Torre Annunziata is one of the small treasures of the coast of the Gulf of Naples yet to be rediscovered. We often pass by on the highway to reach the Sorrentine Peninsula, Amalfi or Pompeii, but we never stop.
Few wonder what to do in Torre Annunziata, yet it hides hidden treasures of inestimable value. In Roman times, according to the Tabula Peutingeriana, a medieval copy of an ancient Roman road map, it was called Oplontis and it was an area of rich agricultural estates or villas of Roman nobles, between Pompeii and Herculaneum.
After theeruption of 79 AD., the same that submerged Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed everything, the area was no longer inhabited for a millennium and took the name of Silva Mala, as it is infested with wild beasts and robbers. In the year one thousand some fishermen repopulated the area and under the Angevin dynasty the area took the name of Torre dell'Annunciata, following the construction of a tower.
L'explosive eruption of Vesuvius in 1631 it destroyed almost everything again. The town was rebuilt and under the reign of Charles III it began to become an industrial pole. Under the Napoleonic reign instead it even changed its name to become Gioacchinopoli. With the Bourbon restoration, the railway extended from Portici to Torre Annunziata and, after Italian unification, to Calabria.
Thanks to the new port and the railway at the end ofnineteenth century there was a notable industrial development and many were born artisan pasta factories. After World War II, the city declined, also due to heavy Camorra infiltrations, a dramatic situation that culminated in the murder of the journalist Giancarlo Siani in the eighties. To understand the town well, you have to get lost in its alleys and you can follow our guide on what to do in Torre Annunziata.
What to do in Torre Annunziata: The Villa di Poppea and the Royal Weapons Factory
There villa of Poppea, inserted in the list Unesco of the assets considered World Heritage Site, is a grand mansion of the mid-1st century and enlarged in the imperial age, which was being restored during the eruption of 79 AD. It is thought that it belonged to the second Nero's wife, Poppea Sabina and it is certain that it belonged to the imperial patrimony.
The huge villa, only half brought back to light, as some parts are under the Bourbon Spolettificio, boasts among the frescoes more refined and surprising of the Vesuvian area. Walking through its rooms and courtyards, you really get the feeling that you could meet Nero's wife at any moment. The shutters, found thanks to the voids that the decomposed wood has left in the lava and ash and which have been filled with gypsum flows, are in the same position in which the lava pushed them.
Grandiose and shining frescoes, with temples, birds, theatrical masks, adorn the dining rooms, while in the bedrooms there are painted baskets of fruit protected by very thin nets and near the Olympic-sized swimming pool, in the open courtyards adorned with stone fountains, there are splendid frescoes of fountains with flowers and birds drinking. The villa looks like an incredible mirage of the past, as if a time machine allowed us to take a leap from the center of Torre Annunziata, to the wildest luxury of Nero and his family. You can still hear the waves of the sea, which at the time lapped the villa.
The villa of Poppea is still partially to be excavated as under the Royal Bourbon Arms Factory. The Spanish viceregal government, once the revolt of Masaniello in 1647, he realized that produce gunpowder inside the city walls it could be a weak point in case of riots and decided to move its production to Torre Annunziata, also due to the proximity of the Sarno river.
The activity of the Royal Arms Factory, commonly referred to as Spolettificio, however, began only more than a century later, in 1761. The most interesting building from an architectural point of view dates back to 1758 and is the work of Sabatini, although it is influenced by the Vanvitellian influence, some sources attribute the design to the same Luigi Vanvitelli. It was used as an ammunition factory until a few years ago, today it is in disuse and there is a project to join it to the villa of Poppea, to make museum spaces and to allow further archaeological excavations.
The rock of Rovigliano and birdwatching
For those who ask what to do in Torre Annunziata, we cannot fail to recommend to see the rock of Rovigliano, a very small island with the remains of two Saracen towers, which appears to have come out of an ancient epic book. It is located in front of the mouth of the Sarno and offers fascinating views.
The rock has a geological structure similar to that of the Lattari Mountains and it is probable that it was the summit of a mountain that had sunk into the sea following the collision of the African plate with the Eurasian one. Once it was located four kilometers from the coast, then after the various eruptions of Vesuvius and the accumulation of sediments of the Sarno, it came very close to the coast line.
In ancient times it was called Petra Herculis, as the legends told that Hercules, returning from Spain and the tenth of his twelve labors, before founding the cities of Herculaneum e Stabiae, had detached the top of the Mount Faito and threw it into the sea, thus forming the islet. In Roman times, on the rock stood the temple of Hercules, of which today only a piece of wall remains inside opus reticolatum. Later, he was also called Stone of Pliny, as the famous Roman writer died during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD nearby.
In the following centuries it first became a private residence in the 6th century, then in the 9th century a welcoming place for young women dedicated to monastic life and later, in the 12th century, a Cistercian monastery. In the 16th century, following Saracen raids, it was transformed into a fortress.
Today the rock is in poor condition and only one of the two towers remains standing, but it remains of an incredible charm and it remains completely incomprehensible how it does not become one of the major tourist destinations in the area.
The mouth of the Sarno, in front of the Rovigliano rock, on the border between the municipalities of Torre Annunziata and Castellammare di Stabia, is one of the places where enthusiasts come to see the greater and lesser Shearwater, the Coral Gull, the Herring Gull, the Seagull common and the Gabbianello. People also come here to spot the tern zampenere, the rarer Beccapesci, the Tufted Duck, the Franklin Seagull and occasionally flamingos.
The birds love to stop between the mouth of the river and the rock of Rovigliano. Despite the degradation of the area, it is surrounded by former industrial buildings and the problems of pollution of the Sarno, lovers of birdwhatching can not miss a visit to this place that deserves more respect.
The ancient port
Torre Annunziata has a delightful marina, with ancient buildings built over the arches of the nineteenth-century railway. The colorful houses cling to it, as well as a beautiful church. If only they restored it, it would have nothing to envy to the historic centers of many well-known tourist destinations, it could easily be similar to Rapallo or other famous Ligurian towns. You cannot fail to suggest it in an article on what to do in Torre Annunziata, it is really worth turning it around and stopping to eat in the restaurants between the alleys and stairs. The arches under which the railway passes, with its still underused premises, offer further spaces for future tourist developments.
The Quadrilateral, a Modern Pompeii
The Quadrilatero is a place that is rarely recommended to those who ask what to do in Torre Annunziata. It is an ancient district, close to the old port, completely abandoned and from 2020 off limits, after the last families who lived there were expelled from the judiciary due to the constant danger of collapse.
The neighborhood suffered the first damage when on 21 January 1946, a few months after the end of the Second World War, 30 rail cars full, loaded with ammunition and bombs for airplanes, they exploded heavily damaging the Quadrilatero and the Marina area. 54 people died. When the earthquake of Irpinia, for bureaucratic reasons, it had not yet been restored, the earthquake gave the final blow.
Incredibly, in the years after the earthquake it was never rebuilt and is now one modern Pompeii, where if it were not for new collapses, the hands are still on the day of the earthquake. One day, the neighborhood could be restored and become a widespread hotel close to the ancient port.
The pasta makers
Torre Annunziata once rivaled the pasta makers of nearby Gragnano. The center was full of artisanal pasta workshops. Today, only one remains, behind the Villa di Poppea, the Setaro pasta factory. It is absolutely worth a visit, upstairs it also houses the bronze drawing machines from the 1930s.
After the tour, you can then see a Gragnano, the beautiful locations of other ancient pasta makers, such as Gentile, Faella and many others.
The rites of the femminielli
In Torre Annunziata the weddings of femminielli, ancient ceremonies that cannot fail to be included in the list of what to do in Torre Annunziata. An ancient rite, probably of Greek origin and linked to the world of singers of tammorre, at various festivals related to the Madonna and to bingo. Femminielli are people, at the same time, both male and female, who carry on ancient traditions linked to the Campania rites.
To be a femminielli one must necessarily be born in Campania, because the cultural side of their way of life is certainly linked to gender. Their rites, in addition to marriage, include the litter, the Carnival funeral and rites dedicated to many feasts of the Madonna in the provinces of Naples, Avellino and Salerno. The tammurriata and its ceremonials are fundamental for femminielli, to understand it just follow the most famous singer among them, Marcello Colasurdo, the teacher of Pomigliano D'Arco.
The wedding is a fake marriage between femminielli, which every year has a different theme regarding the costumes and which is celebrated in the streets of the various countries, complete with a parade, and then ends in a lunch or dinner with tammorre and singers. To find out when they are organized, you need to ask the well-informed in Torre, as in the other places where they take place.
Nicola Illardi, Political-Civil-Ciesastic Historiography of Torre Annunziata, Typography of Martino, 1873.
Angela Valente, Gioacchino Murat and Southern Italy, Series: Library of historical culture (8), Turin, Eiunaudi, 1941.
Carlo Malandrino, Oplontis, Naples. Ed Loffredo, 1978.
Mario Prosperi, Oplontis, L'Eco della Provincia Editrice.
Brunello de Stefano Manno, Gennaro Matacena, Le Reali Ferriere and Officine di Mongiana, Naples, history publishing house of Naples and the two Sicilies, 1979.
The femminielli, the fleeting border between the sacred and the human. Marco Bertuzzi. MarKreathor, Multinage Ass, 2018
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