Thursday, September 9, 2010

Santa Maria Maggiore della Pietrasanta

Santa Maria Maggiore della Pietrasanta was built by Cosimo Fanzago. The adjacent Cappella Pontano, is a chapel commissioned during the Renaissance and based on a pagan temple design.

The Naples Underground:  While wandering Via Tribunali, I came to this church named after a holy stone (pietrasanta).  Built over the ruins of an early Christian basilica, I spotted a young spelunker going inside and asked if I could speak with the custodian about the history of the Church.  Instead, she briskly told me to follow and suddenly I was walking down steep steps into the belly of the church.

There, stones lay scattered everywhere and researchers bustled through an airy space.  Excited, I forgot about the Church history entirely and asked about the history of this space.  An enthusiastic researcher introduced himself as Rafaele Iovine and immediately gave me a tour.

He explained that the Church of Pietrasanta is the most ancient church in Naples, built in 566 A.D. by Bishop Pomponio.  It was constructed over a Roman villa, which in turn was constructed over the Greek foundations of Neapolis.  Rafaele took me over to an enclosed area where he showed me the slanted Roman bricks and the Greek walls underneath.

Most amazing of all, this space has a massive Greco-Roman aqueduct dating back to 500 B.C.  The aqueduct is 3 kilometers long and begins with this 400 meter deep water tank (cistern).

This underground area isn't officially open to the public, so needless to say, my private tour was divine.  Rafaele, however, did say that anyone interested in Naples' Parallel City can go to La Macchina Del Tempo where you can find lots of current information as well as upcoming events and lectures regarding the underground world.

The campanile of the church belonged to the older basilica dating from the 10-11th centuries and is the sole surviving example of early medieval architecture in Naples.

Well -- that's it for my Naples Underground.  Hope you've enjoyed the tour.  To see the list of places I've covered, you can visit my Table of Contents.

Two extra notes on The Parallel City:  I was unable to visit the Cimitero delle Fontanelle.  They remain closed indefinitely, including during the May of Monuments.  I did, however, trek over to the entrance and found that the road going there is narrow, windy, and like plunging into the darkest depths of the city.  (The cemetery is located in the Sanita district, known for its seediness.)

Second, guidebooks say you can visit the San Severo catacombs -- you can't.  The San Severo Church is located several blocks away from the San Guadioso Catacombs.  There is indeed a small catacomb, but it hasn't been maintained.  The custodian at first told me that there was nothing to see and that they are always closed.  Upon prodding, he let me in to see a dilapidated fresco with planks and dirt.  I also had to do some crouching maneuver to get inside.  I wouldn't recommend this site, even though it's listed in guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet.

Getting There:  Santa Maria Maggiore della Pietrasanta is along  Via Tribunali next to Piazza Miraglia.

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