Naples and Egypt, the story of an intense and ancient bond

by Alessandro Nappa

In a city that has always been marked by foreign domination, in a millennia-long meltin 'pot, the relationship between Naples and Egypt is an often underestimated link.

At Piazza San Domenico Maggiore he settled in the imperial age, around the 1st century BC, a community of Egyptian merchants and sailors coming from Alexandria of Egypt: on the lower decuman there is one Regio (Neighborhood) Nili it's a vicus Alexandrinorum (now Via Nilo).

 In addition to spices, fabrics and gold - they also brought new beliefs and rites to the city.

The Corps of Naples

Witness of this ancient relationship between Naples and Egypt it is he, the Corps of Naples.  La statua in marmo bianco del God Nile, from which the namesake also takes its name small square. Erected by the Alexandrian community, sculpture, forgotten for centuries, was rediscovery, headless, in medieval times, it is thought that it was beheaded following the edict of Milan in 313 when his cult like that of the Goddess Isis became one of the most secrets, celebrated only by followers. The work, according to ancient chronicles, it symbolized the mother city nursing its children: hence the name Cuorpo 'and Napule ("Body of Naples"), which extended to Largo where it is still located.

In the seventeenth century the sculptor Bartolomeo Mori added the bearded head of the god Nile to the statue, he replaced his right arm and added one cornucopia, the head of a crocodile at the feet, one sphinx under the left arm and the cherubs. The base dates back to XVIII century. He carries a cornucopia in his right hand, adorned with flowers and various kinds, a symbol of the fertility of the Egyptian river, and has his left arm resting on a small sphinx. The sculptural group in marble, in fact, a clear symbol of hospitality, it is a direct testimony of the relations of the Greek-Roman Naples with Ancient Egypt and is a real celebration of the Nile.

Corpo di Napoli Napoli e l'Egitto
The Naples Corps: Naples and Egypt united in the heart of the city

Contact with the afterlife

A testimoniare l’antico e sotterraneo legame di Napoli e l’Egitto ci sono in città due chiese dedicate a santa Maria Egiziaca, monaca ed eremita fuggita da Alessandria d’Egitto (sec. IV): una a Forcella, gioiello del barocco napoletano e l’altra in via Pizzofalcone.

Contact with the afterlife has always been at the center of Egyptian culture, so much so that it influenced the law, politics and life itself. Like Egypt, Naples also has the same keen interest in the afterlife: the relationship with the deceased is in fact always very accurate to the point that it has given life to some of the most interesting legends, short stories and compositions of Neapolitan literature (ne Totò's level is an example).

The most significant and famous practice of mummification revolved around the belief that the dead should be prepared for their next ascetic passage.

This concept of the afterlife, even if in some ways it is different from ours, or it may impress us, in reality it is closer than we think. The cult of the dead, dear to us Neapolitans, it does not scare us, and the striking example is the cult of pezzentelle souls at Sanità. Mummification is, for example, a practice that bears a slight resemblance to the draining of bodies. It was in fact an ancient custom of the Neapolitan people to leave the lifeless body of the deceased on a particular seat, called the "colander”: The operation had the intent of letting the sewage of the putrefaction slip away in order to better preserve the remains.

Tempio di Iside Napoli e l'Egitto
The temple of Isis, one of the greatest examples of relations between Naples and Egypt

The temple of Isis

In the modern age, the discovery of the temple of Isis in Pompeii, starting from 1776, he made known for the first time an Egyptian temple complete with structures, decorations and furnishings outside the borders of Egypt. The young Mozart, which he visited Pompeii, was drawn to the temple, the only Isiac sanctuary outside the Nile valley, to the point of drawing inspiration for the composition of the Magic Flute. There were numerous temples dedicated to ISIS this divinity, lady of life and death… So much so that in the early years of the diffusion of Christianity, it is said that he used to bring the figure of Isis closer to that of the Madonna, poiché numerosi erano i tratti che le univano. Addirittura uno studioso austriaco Rudolf Steiner in one of his lectures he said: "In the Madonna the Isis reborn, highlighted, enhanced. ".

Napoli e l'Egitto sarcofago MANN
A sarcophagus. MANN Egyptian Collection

Amulets and beliefs

The Egyptians introduced in Campania numerous Egyptian amulets in form of sacred animals such as scarabs, necklaces, pendants and statuettes, silver, precious stones, amber and glass paste. One of the symbols of excellence of the Neapolitan superstition is the Horn or "Curniciello" derived from a myth, arrived intact up to us; it is one of the superstitious stereotypes we possess, and also the most effective. According to some popular legends, already in the Neolithic age, the Horn was considered an object of good luck by the gods and by the people, because it gave fertility and abundance to both men and women, and was also used in hunting, in wars, and on long journeys. With the cult of the Goddess Isis, the horn acquired a form of offering, it was given to the goddess to ask for assistance and protection, and it is probable that the Nileans of Naples offered their horns. With age medieval, the horn acquires a new meaning: it had to be Red, handmade (the life energy produced by the hands) and have a pronounced tip, because with the simple gesture of directing the tip against the enemies, it chased away the evil ones. Maybe it evolved from here our Neapolitan curniciello.

-Alessandro Nappa

Thanks to MANN for giving us the opportunity to shoot within the Egyptian Section.

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1 Comment

Stoia Angela 2 July 2022 - 17:54

Grazie…interessante…Al Convento San Francesco a folloni…Montella sotto la chiesa abbiamo i Colatoi …….

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