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Naples Miscellany 21 (early April 2009)

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  • A relatively new museum has been open in Naples since 2006. It is the Museum for Contemporary Religious Art, on the ex-monastic premises next to the church of S.Maria la Nova, just into the old city from the east side of the main post office. It is part of an umbrella Franciscan cultural organization, "Beyond the Cloister," the aim of which (as stated in its literature) is to "promote culture beyond religious and ideological differences."

  • An article has appeared in the local paper about the disgraceful condition of the colonnade at the church of San Francesco di Paola in the largest square of the city, Piazza Plebiscito. The defacement by graffiti is incredible, as it is elsewhere in the city, but this is one of the most visible sites in the city. The closer you get to the entrance to the church and columns (if, indeed, you decide to hike across the square from the Royal Palace) the worse it gets; you get beyond the two statues in front of the church (themselves defaced) and up the stairs to the church, and it is very ugly, indeed.

  • Eighty-seven brand-new busses, bought, paid for and ready to roll, have been sitting at the ANM (Azienda napoletana mobilità—Neapolitan Transit Authority) garage in the suburb of Agnano forever. They were bought in 2001 and have never been used. No one seems to know why. Mechanics report that the buses are excellent sources for scavenging spare parts, though. Maybe that's something.

  • Signs such as "Institute for Medieval Studies" grab my attention. The institute was founded in 2005 on the premises of the monastery and church complex of Santa Chiara. It is a collection of scholars whose aim is to study medieval Franciscanism, specifically as it relates to the person for whom the institute is named, William of Alnwick (1275-1333), a Franciscan friar and theologian mentioned (though less prominently) in the same broad group of scholars as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus. Alnwick was in Naples for a number of years under the protection of King Robert the Wise.  Alnwick had fled to Naples after a disagreement with Pope John XXII's position on poverty. (Alnwick was for it; the Pope was against it!) In 1330 King Robert appointed Alnwick bishop of Giovinazzo (on the Adriatic, near Bari).

  • Currently running (through July 5) at the Pignatelli museum is a grand exhibit of the works of sculpture by Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929) sometimes referred to as the "Neapolitan Rodin." (The photo shows his own version of himself.) There will be 70 pieces of sculpture and 80 works on paper in the exhibit. Among Gemito's larger works on permanent display in the city of Naples is his statue of Charles V of Hapsburg, one of the eight statues arrayed along the west façade of the Royal Palace.

  • The Cumana railway. Sooner or later, tourists discover that there is another narrow-gauge railway in Naples besides the Circumvesuviana (which runs to points east such as Pompei and Sorrento). Traffic to the west, that is, to Bagnoli, Pozzuoli, and the Campi Flegrei depends on the Cumana-Cicumflegrea railway, called, simply, the "Cumana." The Naples terminus is at Montesanto (photo); there are then two lines: the "outside" coast route through Fuorigrotta, Bagnoli, Pozzuoli and Baia; and the "inside" line through Soccavo and Quarto. There are about 15 stops on each line, and they both terminate at the same station, Torregaveta, at the extreme west end of the Gulf of Naples. The two routes are essential for students and workers getting into the city from the west. They may become more important for visitors as tourist trade picks up with the new Campi Flegrei museum in Baia and recent emphasis on archaeology in that area. There is, indeed, a Baia station adjacent to the lower echelons of the Baia Archaeology Park —if you are prepared to leap from the window of the flying train as it passes through that station, currently under rebuilding in anticipation of increasing tourism. (It's somewhat of a chicken-or-egg thing.)

  • After the first exhibit in Paris in 1957 and the second one in Venice in 1964, this Third International Exhibit for Restoration and Preservation is currently running at the Royal Palace in Naples. It is an astonishingly complete display of about 270 film-poster-sized panels, each dedicated to some aspect of the preservation and restoration of cultural artifacts currently underway in 40 countries around the world. These include everything from grand palaces to small churches to "vernacular architecture," meaning structures built by ordinary people not to be grand, but simply to be lived in. There are sections devoted, as well, to the preservation of gardens and "cultural landscapes" (things such as terraced hillsides). The exhibit is, as might be expected, heavy on Italy, with a separate section devoted to each region of the nation. Naples has its own separate display, including a section devoted to the life and work of Prof. Roberto Pane, local urbanologist, whose 3-volume work, The Historic Center of Naples (1971) was a ground-breaking and exhaustive inventory on the monuments of the inner city and their needs in terms of restoration and preservation. Runs through May 19.

  • The Royal Palace at Caserta hosts an exhibition entitled "At the Court of Vanvitelli," celebrating the life and work of this famous architect, active at the royal Bourbon court from 1750 until his death in 1773. Sixty paintings are on display as well as a selection of sculpture by Giuseppe Sanmartino, creator of the remarkable "Veiled Christ" (image, right).  Runs through July 6.

  • The State Archives of Naples are located in the ex-monastery of Saints Severino and Sossio It is one of the largest and oldest buildings in the city with origins going back to the original structure in the year 902 AD. It is occupies 25,000 sq meters and has 50,000 linear meters of shelves, many of which contain unique documents crucial to the study of the art and history of southern Italy. According to the director, 80 million euros are needed to prevent a "tragedy" due to humidity and water seepage. A proposal has been made to transfer the contents of the archives to the old Castel Capuano at the east end of via dei Tribuali, a building that used to house the city courts until those moved to the new Civic Center. Castel Capuano is large enough and now mostly unused.

  • In late April, the Spanish Quarters of Naples are due for a "radical cleaning," according to sources at the city hall. That area is the intimidating labyrinth of streets north of Piazza Plebiscito on the west side of via Toledo. All streets will be closed to traffic from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m for four days and there will be no parking during those hours not even for residents, as clean-up crews go through. They are not just going to clean the streets. The major focus will be on clearing away the great amount of cumbersome, unsightly refuse such as abandoned wrecks of motorscooters and discarded furniture in this area where normal clean-up by standard crews and equipment is often very difficult during normal morning working hours.

END of Misc. p.#21

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