Sunday, November 1, 2009

Castel Nuovo

Nook of Naples: Castel Nuovo (also known a Maschio Angioino) towers over the port in downtown Naples. Charles I of Anjou ordered its construction, which began in 1279. He called it the New Castle to distinguish the palace from the older Castel Capuano and Castel dell'Ovo. During the reign of Robert of Anjou, the castle became a center of culture, hosting artists, physicians and writers, including Petrarch and Boccaccio. Throughout the centuries, the castle underwent many renovations. Today it has a trapezoidal plan made up of tufo stone walls with five cylindrical towers.

To understand the history of Naples is to know that after the fall of the Roman empire, the region didn't have a national identity, but rather was owned by many foreign monarchs, including the Normans, the Spanish, the Austrian Habsburgs, and the Bourbon French. The two most notable influences on Naples today continue to be the Spanish and Bourbons. (I'll give a Bourbon tour of the city in a couple of months).

Spanish rule, beginning at the time of the Italian Renaissance, spanned almost three hundred years and Castel Nuovo remains a strong reminder of this illustrious period. In 1422 King Alfonso I moved his capital from Barcelona to Naples and renamed this part of his region'The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.' While he retained Spanish customs, traditions, and language, Alfonso also supported the arts, the philosophical movement of humanism, and building projects within Naples. The nobility also at this time rediscovered the ancient city center and built palaces within the still famous Spaccanapoli (Spanish Quarter) of the city.

Under Alfonso and thereafter the Argonese dynasty, Naples became a metropolis larger than Paris and by far the largest city in Italy. He also made renovations to Castle Nuovo and took up residence here.

Wandering inside the castle, one first enters the grand courtyard. Going up the stairs, the Baron's Hall touts a dome vaulted ceiling and noble seating. The room is so-called because in 1486 the barons plotted against Ferrante I of Aragon, but were arrested in this space instead after being invited by the king to celebrate his grand daughter's marriage. The hall is still used today for City Council meetings.

Ancient ruins have also been found underneath the castle and you can walk through the Armory Hall where the floor is made of glass. Beneath your feet, you can view rubble that might have been the swimming pool or a canal of a Roman villa.

There's so much to explore inside here, including wonderful Renaissance period frescos. And again, taking children along means letting go of a little history to search for the centuries worth of spirits that still linger all around.

Don't forget to look for this bronze door at the Museo Civico, which still has the cannon ball inside it.  This is the original 15th century door of the castle, which was taken as war booty by the French and then later returned.

Food Website Recommendation: If you're interested in what Italians used to eat during medieval times, check out the Medieval Italian Recipes.

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