Naples has always been very attractive through the centuries due to its strategic location at the sea. It was ruled by mainly the Spaniards but also by the French who left their heritage in terms of castles, buildings and art to the city which has still been seen in Napoli up to now. The city possesses seven amazing castles and fortifications, fortresses and strongholds with their history in every stone. I will focus on three of them only in this post because they are the most imposing and awesome ones which are a must-visit when one is in Naples.
C A S T E L S A N T’ E L M O
We shall start from the baby castle of Naples which is the most important one at the same time, i.e. Il Castel Sant’Elmo. The newest castello of Napoli dominates the city. It is situated on the Vomero Hill where the Normans were the first to settle down. They constructed a watchtower near a small church dedicated to S. Erasmo in 1170 and thus they laid the fundamentals of the future glamorous castle. Some centuries later, more precisely in 1329, King Roberto d’Angiò (Robert of Anjou) commissioned the construction of a residence, fortified with walls and a dry moat in front. The project was completed in 1343. Unfortunately, Queen Giovanna d’Angiò was forced to sell out the castle during a conflict with the King of Hungary and this way, the castle was already in the hands of the Arogonese. The 14th century fortress was replaced by a six-pointed star in the 16th century. Star-shaped fortresses weren’t spread out that much in Europe in that period of time and we can say that Sant’Elmo was one of the few to be built. Owing to its star-shape, the castle is often nicknamed as “the Star Castle”. Its main purpose was to be a fortification from which there was a 360-dgree visibility to the city. Nowadays, the castle is one of the 7 city’s fortifications and it offers a balcony for awe-inspiring views of Naples, the Vesuvius, the unresting blue sea and the Gulf of Naples. You won’t regret it, if you make the effort to go there. Now worries, you mustn’t climb up the hill at all. One of the 4 four cable lines will fetch you to the Vomero Hill where il Castel Sant’Elmo is situated.
C A S T E L N U O V O
When you are already back to the centre of Naples, head for Il Castel Nuovo (the New Castle). The fortress is better known as Maschio Angioino. As a matter of fact, it was originally built as a residence for the French Court and the Angevin Monarchy. When Charles I of Anjou lost the Kingdom of Sicily he moved the Court from Palermo to Naples in 1266 and he commissioned its construction to a French architect in 1279. The castle was completed in 1285 and it had to celebrate his coronation as the King of Naples. The Angevins ruled the city until the middle of the 15th century and the other name of the castle derived from that period of time – the locals called it Maschio Angioino. After that the Arogonese enlarged it. Alfonso V of Aragon had a magnificent marble triumphal arch built between the western towers (la Torre di Mezzo or Halfway Tower and la Torre di Guardia or Watch Tower). Thus he celebrated his entrance in Naples. “The Barons’ Hall” obtained its name due to one historic fact again related to the rule of the Aragonese. Ferdinand I of Aragon gathered together all of his barons who were accused of conspiracy. Being brought together in that hall, they were swiftly arrested and put to prison. Another peculiar fact about this amazing castle, whose saloons house museums and some Naples authorities and offers breathtaking views of the town from the towers nowadays, is one legend connected with a crocodile. The folk tale goes like this.
Once upon time a crocodile made its way from the Nile to Europe and it chose the bowels of Maschio Angioino. Every day the reptile would go hunting prisoners through a hidden hole in the moat of the castle and then it would drag their corpses to its lair. Nobody knew about its mysterious appearance but the guards paid attention to the increasing number of the escaping prisoners. So, they decided to see what way the prisoners used to escape the jail which was an ex granary. This way they stumbled upon the crocodile. Instead of chasing it away, the guards decided to keep it as an executor of sentences. Prisoners sentenced to death were thrown to the moats where the crocodile ate them on a regular basis. Or those who wanted to escape the prison would also meet the reptile on their way. There is another version of the crocodile folk tale, by the way. It is related to famous Queen Joan II of Naples (1371-1435). In brief, she would throw every spent lover of hers to the crocodile. Thus she shared “her toys” with the reptile.
C A S T E L D E L L’ O V O
And the last castle on the agenda is il Castel dell’Ovo which is located along the promenade. Actually, it is the place where the city of Naples was established by siren Parthenope. There are two legends that tell the story of the city. Of course, they are connected with the mythology – the Greek and Roman one.
According to the ancient Greeks, siren Parthenope (Παρθενόπη) inhabited the shores of Sorrento where she lived with the other sirens. She fell in love with Odysseus and followed him to Naples (by the way, it was said that sirens could live in their own waters only and once they left them, they died). Unfortunately, her love was unrequited and she decided to die by jumping into the sea. The sea waters pushed out here body on the Island ofMegaride. Thus the town was established where il Castel dell’Ovo is situated nowadays and it was named after its first founder – Parthenope. Later sailors from the Island of Rhodes named the town Neapolis and they turned it into one of the most important commercial ports of Magna Graecia.
The Roman legend says that a centaur namedVesuvius was in love with Parthenope. Zeus got furious and in his jealousy he turned the poor creatures in love into a volcano and a city – Vesuvius and Naples, respectively. Vesuvius’s anger was often seen in the form of volcano eruptions, one of which totally destroyed and buried Pompeii and Herculaneum and damaged severely the surrounding villages and villas around the Bay of Naples.
By the way, there is another interesting myth that recounts that there is a buried egg in the bases of the castle. Roman poet Virgil told that the mythical egg was placed in a glass jar, the jar into a metal cage and the latter was hidden somewhere beneath the place where the castle is situated today. It’s believed that who finds the egg will rule the city. But if the egg is lost or broken, it will bring a huge damage to the city and Naples will no longer exist.
And how did the castle start? Roman patrician Lucius Licinius Lucullus had an imposing villa built, known as “Castrum Lucullanum” or “Castellum Lucullanum”. Unfortunately, it lost its splendor and was turned into a fort and it was used as a prison. Romolus Augustolus (the last Roman Emperor) was imprisoned there and he stayed there until his death.
The villa was transformed and converted into a castle and fortification for the first time by Roger the Norman in the 12th century (in 1140). During the reign of Charles I of Anjou, the Court was moved to the New Castle and Castel dell’Ovo was the seat of administrative authorities. The castle acquired its present shape during the Aragon domination in the 15th century. Nowadays the fortification is one of the most visited sites in Naples because it gives majestic views to the Vesuvius, the Gulf of Naples and the city from its terrace with the guns.