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Naples Miscellany 41 (early March 2013)

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  • (Mar 5) There was a partial collapse at 10 A.M. yesterday morning of the Guevara di Bovino building, shown in the photo (right). Contrary to some reports, the building is not in "the center of Naples" but is on the street named Riviera di Chiaia across from the west end of the public gardens, the Villa Comunale. It is near the Mergellina boat harbor. There were no fatalities and all persons are present or accounted for; that reassurance came from first responders two hours after the collapse. Speculation as to the cause of the collapse is centered on erosion in the earth beneath the street due to the presence of water leakage from the underground construction of the new #6  metro train line. The construction site for the new Arco Mirelli station (see map, left), itself, is directly across the street. The building is one of a long string of buildings on what used to be the main avenue from Naples to the west. Many of the buildings go back to the 1600s. and they really are on land that is geologically solid. They are at sea level with none of the treacherous cavities (700 or so!) that underlie much of the city. The problem is that there are now about 200 meters of additional land between what used to be the main road and the sea. That is all on reclaimed swamp and landfill, and that is what the metro builders are now tunneling through. Tragedy was averted apparently because those who live in the building or use it for office space started staying away after they noticed the warning signs of shifting in the earth below; that is, cracks in the plaster, doors not closing properly, etc.
The incident is an urban nightmare. The road is on the north side of the park and was recently converted to two-way traffic in order to free up the parallel road on the south side, via Caracciolo, that runs along the sea, in order to turn that splendid thoroughfare into a pedestrian zone. It was an important bit of cosmetic surgery for the city (see this link), but all eastbound traffic into the city that had formerly gone along the sea was rerouted onto the new eastbound lane on Riviera di Chiaia. It had been hastily set up beginning at precisely the point where the collapse took place; thus, that lane is closed and will not reopen for some time. Not only is the mass of cars moving east into the city now back on the seaside road, but since the collapse has caused the Riviera di Chiaia to be closed, outbound traffic can't use it either and has also been rerouted onto the seaside road, all of which has turned that shiny new playground for joggers, bicycles and pony carts back into the race track from hell that it used to be. It will be useless, as well, as a venue from which to view the America's Cup boat races this summer coming up in a few months. The collapse will cause a long interruption in the construction of the #6 metro line (eventually intended to reach the main port of Naples). Worst-case scenario: the construction will cease permanently and the line will never be finished. (This is a link to a couple of dozen short general items about metro construction in Naples over the last 10 years, including the misadventures of the #6 line.)

  • (Mar 5) More bad news for the city. A fire broke out at around 10 p.m. last night in Bagnoli on the premises of La Città della Scienza (Science City) (photo, right), a hands-on science museum and exposition grounds spread over a large area about 4 square miles along the Bagnoli waterfront near the isle of Nisida. The facility stands on the area once occupied by the large Italsider steel mill, closed in 1992 in order to renovate the area as part of a gigantic "renaissance" project for this suburb of Naples. Science City was finished about 10 years later. The facility attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and was seen as one of the few jewels in the crown of said renaissance, which continues to sputter. The fire destroyed virtually everything in the main part of the exposition grounds. Most sources say today there is little doubt it was arson.
This item is also included on the Consolidated Bagnoli page.

  • (Mar 6) A few more details. The building collapse mentioned in the top item, above, at Arco Mirelli is certainly connected with the construction of a transfer tank to handle water from the groundwater aquifer almost 30 meters below the surface. The tank was either imperfectly planned or shoddily built and has not done its job, which was to ensure that surplus water from the aquifer and from rain run-off was channeled away and not allowed to collect and erode foundations on the surface. This is an enormous problem for the remaining stations that are currently under construction on the way to Piazza Municipio and the port, especially the station that will be called Martiri (see map at top). It is a three-tier affair leading down from the top street surface at Monte di Dio (aka Pizzofalcone, also Mt. Echia) in front of the church of S. Maria degli Angeli, a short distance up and to the west of the Royal Palace along the street called Via Chiaia. The intermediate tier is at the street level of via Chiaia, itself. The bottom level is the train tunnel. This photo (above right) is about a year old and shot from the top street surface in front of the church. The shaft is square and about 20 meters on a side. It is meant to lead down to the second level, via Chiaia, 40 meters below. They have made progress since the photo was taken but the deeper they go the more nervous people get. The shaft is surrounded on all sides by buildings which could collapse.

  • (Mar 6) Aw, c'mon! Isn't there any good news? OK. I see that the newest university in Naples, the Partenope (main campus here), is continuing to spread out. They have acquired the old phone company premises, the Telecom building (alias the Pacanowski building, the modern building in the center of the photo on the right) overlooking the sea from the Monte di Dio hill (not too near that Metro Station, thank goodness!). There are 25 classrooms and places for 2,300 students, ample office space, meeting halls, cafeteria, library, etc. etc. spread over 11 stories of the building. There is a multi-level car-garage for parking and supposedly three elevators from the uni premises down to street level near Piazza Vittoria and one public elevator from near the uni down to Santa Lucia and sea-level. I know that last one is not yet in service, but I don't know about the others. The building is from 1959-66. The architect, Davide Pacanowski (1905-98), was born in Poland and became a naturalized Italian. He has numerous works throughout Italy, including the upper station of the cable-car on Capri as well as some villas on the Posillipo hill in Naples. He was a student of Le Corbusier, and the Telecom building (now the Partenope University) is typical of post-war "modern" Neapolitan architecture. Pacanowski, a Jew, was interned under the Fascist racial laws during WWII near the town of Sepino. He put his energies to work helping to excavate and catalog the ruins of the nearby ancient Roman town of Saepinum, for which he was made an honorary citizen of Sepino after the war.

  • courtyard of the Girolamini      
  • (Mar 9) So much for the good news. Preliminary hearings are about to start (so maybe this really is good news because they caught the bastards!) in the arrests of 14 persons charged with criminal conspiracy and the theft of about 1500 precious book and documents from the library of the Girolamini (for additional items on that institution, click here). One of the accused is the former director of the library! The crime entailed removing the materials and then altering the library catalogs to remove traces of the stolen items. In monetary terms, the loss is estimated at about 20 million euros. Some of the items have been recovered; others may be recoverable, but some may not. Interpol is now on the case and is covering possible sales at various auction houses in Europe. The library, itself, dates back to 1586 and is the oldest public library in the city. In the 1700s many of the acquisitions were overseen by none other than Giambattista Vico, who lived right around the corner. That's how historically important this place is. And through all of this, the library, of course, has been closed to the public. (Also see this similar item from 2018.)

  • (Mar 14) Now that the NATO HQ has moved up to the sunny shores of Lago Patria a few miles to the north, the future disposition of what used to be NATO HQ in Bagnoli is up for grabs, and everybody is grabbing. (In the photo, right, the ex-HQ is the 40 hectare (100 acre) green patch in the middle. It is about 1 km from the Bagnoli coast line, visible in the lower left-hand corner). This morning the papers announced that the historic Palazzo Santa Lucia is now up for sale. (It is not far from the Egg Castle in Naples and is historic in that it's from the great urban renewal of 1900 called the risanamento). For decades the building has housed the administrative offices for the Campania region of Italy.

    There are a few possibilities, and it is not clear if they might exclude each other or whether they might somehow co-exist. One would turn the ex-HQ into a sort of second Centro Direzionale, the new Civic Center in the eastern part of Naples; in that case you would move as many offices as possible from downtown Naples out to Bagnoli in the west, including those of the Campania administration. You would thus, so the reasoning goes, free up such buildings as the Palazzo Santa Lucia for other uses such as hotel space for tourism. Another possibility is to return the space in Bagnoli to about what it used to be when it started out in 1940. Originally, it was a "Young People's College" named Colleggio Ciano (named for Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law); it housed and educated about 2,500 boys. The modern incarnation sees it as a giant youth facility including schools, sports facilities, leisure activities, etc. Yet another plan would turn it all or partially into a university. [Nov 2013 date here.] [Jan 2016 update here]
    This item is also included on the Consolidated Bagnoli page.

  • (Mar 19) Without looking at actual statistics on tourism in Italy, I am guessing that the two best-known Roman archaeological sites in the nation are the Colosseum in Rome and the ancient town of Pompeii near Naples. Whatever other sites might be on the top ten, I suspect that one of the most important historical sites is not included; that is, the Villa Jovis (photo, right) on the isle of Capri. This is not some obscure site of little interest; it is the residence from which Tiberius ruled the mighty Roman empire at the time of Christ. According to sources at FIA (Fondo italiano per l'ambiente/Italian Fund for the environment) the site is in terrible condition. It had been open until recently on reduced hours (because of cut-backs in staff, the usual no-money routine, etc.) but has now actually been closed completely to the public for a number of weeks. FIA has planned its annual spring grand opening (at least for a few days) of about 700 sites throughout Italy that are generally unavailable to the public. The Villa Jovis apparently won't make that list either, due to the run-down condition of the site. There are some sites in Italy that have received private sponsorship and international help, but no one seems to be running to save the Villa Jovis.
  • (Mar 21) A few days after Pope Francis was elected, he mentioned to Cardinal and Archbishop of Naples, Crescenzio Sepe, that he (the pope) had "an aunt in Castellammare" (just a few miles from Naples at the beginning of the Sorrentine peninsula). That was enough to occasion a few items in the morning papers, including the phrase, "The hunt is on!" I'm not sure if they have found anyone yet, and I'm not sure why they would necessarily want to, except to get some advice on lottery numbers. As it turns out, the pope was really talking about a cousin and not an aunt in Castellammare. Her name was Iride Montenegro; she was the daughter of the pope's aunt (his father's sister), thus she was a first cousin. She wound up in Castellammare because she married an engineer employed at the large shipyards there. Iride passed away in the 1990s, and her husband a few years later. They are both interred near Montecatini (in Tuscany). They had no children. I think that means that the new pope has no nieces or nephews in Castellammare, but then I am not infallible on such matters.

  • (Apr 7) Oooops! The plan was simple: (1) find one of those Automatic Teller Machines located in front of a bank; (2) plant an explosive charge on the front; (3) detonate same; (4) collect all those nice euro bank-notes that come fluttering down all around you on the street; (5) run. Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5 worked really well. Number 4 had a glitch, however; the explosion blew all the money into the bank and beyond the reach of this gang that couldn't shoot straight. The cash thus lay on the floor of a local Naples bank the other night till employees arrived to pick it up the next morning. Police are rounding up the usual suspects just so they can laugh in their faces.

  • (Apr 8) This year's edition of the America's Cup regatta in Naples is due to start in a few days. (Notes on last year are here.) Almost everyone I know is unhappy about it, especially those who have to drive to work in downtown Naples in the morning. Last year, weather was a problem for sailing, but the new seaside pedestrian and bicycle zone (converted from a busy street for car traffic, via Francesco Caracciolo on map) was fine. Car traffic flowed into and out of the city along the alternate route, the parallel road above the park (Riviera di Chiaia on map). This year, the collapse of a single building just off the upper left corner of the map has changed all that (see the first item, above). That collapse closed Riviera di Chiaia, and traffic was rerouted back to the sea-side road (so much for pedestrians and bikes). Then, preparations for the regatta started about 10 days ago, at which time that sea-side was closed, and all traffic coming into the city from the west was rerouted onto Corso Vittorio Emanuele (well above the area shown on map), a great east-west road in the 1850s, when it was built, but now totally inadequate to handle the traffic. (Information on that street is in this entry.) It is also the street I live on, so I am particularly unhappy. The city hall was besieged by demonstrators the other day, all with the same general gripe: Who needs a damned boat race?! The mayor encourages citizens to suck it up and carry on for the good of the sporting and cultural life of our fair city. You just can't give up because none of the roads work!  And, anyway, it'll all be over soon and things will be back to normal --whatever that is.

Competitors at Mergellina harbor before the race            

  • (Sunday, April 14) The sailors can't complain about the weather this year. It was 23 degrees C. (73 F.) and sunny with a good breeze over the Bay of Naples for the first full day of the America's Cup. A great day for sailing. Friend Larry Ray (conossieur of Naples and sailing fan with his own entries on this website writes from Gulfport, Mississippi):
  • Traffic nightmare in Napoli for a couple of weeks with the big race going on. Being an old retired sailor I watched it last year with the digital real-time overlay of the course lines and live video and audio from the boats. This technology has made a normally yawn-producing regatta out offshore with the Committee Boat, mark boats anchored and boats tacking and rounding marks, something with lots of speed and action.

    These composite hull cats with the aeronautical fixed sails that actually produce lift, vertical instead of horizontal like an airplane, move at incredible speeds. And it is all done right on the edge of that new max speed "close to the wind" meaning the boat can flip right over if the skipper holds it at or past the edge too long without "falling off" the wind. These sailors are all flat-bellied pros that have been racing since their yacht clubs started them in summer junior sailing programs at age nine or so.

  • Will the America's Cup concentration of attention allow any work to continue on the stabilization of the gumbo mud there in the area where the end of the palazzo sheared off?"...[See top of this page]..."Linea 6 is cursed as is everything in its long delayed path!

    What can I say, Larry? The city is otherwise at a standstill, but send me a few "real-time overlays"; with all that new technology, even I could have a flat belly.

  • (Monday, April 22) "Take two of these t-shirts and call me in the morning." Well, the regatta is over. It was a splendid week for sailing...sunny and windy. The papers are ecstatic about how well Naples handled the affair. Drivers in traffic jams are less enthusiastic. I'm still not sure who won although I studied the results for, oh, 30 or 40 seconds. "Win" means move on to the next stage on the sea-road to the finals in San Francisco. Maybe I don't care. The event was marred by two doctors who were part of an ambulance squad set up in the sailing village at seaside to handle emergencies. They were busted for pilfering America's Cup shirts, jackets, caps, and assorted souvenir-type paraphernalia from an equipment container belonging to one of the racing teams. They said they found the duffel bags full of stuff just lying around, abandoned and were on their, uh, turn them ... to give the items ...uh...yes... give them to ... the poor children in their hospital's ...leukemia ward.... OK, officer. You need a nice pair of America's Cup sun-glasses?


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