Saturday, May 27, 2017

255. Overlording Naples High On the Hill

Perched high on the hill in a prime position overlording the city is the Castel Sant'Elmo ( Castle of Saint Elmo - centre left ) and  The Certosa di San Martino ( St. Martin's Charterhouse - centre right ) - visible from practically every aspect of central Naples ...


So today's visit is to check out these two important landmarks. From the city centre, I can either climb the 3000 steps to the top, or do it the easy way by taking a $1.50 ride on the Central Funicular - guess which option I took ... !!! ...


The not-at-all-scary trip takes just ten minutes ...


... and we arrive in the leafy suburb of  Vomero ...


 ... and from there it's just another ten minutes walk to the gates of the massive Castle ...

 


Castel Sant'Elmo is a medieval fortress dating back to the late 13th century. It was most likely originally built as a fortified residence, surrounded by walls, and with an entrance gate marked by two turrets. In the mid-14th century, using designs by the Sienese architect Tino da Camaino, King Robert of Naples enlarged the fortress and supervised construction of the adjacent Carthusian monastery of San Martino. By 1336, the palace was referred to as a castrum or castle, and construction work continued under Camaino till his death in 1343.
 

The fortress was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1456, which demolished the external walls and the towers. And for the following century major works were carried out to restore the fortress to its former glory.


For many decades during the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle served as an autonomous military outpost, with a governor who had absolute authority over both military and civilian matters. Around the parade grounds were situated the officers' quarters, chaplain's house, a church (1547) and the surviving buildings from the original building. 
 

In 1587 the munitions depot of the castle was struck by lightning, and exploded, destroying the church, the chaplain's house and the officers' quarters. Reconstruction was carried out between 1599 and 1601. Despite successive rebuildings over the centuries, the castle conserves its original structure. Built of volcanic tufa, for centuries it was a symbol and bastion of government oppression - and from the 17th century to as late as 1952 it was used as a military prison.


It continued to be military property until 1976, when a massive seven year restoration project was undertaken by the provincial authority.  During the restoration the original castle was freed of centuries of additions, and made structurally sound, recreating the original galleries, parapet walkways and underground chambers.



In 1982 the fully restored site was handed over to the City of Naples, and since then has been a major tourist attraction, affording visitors the most spectacular views of the city and the Gulf of Naples and to Vesuvius beyond.







Inside the fortress is a very large art gallery exhibiting local artists - but with most of the gallery lights switched off and the guards either asleep or checking their smart-phones, I didn't find much of the art worthwhile ... sorry artists ...


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However, no time for this tourist to cat-nap on the job - and next it was out the castle gates and just down the hill to The Certosa di San Martino ( St. Martin's Charterhouse) ...


 Not very impressive from the Piazza 
with major restoration works under way ...
... but once inside the doors and into the courtyard, 
a very different story ....



The Certosa di San Martino was a monastery of the Carthusian Order dedicated to St. Martin, the Bishop of Tours, and was founded in the 14th-century by Charles, Duke of Calabria, who was the son of King Robert d’Anjou, the King of Naples. It is sited next to the Castle which was the royal residence of the king’s family in the 14th century. The design of the Certosa are even similar to the nearby castle, both of which were worked on by the architect and sculptor Tino di Camaino.



The dominant position above the city made it a safe and ideal location, and over the centuries the Certosa di San Martino developed into a grand monastic complex.

 ... under the watchful eye of the Castle above ...

Opening off the central courtyard is the magnificent and totally-over-the-top monastery church - which is a museum in itself, decorated with works by important architects, sculptors and painters of the 17th century, such as Cosimo Fanzago, Giuseppe Sanmaritano, Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, Guido Reni, Luca Giordano and Battistelo Carraciolo.


Inside the church, my eyes were put into great holy confusion - not knowing which direction to focus on - either the beautiful curves of the ceiling covered with frescoes by Giovanni Lanfranco from 1637-40 depicting the Ascension of Christ surrounded by angels and glorious golden light - or the fine marble inlay around the church ( designed by Cosimo Fanzago, one of Italy’s greatest Baroque architects and sculptors ) - or the dazzling marble tiled floor ...







The design of the Certosa carefully follows the strict architectural plan and precepts that were outlined and required by St. Bruno of Cologne, the founder of the Carthusian Order.


Then after all that bling, it was back outside into the daylight and the cloisters ...

Carthusian monks lived a secluded life in their cells, leaving only for prayer services at the church. Surrounding the courtyard and opening onto the cloisters, are some of the cells, which feature a door and a little window. Daily meals and communication via written notes took place through these special rotating windows that allowed food to be passed through while still isolating the monk ( ... no mention of daily ablutions etc ... ).


Cosimo Fanzago gave his hand to the complete redesign and redecoration of the Charterhouse in the 17th century, including the Great Cloister. Walking around the cloister are the statues of a few of the more blessed Carthusians. 








The Certosa di San Martino functions in a very different way nowadays, but a sense of tranquility still fills the air - especially this late Saturday morning with only a handful of fellow tourists swooning along the way. The corridors, cloisters and rooms of the monastery complex have been transformed into a beautiful museum setting. And the collection of featured artworks documenting the history of Naples, decorative arts, includes 19thcentury Neapolitan religious art and one of Italy’s finest collections of presepi, or Christmas nativities. Strolling through the peaceful cloisters and grounds of the Certosa di San Martino is a fascinating way to discover an important piece of the history of Naples.






And in the centre of the courtyard ( beside the well ... !!! ) is a small cemetery for the deceased monks marked by skulls on the balustrade - again no doubt the early Christians belief that the soul resided in the human skull ...




And as from the Castle above, the views from the gardens and terraces are quite stunning, overlooking the entire city as it curves around the Bay of Naples with Vesuvius looming in the distance. Across the bay are the curves of the Sorrento Peninsula and the Island of Capri just off the tip. And in case you missed the views from the castle, here they are again - this time from the Certosa ... !!! ... wow ...







In the early 19th century, under French rule, the monastery was closed and was abandoned by the religious order and today, after much restoration, the buildings house a museum with a display of Spanish and Bourbon era artifacts, and are hosts to to the wonderful vistas of Naples ...



And so after a couple of hours of peaceful wandering through the calm and quietness of the museum, it was back out into the piazza ...

... and another ride down the hill in the funicular ...

... and out into the chaos and noise of central Napoli
- and now to find a cafe for a well-earned lunch  ...