Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry July 2003

arminiello ai Mannesi

I drag people around Naples from time to time and am often subjected to the ultimate hard question: "Gee, what's that?" My standard answer is: "Oh, that's a dextral embrasure flanked by a counterscarp dripstone thing. They say it was built right before the Mopedoid invasions, but you never know."

Naples has a Gee-What's-That? on every street, and I found another one the other day, hidden behind the old monastery that the Orientale University of Naples now uses for classes, one block south of the Duomo, the cathedral. 

It is the complex —and just a fraction of it sticks up above ground— of the Roman baths Carminiello ai Mannesi, (unmarked, but near number 30 on the map of the historic center of the city). The original complex covered about 700 sq. meters. Archaeological evidence suggests that the baths were terraced down towards the sea. The complex, or part of it, stood on the site of an earlier structure, a temple from the 5th century b.c., centuries before the Romans took over the area. The Romans built up the area in the early imperial age under Augustus and, again, following damage caused by the earthquake of 62 a.d. and the infamous Pompeii eruption of 79 a.d. The baths were abandoned in the 5th century a.d. at about the time of the fall of the western Roman Empire. There was subsequently a brief period when the site was used by a cult dedicated to Mithras, the Persian god of light, whose worship had been imported to Rome; the cult spread throughout the empire to become the greatest rival of Christianity. Eventually, however, the area was totally abandoned; no doubt the area was affected by the great mudslide that covered much of the city just to the west in the 600s.

A Christian house of worship arose in the Middle Ages on the site and was part of a greater church called Santa Maria del Carmine ai Mannesi. "Carminiello" is a diminutive and the "mannesi" part of the name refers to the occupation of those who lived in the area; they worked with wood and made and repaired carts. In Neapolitan toponymy, the name of the church is used to refer to the much older Roman structure, in the same way as, say, the "ruins of San Lorenzo" refer to the old Roman market excavated beneath the medieval church of San Lorenzo. 

Archaeological interest in the area was aroused following air-raids in WW2 when destruction of buildings on the surface lay bare some of the 2,000–year–old ruins. Serious work and cataloging of the site had to wait until 1993. Like much of what lies beneath modern Naples (virtually all of ancient Naples), the site will never be totally excavated. Although the site now has a fence around it and is marked as an object of historical interest, I have never seen it open.

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*addenda: This kind note comes from Prof. Paul Arthur, Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of Lecce:

The 'Gee - what's that?' site of Carminiello ai Mannesi was a housing block of late 1st-early 2nd century date, with an attached bath building. I had the honour to excavate the site in the early 1980's and it remains one of the few published excavations in the centre of Naples.

If you are interested, information can be found in my two volumes:

P. Arthur (ed.), Il complesso archeologico di Carminiello ai Mannesi, Napoli (scavi 1983-1984), Congedo, Galatina, 1994.
P. Arthur, Naples from Roman Town to City-State: an archaeological perspective, The British School at Rome monograph series no. 12, 2002.

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