Naples is a fascinating city, rich in history, culture, art, nature and tradition. The territory was firt colonised on the 9th century BC, almost 3000 years ago when “Anatonian and Achaean merchants and travellers arrived in the gulf, on their way to the rich mineral areas of the High Tyrrhene”, and founded Partenope in the area which includes the isle of Megaride (the present-day Castel dell’Ovo) and the Mount Echia Promontory (the present-day Monte di Dio and Pizzofalcone).
Naples is also a very complex place, a kaleidoscope of sensations and emotions which penetrate the spirit and leaves visitors spellbound. It is not just one city, it is several cities one inside the other, very different from each other but at the same time linked by something indefinable that they have in common. To set out to discover Naples is to undertake a wonderful journey through the human soul and its infinite facets.
We can revisit the history and development of the city by means of itineraries from the very first settlements, passing through places with testify to the past, but which only occasionally show clear signs of events while more often tending to stimulate the imagination.
To the left of the university building is Via Mezzocannone, which was once a deep canyon with fortifications on either side. Near the Astra cinema there are the remains of some Greek walls.
We are now in Neapolis, where urban planning has visibly undergone Athenian influence. In fact, the city’s regular structure is formed by three main longitudinal ways (“plateiani” in Greek and “decumen” in Latin); these are parallel and equidistant and intersected by other smaller streets called “cardines” (“hinges”) in Latin (“stenopoi” in Greek). These streets still bubble over with life, not only because of the presence of the university buildings swarming with students, but also because of the many shops and artisan workshops which over time, of course, have changed their products. In Roman times its was the wineshops that did the most business, together with the silverware and unguent shops – wine, small “banks” offering loans and perfume shops selling essences nd ointments of various kinds.
The first decuman one walks into is the lower decuman corresponding to Via Benedetto Croce / Via S. Biagio dei Librai. This street is also called Spaccanapoli (“split Naples”) because it divides the city into two parts. The western gateway was situated in the proximity of Piazza\San Domenico Maggiore, dominated by Porta Cumana because is leads towards Cuma; while towards the east the road ends at Porta Ercolanense, later called Furcillensis, situated in the present-day Piazza Calenda, where the remains of the ancient walls that surrounded the perimeter of the “new city” can still be seen.
Inside Palazzo Corigliano in Piazza San Domenico Maggiore , the remains of a Roman road can be seen, while further on the Nile Statue stands in Piazzetta Nilo. This 2nd-century BC statue is testimony to the cult of the Egyptian god of the Nile practised in this part of the city, which was a colony of Alexandrain merchants. After the departure of the Egyptians, the statue was buried, but without its head. It was found in the 15th century and became adopted as a kind of mother, a symbol of the city giving breast to its children, from which the place name “Body of Naples2 derived, the name being given to the small piazza where it stands. In the 18th century, the headless statue was given a new head, the head of a bearded man.
Along the decuman and the adjacent streets, other monuments and valuable statues are evidence of the Graeco-Roman settlements. In Vico Figurari, at the corner of a palazzo there is a granite Roman column, one of the many fom the ancient monuments used to embellish modern buildings.
A short distance from Piazzetta Nilo stands the Church of S.S. Marcellino e Festo, in whose courtyard are the architectural remains of the imperial era. On the steps of the church, just a few metres further on, wall curtains in tufo blocks have been discovered. These are evidence of the city and dividing it at this point from the beach and perhaps from the port.
Returning to the Lower Decuman, on the opposite side of Vico Figurari we come into via S. Gregorio Armeno, which today is famous for its artisan’s workshops for the making of shepherd figurines, flowers and cribs – a street where over the Christmas period the artisans display their colourful wares on the outside stalls. Just before we reach the end of the street, we see the Church of S. Lorenzo on the right, and here we find the interesting remains of the ancient Roman market. This is a small part of the city that suddenly takes us back 2,500 years, catapulting us into a totally different era, and yet it does not seem so very alien to the present city. In the 5th century AD the whole area was buried by a mudslide for some unknown reason. The disaster was overcome by levelling the entire area so as to facilitate the erection of new buildings. The church and the annexed Franciscan convent date from the 18th century.
The present-day Piazza S. Gaetano is in the area of the Green Agorà and the Roman Forum of Neapolis. Lying back a little from the road, to the right of the Church of S. Paolo Maggiore, with its two Corinhian columns from the ancient temple of the two Dioscuri, Catore and Polluce, on its façade, we find the inscription of “Napoli Sotterranea” (Underground Naples) chiselled into the tufo. This is the entrance to another intriguing tour, a leap into the underground, many metres beneath the surface, where we rediscover the area of the ancient aqueducts of Naples which stretches from conduit to conduit and from cistern to cistern, much further than can actually can be visited. Over the centuries, these tunnels have been put to diverse uses – air-raid shelters, for example, during World War II.
A recent discovery is the Graeco-Roman theatre, which is also underground. This is the second stage of the visit to Napoli Sotterranea and is reached through the picturesque entrance to a “basso” (a tiny street-level habitation) in Vico Cinque Santi. This is the centre of the Main Decuman which runs through the central zone of Piazza Bellini, where the city gateway is situated, to Castel Capuano. The presence of the Greek walls in Piazza Bellini show that the purpose of the walls was defence. They were built in the 4th century BC with a double curtain of tufo blocks placed at a distance of one and a half metres to reinforce the original perimeter wall, which dates from a century earlier (5th century BC). Their lower position to the present level of the piazza makes us think of a succession of natural and man-made events which modified the conformation of the land by levelling it.
In ancient times, the walls ran along the edge of a valley that descended steeply and which in itself constituted a natural defence. There are some signs on the walls which show that every working group left in the stone a record of their provenance.
Beyond Piazza Bellini stand the campanile of the Pietrasanta, which has ancient columns, architraves and capitals worked into it, as well as a sepulchral inscription. The straight stretch of road has kept its original dimensions only to a limited extent; in ancient times, in fact, it was wider, about 12 metres, compared with the 6 metres of the other two decumans. The bustle of people and trading, however, has never changed and the place is just as busy today as it ever was.
Fonte:uff stampa Comune di Napoli