The Golden Mile: history of the system of the most noble Vesuvian villas

by Alessandro Nappa

During the eighteenth century, following the construction of the Palace of Portici, the court aristocracy built in the area between Vesuvius and the sea a “city of villas”, Especially along the so-called "Golden Mile", a street originally one mile long (1.61km), in particular, in the section formerly called "Strada Regia for Calabrie”, Which stretched from Herculaneum to Torre del Greco. A real "system" of cui the palace of Portici became the core.

Reggia di Portici Miglio d'Oro
Painting of the Royal Palace of Portici, pearl of the Golden Mile

The Golden Mile: between architecture, nature and landscape

The "System" is distributed over a stratified area, mainly thanks to the perfect harmony between architecture and landscape - characterized by a particular salubrity of the air - attested and exalted both in recent times by Nicola Nocerino in his first monographic work dedicated to the Royal Villa of Portici, both in ancient times from Galen, Procopius and Strabo. This particular healthiness derives from the happy position:

"Between the sea and Mount Vesuvius, these with its fire and its sulfur, those with its salts evaporated by the sea waves"

V. Cazzato, 2011

Where is it "The climate is always, and at every hour, perfect at all times of the year, so that you can come and live there in winter, and in summer, autumn and spring".

Few places in the world He wrote Roberto Pane in his study of 1959 dedicated to the Vesuvian Villas - they can boast such a favorable climate like the one that the Neapolitan aristocracy of the eighteenth century chose, for their summer stay, between the slopes of Vesuvius and the sea. The layout of the avenues aligned with the villas seems to have been spontaneously suggested by the slight slope of the ground towards the beaches, and similarly also the arrangement of the trees, so that Vesuvius could be seen on one side and an uninterrupted blue stripe on the horizon on the other.

Granatello di Portici
Granatello of Portici

A paradise already known

Although the start of this prolific construction activity coincided with the decision of Charles of Bourbon to build the Royal Palace of Portici, the amenity of the place, from the beginning of the eighteenth century, had attracted the interest of rich families that in this ancient corner of paradise had commissioned the construction of sumptuous residences.

This is especially the case, for example, of the Villa d'Elboeuf (1711). Precisely this villa which is located overlooking the port of Granatello in Portici, owned by Duke of Elboeuf, inspired the construction of the most famous palace.

Following a visit by Carlo and consort in the first years of his reign, they visibly remained impressed by the amenity of the place and they almost instantly decided to build their home there. Other examples are: Villa Meola (1724) and Villa Caravita in Portici (1730). Over the years these residences were expanded, refurbished or rebuilt from scratch with the contribution of best architects, painters and decorators to be adequate to the taste and needs of an educated class who moved there to follow the sovereign e enjoy a climate and tranquility that a city like Naples - 300,000 inhabitants in the mid-1700s - was no longer able to guarantee. From this area it was also also it is easier to exercise direct control over a particularly fertile countryside.

Ville del Miglio d'Oro
Villas of the Golden Mile, with the Royal Palace of Portici at the bottom. Today the whole area is densely urbanized

An immense heritage

Among the most famous villas that are part of the "Golden Mile" we remember Villa Campolieto (1755-1775), completed by Luigi and Carlo Vanvitelli, Villa Signorini, built in the mid-1700s by an unknown architect, Villa Favorita built by the Roman architect Ferdinando Fuga, Villa Maiuri and many others. The Vesuvian villas in the municipality of Herculaneum alone amount to about 23 units; if instead we also considered the neighboring municipalities of Portici, San Giorgio a Cremano, Torre del Greco and the districts of the eastern outskirts of Naples such as San Giovanni a Teduccio and Barra the number would be around 130 units.

Some of these monumental buildings later a careful and rigorous restoration, are currently under the direct protection and management of the Vesuvian Villas Foundation and constitute the venues in which the institutional activity and innumerable cultural events and initiatives are carried out.

-Alessandro Nappa

References:

CAZZATO 2011 - V.CAZZATO, RESIDENCES OF THE EMERGENT CLASSES IN TWO AREAS OF SOUTHERN ITALY, IN M. BENES, MG LEE (EDS), CLIO IN THE ITALIAN GARDEN: TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY STUDIES IN HISTORICAL METHODS AND THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES, PP . 115-141. WASHINGTON DC 2011
PANE 1959 - R.PANE, THE VESUVIAN VILLAS AND THE COASTAL ROAD, IN R. PANE, G. ALISIO, P. DI MONDA, L. SANTORO, A. VENDITTI, VESUVIAN VILLAS OF THE 18TH CENTURY. NAPLES, ITALIAN SCIENTIFIC EDITIONS, 1959, PP. 1-18.

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