remained like that, as we know it, until the restructuring of the entire neighborhood made in the Fascist era and promoted by engineer Pietro Municchi.

In fact, if we had found ourselves in the early 1900s, we would have found a Piazza Municipio completely different from the current one: the Maschio Angioino was submerged by old buildings and houses built without rationality. The facade was hidden by crumbling, weed-laden walls, the castle walls were sagging and ruined, the east facade was full of fake windows built in the '700 to give it a sense of regularity.

The restoration of 1923 it was an almost due act from the city of Naples, which it brought the Castel Nuovo back to the golden times of the Aragonesewhen they strolled in his courtyard poets, nobles and popes. The cost of this operation, however, was the loss of the ancient walls: the castle we see today is in fact "naked“, Without its original walls, which it was replaced by a beautiful lawn.

Meanwhile, those missing walls would have been very useful a few years later: it was in fact 1943 and Naples, in the midst of World War II, was exhausted among the Allied bombing and German reprisals: no one would have guessed that a 500 year old castle would have been forced to return to the field to defend his city. He did, hosting military and civilians in its prisons. And the last war still carries the wounds, with a wall scarred by an explosion. There collapsed tower, instead, it was rebuilt. There Chapelinstead, it was completely destroyed.

Castel Nuovo anni 70
Castel Nuovo in the 70s, with the penultimate renovation

A New Castle guardian of ancient history

The Castel Nuovo, or Maschio Angioino if you prefer, today it presents itself with the elegance of its best timesi, enlightened and mighty in the moments after dark; majestic and proud as he greets all the tourists who disembark at Molo Beverello.
While looking to the side the works of the Metro e the excavations ofancient Angevin pier, which he saw when the sea water reached its foundations, in his heart houses one of the most important institutions in Naples: the Neapolitan Society of Homeland History, the largest archive of documents on local history, with a library full of rarities.

It could not have any other location other than the house of the Kings of Naples.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Alfredo Buccaro, Giancarlo Alisio, Naples Millenovecento, Electa, Naples, 2003
Ferdinando Ferrajoli, The castles of Naples, Fausto Fiorentino, Naples, 1964
Rosario Bianco, Gianpasquale Greco, The castles of Partenope, Rogiosi Editore, Naples, 2020
Antonio Ghirelli, History of Naples, Einaudi, Milan, 2013
Agostino Catalano, Castelnuovo. Architecture and technique, Luciano, Naples, 2001
Lucio Santoro, Angevin and Aragonese castles in the Kingdom of Naples, Rusconi, Naples, 1982
Home - Neapolitan Society of Homeland History (

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