Kunst og Kultur

Naples, History of the City


In Greek mythology, Naples was built where the Siren Parthenope was washed ashore after she had been rejected by Odysseus.
Greek colonists, perhaps from Rhodes, may have founded a colony at this point as early as the 10th century b.C., but this too may be the stuff of legend.
What is certain is that Greeks from Cumae built a new city near by, calling it "Neapolis" (new city), while the original town was renamed "Palaeopolis", or old city Neapolis was a leading commercial centre and the Greek language and customs survived even during the Roman period, where it was a favourite area of the elite.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and a wave of invasions, the city, though it retained some independence, came under Byzantine influence and went through a period of rebirth.
In the 10th century the invading Normans succeeded in conquering the whole of Southern Italy, a Kingdom initially ruled from Palermo, under Roger II.
Norman rule finally came to and end in 1189.
With the Angevin (French) and Arragon (Spanish) dynasties, Naples itself became a capital, and the court began to attract famous artists.
The 1400s were a golden era of Naples, but there followed two centuries of direct rule by Spain.
The Spanish viceroys were oppressive rulers and the era is remembered for unjust taxation, the inquisition, plague, overpopulation and rebellion of Masaniello.
Creativity flowered however, despite the widespread poverty.
In 1734 Charles III began the period of Bourbon hegemony.
With the exception of the short-lived republican government in 1799 and the subsequent decade of French dominion, the Bourbon rules Naples until 1860.
Since the unification of Italy the city's problems have become national issues for example the markedly different level of development between Northern and Southern Italy.


Neapolis, whose name stems from the Greek "nea" and "polis", meaning "New City", was first established at the base of the Vesuvius by colonial settlers from Greater Greece in the 5th century b.C.
Greater Greece was an enormously imposrtant territory for Hellenic civilisation from the point of view of economics, commerce and culture.
In this area there was already a town called "Parthenope", settled by Rhodeans who, dedicated to the cult of the sirens, named the town after the most beautiful of these creatures, whose body, the story says, was found on the shore of the Neapolitan coast.
Located in a strategic position of the domination of the Mediterranean, in 290 b.C., Naples passed under the control of the Romans and became an important culture centre, so much so that it was celebrated by all the major poets of the time - while still maintaining an autonomous administration and a strong Hellenic influence in its language, customs and traditions.
Parts of the Ancient Greek-Roman structure can still be seen in the Ancient City centre.
The urban planing is based on three main "Decumans" that run from east to west, intersected perpendicularly by "Cardines", which run fron north to south.
With the advent of Christianity the city was rapidly evangelised and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore became the city's first parish Church.
"San Gennaro" (Saint Gennaro) became its patron Saint and remains so today, due to the miracle of the liquefying of the Saint's dried blood twice a year.
In the last years of Roman Empire, Naples was kept in high consideration for its strategic commercial and military position.
In this period Naples was dominated by various cultures: the Ottomans, the Byzantines, the Sacred Roman Empire of Charlemagne and the Normans.


It was the Normans who constituted the "Kingdom of Sicily", one of the most brilliant states of Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, with its capital in Palermo.
In this years the city changed from a military fortress to a place of commerce and culture, especially with the help of merchants from the Amalfi Coast, and the institution of the University by Fredric II of Hohenstaufen.


A decisive change came about in 1266 when Charles I d'Anjou took the throne from the Swabian House and moved the capital of the Kingdom from Palermo to Naples.
As a result, the city became the hub of economical and political life for southern Italy.
Naples blossomed culturally and became the destination of many major Italian artists of the time including Petrarch, Boccaccio and Giotto, just to name a few.
Naples remained open to the influences of other cultures as well, in particular the French, who introduced the Gothic style.
In this period the imposing structure of the famous "Maschio Angioino" was built with its five circular towers on a trapezoidal plan.
It is also known as the "Castle Nuovo" (New Castle), to distinguish it from the "dellOvo Castle" and the "Capuano Castle", and is certainly one of the best known images of Naples.
The activity of the artistic and culture pole continued for all of the Renaissance, although the cultural input of this city was seen more in its contribution in letters than in the figurative arts.


During the Spanish Arragon Reign, which began at the turn of the 16th century, Naples had favourable tax conditions and was subject to conspicuous migration from all parts of the Kingdom.
These were times of further changes: the Feudataries moved to the city, turning it into an important commercial marketplace from the point of view of handcrafted products.
Overseas transactions were monopolised by the capital, which collected the riches and savings of the whole Kingdom, thanks to a highly evolved banking system.
The reign of the Viceroy Pedro da Toledo was characterized by great architectural works: the city walls were extended, and in the centre a road was opened and named after him.
Via Toledo became the hub of city life over the following centuries.
The "Saint Elmo Castle", a fortressed castle on the Vomero hill, was also constructed in order to defend the reigning powers.
The political and administrative legacy of Pedro da Toledo ruled Naples for over two centuries, and it became one of the major capitals of Modern Europe.
The grandeur of the city is also reflected in the architectural works of the era: the aristocracy and bourgeoisie constructed large churches and buildings in perfect Baroque style; the great sculptors and painters of the day worked on them laboriously from Caravaggio to Salvator Rosa, from Bernini to Luca Giordano, from Solimena to Santacroce.
Many great thinkers of the times were also educated in Naples: philosophers such as Telesio, Bruno and Campanella, and poets and writers including Basile and Marino.
Although this period was a fairly tranquil one from a political point of view, two events did upset the Arragon dominion: the popular uprisings due to excessive taxes on the common people, the most famous being the revolt of July 647 led by the fishmonger "Masaniello"; and the "Plague" of 1656, which decimated the Neapolitan population.


The early 1700s saw the Hapsburg dominion take over from that of the Arragons, until in 1734, for a number of political reasons, Naples returned to being an independent dynasty under Charles of Bourbon.
This new sovereign continued the moral and culture renovation of the city, that had begun in the 17th century with the voice of philosopher Gian Battista Vico.
The institution, of the first University of Political Economics by Antonio Genovesi, and Gaetano Filangieri's work "The Science of Legislation", contributed to the ever increasing level of cultural prestige of Naples.
The fervour of the period also was seen in the diffusion of "Freemasonery" in the city.
The Kingdom of Naples was a great example of an illuminated monarchy that applied administrative and legislative reforms, began a battle against feudal and ecclesiastical privileges, stimulated economic life with the institution of royal manufacturing establishments, in particular those of porcelain and silk.
The city is indebted to the first Bourbon sovereigns for a number of great public works, including the San Carlo Theatre, which with the Conservatory of San Pietro a Maiella, becam the centre of the well known traditions of Neapolitan Music.
Following the French Revolution, Naples lives its own republican experience in 1799, which lasted only a few months and was led by illuminist intellectuals, who were all killed at the return of Bourbons.
In 1806 Napoleon took control of the Kingdom, handing the crown first to his brother Giuseppe, then to his brother-in-law Gioacchino Murat.
These two sovereigns gave the Kingdom new scientific and technical institutions and a modern town administration which was kept on by the Bourbons.
Reinstated in 1815, the Bourbons, in fact, tried to boost public industrialisation under King Ferdinand II.
Around 1830, the Romantic idealists brought an intellectual fervour to the city which was expressed through a series of journals and newspapers, and in a prolific cultural movements in the field of storiography, philosophy, music and economics, confirming Naples' influential contribution to the spirit and ideas of the Risorgimento.


The Unity of Italy saw Naples lose much of its charm because it was unable to affirm its character on national level.
Fascism and the Italian Republic with their various administrations that ruled the city haven't changed the city's typical culture characteristics, and the international success of Neapolitan Music is proof of this.
The Naples of today is a place in which ancient and modern, sacred and profane, history and myth all live together in harmony like two sides of the same coin.

(Bibliography: Galasso G. "Napoli Capitale" Electa Napoli, 2003)

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