History of Naples







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History of Naples                          (Back to Naples main information page)

There was a settlement here, Parthenope , as early as the ninth century BC, but it was superseded by a colony formed by the Greek settlers at nearby Cumae, who established an outpost here in 750 BC, giving it the name Neapolis. It prospered during Greek and later Roman times, escaping the disasters that befell the cities around and eventually declaring itself independent in 763 - which it remained for close on 400 years, until the Normans took the city in 1139. The Normans weren't here for long: like the rest of this region, the city soon came under the rule of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, who stayed rather half-heartedly until 1269, when their last king, Conradin, was beheaded in what's now Piazza del Mercato, and the Angevins took over the city. With one exception - Robert the Wise, who was a gentle and enlightened ruler and made the city a great centre for the arts - the Angevin kings ruled badly, in the end losing Naples to Alfonso I of Aragon in 1422, thus establishing a Spanish connection for the city for the next 300 years. Following the War of the Spanish Succession, Naples was briefly ceded to the Austrians, before being taken, to general rejoicing, by Charles of Bourbon in 1734. Charles was a cultivated and judicious monarch, but his dissolute son Ferdinand presided over a shambolic period in the city's history, abandoning it to the republican French. Their "Parthenopean Republic" here was short-lived, and the British reinstalled the Bourbon monarch, carrying out vicious reprisals against the rebels. (The instigator of these reprisals was Admiral Nelson - fresh from his victory at the Battle of the Nile - who was famously having an affair with Lady Hamilton, the wife of the British ambassador to Naples. Under continuing Bourbon rule, or more accurately misrule, the city became one of the most populated in Europe, and one of the most iniquitous, setting a trend which still holds good today. For the rest of Europe, Naples was the requisite final stop on the Grand Tour , a position it enjoyed not so much for its proximity to the major classical sites as for the ready availability of sex. The city was for a long time the prostitution capital of the Continent, and its reputation drew people from far and wide, giving new meaning (in the days when syphilis was rife) to the phrase .

More recently, Naples and its surrounding area have been the recipient of much of the money that has poured into the south under the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno scheme, and its industry is spreading, if not exactly booming. But the real power in the area is still in the hands of organized crime or the Camorra : much of the coastline west of the city - to Bagnoli - was built by Camorra money, and, although it's not at all publicized, little happens that matters here without the nod of the larger families. Not surprisingly, much government money has found its way into their hands too, with the result that there's been little real improvement in the living standards of the average Neapolitan: a very high percentage remain unemployed, and a disgraceful number still inhabit the typically Neapolitan one-room bassi - slums really, letting in no light and housing many in appallingly overcrowded conditions. In the late 1970s there was a cholera outbreak in part of the city, and until recently it was thought that the same thing could happen again. However, Antonio Bassolino , mayor of the city from 1993 until 2000, did much to promote Naples and its attractions, and the G7 summit, held here in June 1994, provided the impetus for a much-needed clean-up of the city centre. Bassolino was confident that supporting Naples' cultural strengths would boost local pride. Scores of neglected churches, museums and palaces were restored and now have extended opening times, particularly in the month of May, in a festival called Maggio Aperto. There's been a burst of creative activity from local filmmakers, songwriters, artists and playwrights, and saying that you are from Naples gives you instant credibility in Rome, Milan and other northern cities.

Sadly, this surge of civic pride has received a check with the renewal of violent activity by the Camorra, in the person of "La Madrina" - godmother Maria Licciardi. Licciardi concocted an alliance between the Camorra families, maintaining that it would be more profitable for them to work together and pool resources from drug smuggling, prostitution and protection rackets. An argument over a drugs shipment fractured the truce, and the clans turned on each other. Four of Licciardi's people were murdered on her home ground, the suburb of Secondigliano, and she responded with brutal force: by June 2000, sixty people had lost their lives in a series of tit-for-tat killings. Although the "civilian" population has not been directly affected by these events, they have sorely dented the city's self-image


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