According to legend, the siren Parthenope gave her name to a town which has sprung up round her tomb, which is why Naples is called the Parthenopean City. In fact, Naples originated as a Greek colony named Neapolis “the new city”, conquered by Romans in the 4C BC. Rich inhabitants of Rome like Virgil, Augustus, Tiberius and Nero used to spend the winter there, but the Neapolitan themselves retained the Greek language and customs until the decline of the Empire.
Since the 12C seven princely dynasties have reigned over Naples. The Normans, Hohenstaufens, Angevins, Aragonese, Spanish and Bourbons ruled successively until the end of the 18C. The French Revolution of 1789 brought in French troops, and in 1799 a Parthenopean Republic was set up, followed by a French kingdom (1806-15) under Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) and afterwards Joachim Murat (Napoleon’s brother-in law), both of whom promoted excellent reforms. From 1815 to 1860 the restored Bourbons remained in power in spite of 1820 and 1848 revolts.
(or Maschio Angioino)
This imposing castle, surrounded by deep moats, was built in 1282 by Pierre de Chaulnes and Pierre d’Agincourt, the architects of Charles I of Anjou. It was modelled on the castle at Angers. A remarkable triumphal arch embellishes the entrance on the town side. This masterpiece bearing sculptures to the glory of the House if Aragon, was built to designs by Francesco Laurana in 1467. Access to the Sala dei Baroni is via the staircase in the inner courtyard (at the far end on the left). The fine vaulting is star shaped, formed by the tufa groins intersecting with other architectural features. The Cappella Palatina (14C) features an elegant Renaissance doorway which was previously surmounted by Laurana’s splendid Virgin now kept in the sacristy along with other works by the same artist. Before reaching the theatre, you will see on the right Galleria Umberto I, which was built at the end of the 19C. Note the fine dome in glass and iron, at the centre of the Greek cross.
Teatro San Carlo
The theatre was built under Charles of Bourbon in 1737 and rebuilt in 1816 in the neo-Classical style. The opera house is an important institution in the Italian world of music. The splendid auditorium, with boxes on six levels and a large stage is built entirely of wood and stucco to achieve perfect acoustics.
Piazza del Plebiscito
This noble semicircular piazza (XIX century) is enclosed on one side by the royal palace, on the other by the neo-Classical façade of the church of San Francesco di Paola, built on the model of the Pantheon in Rome and prolonged by a curving colonnade. Two equestrian statues stand in front of the church: one, by Canova, depicts Ferdinand I of Bourbon, the other is of Charles III of Bourbon.
The Royal Palace was built at the beginning of the 17C by the architect Domenico Fontana and has been remodelled several times. The façade retains more or less its original appearance. Since the late 19C the niches on the façade have contained eight statues of the most famous Kings of Naples. A huge staircase with twin ramps and crowned by a coffered dome leads to the apartments and the sumptuously decorated Royal Chapel. It was only after 1734 that royalty lived in the apartments. The richly ornamented rooms have retained their numerous works of art, tapestries, paintings, period furniture and fine porcelain.
Of particular interest are the splendid door knockers made of wood: putti, nymphs and animals are set off against a gilded background in a floral pattern.