With its new imperial capital, the southern Italian city of Naples is much in need of a label, but its city leaders seem to be all too happy to wear their need for a handle lightly.
“When the republic of Naples was born,” said local governor Luigi Di Maio at a reception in the city of Herculaneum, “we struggled just to be mentioned in the nation’s mind as a historical city, let alone an administrative city like other majors.”
“So, we came up with the idea,” he said. “But is that so too many adjectives, is that so much history, to do with our uniqueness, to which the people demand more, more, more, more and to do more?”
Di Maio is right that the city has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, or rather, the wrong sides: A climate of religious intolerance, excessive criminality, and aggressive work in other parts of the country have finally sapped the once proud city of its grace and marred its shine. But given Italy’s history, naming its current state and its decline is more about identity-building than folly.
The first Italian poet to be granted sainthood, Agostino Maggiore, was described as an “elegant bumpkin” during his pontificate. He survived the death of both his parents and went on to condemn the affluence of the rich on the lines “It pays to write so much” and “it pays to watch so much” to a crying group of parishioners before laying his head before the feet of St. Andrew.
Similarly, it has been centuries since the city was the birthplace of scientific and artistic achievement. It was, and is, more an island of controversy than greatness — its most famous son, Vergil, being the first person to claim the title of poet laureate of the ancient city, which is where he penned “Aeneid” as well as a whole series of Neapolitan sonnets. Agostino Maggiore composed his poems on the airwaves of the Duomo — a famous structure whose flames have been portrayed in the Roma, The Da Vinci Code, and the BBC.
However, the memory of the breathtaking character of Naples has been brought back into the light by a luminous revival of the historic buildings themselves, as well as efforts to rebuild the historic center of the city. Recently completed 3-D scanning of the 15th-century Palazzo Ducale, popularly known as Il Ducale, has revealed how the huge piazza had changed over time, as technology with today’s sophisticated techniques allowed structural engineers to digitally recreate it for the first time.
However, now, instead of being looked upon as a fount of disputation, the palazzo of Agostino Maggiore is being referred to as a new city center of the Renaissance and almost all major homes have started to be restored.
“They are the only ones which do it like this,” said architect, Zuzanna Tomek, of what Italians call their “fantastic ugly houses.” “And you can still see in Naples the great monuments of the Renaissance, the best architects and architects.”
But it is the desire to provide “real” human needs such as clean water and affordable housing, say both politicians and citizens, which is triggering the renewed interest in what was once a heartland of one of the most brilliant people to ever wander on its coastline.
“The world goes on, life goes on,” said Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti of the attitudes of his compatriots who, after Italy lost the World Cup a few weeks ago, left the streets to air their opinions against the almost instant power of the social media.
“Who would tell you not to have live thoughts and sometimes opinions?”
“What can I say? The house is empty,” said Cesare Pesarelli, 53, an unemployed technician. “Yes, there were black marks for the normal now and then and for some people the prejudices of the past. Now is an open time to think and to deal with these conditions, with the human situation.”