”Spaccanapoli street” will show you the heart of Naples…
…Spaccanapoli is a street that separates Naples into two parts and goes through the center of the city. It’s the most visited place in Naples with its churches, old houses, sights and souvenirs.
I took a walk from the central station, heading to this web of streets intersected by three parallel Roman roads, that remind of the old city Neapolis. They are today’s Via dell’Anticaglia (Decumanus superior), Via dei Tribunali (Decumanus major) and the road which starts as Via Benedetto Croce and becomes Via San Biagio dei Librai (Decumanus inferior) also called Spaccanapoli as it literally cuts through the center of town. You can’t imagine how much you will encounter along this path in terms of cultural monuments. I tell you my experience of it.
My starting point was The Cappella Sansevero (14 on the map), located in Via Francesco de Sanctis 19, and opened from 9.30 am till 6pm.
The Sansevero Chapel Museum is one of the most enigmatic chapels in Europe, a jewel of the world’s artistic heritage of Naples. Here, baroque creativity, dynastic pride, beauty and mystery blend to create a unique and almost timeless atmosphere with some of the most impressive monuments that the human mind has ever conceived with its masterpieces in the Veiled Christ, the Deposition of the High Altar, the Anatomical Machines.
Its creator, Raimondo di Sangro was a leading member of Freemasonry. He was, in fact, the head of the Neapolitan Masonic lodge, until he was excommunicated by the Church with the accusations of heresy.
The English Freemasons had united in 1717 and Naples entered Masonic history in 1750, under the leadership of di Sangro. The origins of the chapel date back to the end of the 16th century, when an innocent man was dragged to jail, passing in front of the garden of the di Sangro Palace, where he saw a part of the garden wall crumble and an image of the Blessed Virgin appear. The man promised to give a silver medallion to the Virgin if he was proven innocent, which indeed happened. He kept his promise and from that moment onwards, the sacred image became a place of many more blessings. Later, Giovan Francesco Paolo di Sangro, first Prince of Sansevero, was very sick and went to see the Madonna, in search of a cure that was granted too; hence he built a small chapel, the Chapel of Santa Maria della Pieta or Pietatella. Around 1590, the chapel became the resting place of the di Sangro family.
Masons have seen in the chapel the expression of the Masonic ideal, such as the journey towards salvation or enlightenment. Di Sangro in fact illustrated this journey with the graves, which represent virtues like decorum, religion, marriage, self control, freedom, education and divine love with a particular emphasis on modesty and disillusionment. “Modesty” is dedicated to the memory of Raimondo’s mother here represented as a Roman virgin, Cecilia Gaetani d’Aquila d’Aragona, who died in the 1710, when Raimondo was not yet one year old. Here, the artist, who had also sculpted other veiled figures, attains a remarkable degree of perfection in shaping the veil laid elegantly and naturally over the body of the woman, as if the vapour from incense burners contributed to dampening the impalpable layer and extraordinarily adherent to the skin, girded round with a garland of roses.
The gaze lost in time, the tree of life, and the broken plaque are the symbols of an existence cut short too soon, and express the pain of the son Raimondo, who thus wished to preserve for the future the features and virtues of his young mother.
“Disillusionment” is dedicated to Raimondo’s father. It shows a figure trying to free himself from a net, which may symbolize ignorance or sin, with the assistance of an angel, symbolising reason.
The final sculpture, at the end of the path, is the Veiled Christ.
It is one of the most renowned pieces of art in the world.
It was sculpted in 1753 and shows a veil covering the body of the Christ.
Many have observed that in its presence, one feels like observing the true body of Christ.
The most remarkable aspect of the piece is the veil; some believe that a veil literally “petrified”.
Like the statue of Disillusionment, the net completely surrounds a statue that has already been sculpted, while nevertheless being an integral part of it.
“How can that be done – sculpting underneath the tiny holes of the net, yet without breaking the net and still being able to sculpt the body to its finest detail?
In both cases, the question is how these sculptors were able to cover their works with veils and nets made of marble, for it is clear that there is no other method of achieving the final product?
To find two such examples in one chapel suggests that it was di Sangro’s chemical mastery that may have contributed to the solution.
Some claim that the veils were obtained by crystallizing a base solution of calcium hydrate or slaked lime. Supposedly, the statue was placed in a tub and covered with a wet veil (or net), over which a diluted calcium solution was poured, before the liquid was sprayed with carbon oxide coming from a coal burning oven. The end result is calcium carbonate, i.e. marble, which would then be joined to the rest of the statue. But no-one has yet practically demonstrated this theory to be do-able, or the one the Prince used. There may be another small “anomaly” in this Veiled Christ, as there is a slight indentation over the nostril, as if the shroud is being sucked in by breath –
Is this “dead Jesus” alive?
Did di Sangro believe that Jesus had not died on the Cross?
If so, perhaps he was not only a Mason, but a member of another, even more mysterious, order?
Jesus disappeared from his tomb – but he is not alone. The Prince’s tombstone can still be seen in the chapel. He died on March 22, 1771, “from a sudden illness caused by his mechanic experiments”. During the long nights he spent in his laboratory he had probably inhaled or ingested some toxic substance, which this time had indeed become lethal. His sarcophagus, however, does not contain his body; someone stole it. When or why is not known.
Raimondo had a plaque placed in the chapel, stating that the person who commissioned those works (i.e. himself) was moved by a desire “to astonish, discover and teach”. (P. Coppens)”.
I came out speechless and overwhelmed….and finally made my way direction southeast towards Piazza San Domenico (15).
Lots of people in the streets that were reminding me the Xmas just gone. Continued my exploration along Spaccanapoli: I am not exaggerating when I say that I could not put the camera down with an ancient palace, an amazing architecture, a beautiful church or a roman column…every 100 meters!!!
Moreover you could bump into colourful scenes of everyday local life, or even bump into some nobility from baroque times….
Next stop is Santa Chiara (3): the Basilica church of Santa Chiara faces Via Benedetto Croce, which is the easternmost leg of Via Spaccanapoli. The church facade of Santa Chiara is diagonally across from the church of Gesu’ Nuovo (2).
The double monastic complex was built in 1313–1340 by the King Robert of Naples. The original church was in traditional Provençal-Gothic style. After the edifice was partially destroyed by a fire after the Allied bombings duringWorld War II, it was brought back to the alleged original state in 1953.
There are nine lateral chapels on each side of the nave, the roofs of the chapels are vaulted, and they support the gallery that runs the length of the nave. Above the gallery are the windows of the clerestory. An unusual feature of the building is that the lateral chapels are absorbed into the body of the church, giving Santa Chiara its distinctive rectangular appearance. Behind the altar is the tomb of King Robert, behind that is a wall separating the main body of the church from the nuns’ choir.
Moving onto the square of Gesu’ Nuovo, there are three main landmarks: the church of S. Chiara we have just seen, the Church of Gesù Nuovo and the spire or guglia of the Immaculate Virgin, an Obelisk built in the middle of the square.
The extraordinary Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo is an architectural surprise. Its shell is the 15th-century palace built in 1470 for Roberto Sanseverino, Prince of Salerno that was converted to create the 16th-century church. The new church retained the unusual facade faced with rustic ashlar diamond projections.
Under the altar there is a bronze urn containing the mortal remains of much-loved local saint Giuseppe Moscati, a biochemistry teacher at the University of Naples and head physician of the Ospedale degli Incurabili (Hospital of ‘incurable’ people), canonized on 25 October 1987 by Pope John Paul II.
Inside, piperno-stone sobriety gives way to a gob-smacking blast of baroque…
At this point, nearly at the end of Spaccanapoli, I carried on walking….and I walked for such a long time that I am not in the historic area of the map anymore!!!!
I would not advise to do the same as I DID in one go as it is quite a bit of walking; nevertheless if you are used to it,
IT IS VERY POSSIBLE THAT LIKE ME, YOU WILL BE DRAWN INTO THE CHARME AND BEAUTY of this magic expedition!!!!!!!!
I left you by the end of Spaccanapoli; hence I made my way onto Via Toledo, an ancient street almost 1, 2 km long starting at Piazza Dante and ending near Piazza del Plebiscito. In Piazza Plebiscito is when I grasped once more the meaning of being Neapolitans…with the mount Vesuvio imposingly staring at the city.
Naples is a place where faith and superstition remain strong and where miracles are expected daily; a place where twice a year the congealed blood of the patron San Gennaro liquefies before the eyes of a packed congregation. Even Maradona, that turbulent football genius, felt at home here.
One of the favourite saying is “Tiramm a campà” – “Let’s go on” – invariably accompanied by a smile. This is this the true heart of Neapolitans that marries with a deeper and wiser attitude to life: HOPE.
Something good always comes out of bad
A spirit that reminds me the one of a strong population living in the shadow of Vesuvio, that has made it through the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in European history.
Hope you have enjoyed the walk through an authentic NAPLES in my company…