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From beautiful parks and open apartments to medieval cloisters and treasure-filled libraries, Naples is full of hidden treasures if you know where to look. Valerio Ceva Grimaldi, co-author of Secret Naples, shares some of his favourite places found within Campania’s capital city.
The splendid villa of Doria d’Angri was built in 1833 on the heights of the Posillipo quarter, situated on the northern coast of the Gulf of Naples, with sweeping views of the bay. Its neoclassical style was inspired by architect Andrea Palladio and decorated with extravagant Pompeian and oriental frescoes. The villa was put up for sale in 1857 and purchased by the Santa Dorotea boarding school for girls. The original decoration, preserved in only a few rooms, was carried out by renowned artisans such as Gennaro Maldarelli and Gennaro Aveta. There is a plaque on the wall of one of the first floor corridors in honour of Wagner, who composed the final notes of ‘Parsifal’ during his stay at the villa.
This wing of the Victor Emmanuel III National Library holds the valuable and little-known Lucchesi Palli collection, established in 1888 when Count Febo Edoardo Lucchesi Palli of the Campofranco noble family donated his extensive library to the state. The count donated not only his books and manuscripts, but also furniture and shelving from his library, having them transported and adapted at his own expense. The rooms were then embellished by the city’s most sought-after artisans.
The original collection consisted of over 30,000 volumes (librettos, theatrical works and Japanese literature in the original language). It has since developed considerably as a result of acquisitions and other donations, to become a reference for music, theatre and cinema. The collection includes many letters by opera composer Giuseppe Verdi; all the manuscripts and publications of the celebrated poet Salvatore Di Giacomo – who was also the librarian of this section; some 2,500 scripts of plays from the early 19th century and the Raffaele Viviani archive, spanning the entire career of the great Neapolitan actor and writer.
It is hard to imagine that behind a gate on a busy avenue in Vomero is an agricultural business. Orchards, vegetable gardens, olive groves, vineyards, herb gardens and even donkeys and other farmyard animals make this place a verdant oasis of peace that has been declared a national monument by the Ministry of Culture.
Within the farm, the association Piedi per la Terra (Feet on the Earth) organises walks and courses on environmental culture for children, as well as other events. The association and the farm have partnered to create the Urban Rural Community of San Martino – a centre for ecological culture and alternative economy, building a relationship between the land and the city. The vineyard also boasts an exceptional and unusual view of the bay.
The Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Crafts and Agriculture, built in 1895, lies over the ruins of the church of the early Christian Saint Aspren. The building also housed the Stock Exchange until 1992, when all trading activities were centralised in Milan. What many Neapolitans don’t know is that it’s still possible to visit the great ‘hall of transactions’, which were known as cries. The immense neo-Renaissance hall is surrounded by columns interspersed with caryatids bearing lanterns or anchors, symbolising maritime trade. An imposing staircase leads to the first floor where there are offices, a wood-panelled library with thousands of volumes concerning the activities of the Naples Chamber of Commerce and a beautiful meeting room now used for conferences.
The large apartment of Neapolitan painter, poet and philosopher Giuseppe Zevola offers a glimpse into his life. Family furniture, Baroque mirrors and other unique objects hang from the ceiling, such as the Lady Philosophy, made entirely from mirrors and round mosaics on a golden background swaying back and forth. All the doors and windows are painted in bright colours, as are the chairs, tables, tablecloths and plates. There is an abundance of chandeliers and rotating centrepieces on the tables, while on the walls the Indian mythological heroes and rub shoulders with saints and heretics. Zevola considers his amazing residence, which he calls Muta Domus, to be his personal theatre.
On 11 November 1923, a fire broke out in the church of San Carlo all’Arena and brought down a precious crucifix, which shattered when it hit the floor. The figure of Christ, carved by Michelangelo Naccherino in 1599 from a single block of marble, is so realistic that it has even been compared with the famous Veiled Christ statue in the Sansevero chapel. After extremely skillful restoration work, the statue was returned to the church, and the new and inevitable injuries ‘inflicted’ on the statue have only accentuated its dramatic effect.
Built for Ferdinando Palasciano by architect Antonio Cipolla, the extraordinary Palumbo tower that flanks a palazzo dating from 1868 is clearly inspired by the medieval Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The enchanting verdant garden all around the tower, with its beautiful trees – oaks, oranges and laurels – is just a short distance from the Royal Palace of Capodimonte.
Although the tower stands out against the Neapolitan landscape and can be seen from afar, not many locals know that it is open to the public; it has recently been restored and converted into a bed and breakfast. At the top is a panoramic terrace with a parapet pierced with niches known as ghibellines. From here, Palasciano’s wife Olga de Wavilow could see the tomb of her beloved husband, located in the so-called ‘corner of illustrious men’ in the city’s main cemetery at Poggioreale. The statue of the deceased, on a pedestal five metres high, is hard to miss.
The former monastic complex of Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci, now home to the Faculty of Veterinary Science, is home to one of the best-preserved cloisters in the city. Built in 1581, it was extended and embellished a century later by Cosimo Fanzago. The arches of the cloister, surrounded by a covered gallery with grey volcanic stone columns, are decorated with 17th-century frescoes attributed to Belisario Corenzio and depicting episodes from the Bible.
Each of its shield-shaped keystones – of which there are 36 in total – corresponds to a family name, in gratitude for donations received from the aristocrats who contributed to the restoration of the monastery. Following the suppression of the monastic orders under Napoleon, this complex was chosen to host the veterinary school for military and civilian use, a decision that was confirmed by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon when he recovered his throne. In 1935, the school became a faculty of the University of Naples Federico II.
This apartment, on the second floor of palazzo Ruffo di Castelcicala, is home to stunning 19th-century majolica floors and French woodwork as well as prototypes of modern architecture and vintage furniture. The home, workplace and gallery of architect Antonio Giuseppe Martiniello is typically Neapolitan: huge rooms, long and very wide corridors and painted ceilings, all decorated with paintings, pop artefacts and a spectacular suspended bookcase that the owner had built using the original structure of untreated wood. At the other end of the apartment, the ‘Nativity’ meeting room, takes its name from the ceiling decoration. Next come the ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Four-leafed Clover’ rooms. You can book a visit and even have a drink in this exclusive location, unexpected and charming as it is.
Within the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Naples Federico II are two cloisters that belonged to the former monastery of Saints Marcellino and Festo. The largest of the two, built in 1567 by the architect Vincenzo della Monica, is square and surrounded by arches of grey volcanic stone (piperno); it is now part of the Faculty of Political Science. The second cloister has an elegant double staircase. The Museum of Palaeontology is in the former chapter house.
Now incorporated in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Naples Federico II (founded in 1224), this church was part of a large religious complex for women which was given its current name in 1565, when two adjacent monasteries, one belonging toe the Benedictines and the other to the Basilians, both built in the 8th century, were joined together. The church, which is open only on special occasions or on reservation, is richly decorated with gilded stucco, carved woodwork and grandiose frescoes. The vault and dome feature paintings by Belisario Corenzio representing different saints and episodes from the life of Saint Benedict. The wooden ceiling is breathtaking, as is the main altar bursting with precious marble and bronze.
by Valerio Ceva Grimaldi and Maria Franchini
published by Jonglez
paperback | 400 pp | £13.48