Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry May 2005

ext Stop—Neapolis!

If you go to the mammoth National Archaeological Museum in Naples, you get archaeology —which is to say that if you eat, drink and breathe archaeology, you will come out totally sated, slaked and hyperventilated. That is as it should be. Yet, unless you know how to find it, you will still miss an absolute jewel of a small display on the premises. Beneath the premises, really. At street level, beneath the steps leading up to the main entrance of the museum, within the entrance to the new "Museo" stop of the Metropolitana (subway train line) is an archaeological exhibit derived from the years of digging that have gone into the construction of that subway. Artifacts, graphics and video displays lay out the history of Naples and her earlier sister city, Parthenope, from prehistoric times through the 1500s.

Since metro construction was begun in Naples [see "Further entries...", at bottom of page], an entire generation of Neapolitans has been born, come of age and is now busily making more Neapolitans who are, just as impatiently as their elders, awaiting completion of the metro. The entire affair has produced times of great discomfort and stress for the population: squares and streets have been torn up for years on end; traffic has had to be rerouted; public transportation has slowed to a crawl or dead stop; and the noise and general confusion have been unbearable. Some of that is due to general problems of engineering: trying to interconnect a city built on a hill is particularly difficult. Interestingly, those problems —building the stations at the higher parts of the Vomero hill— are solved; those stations are open.

The other problem is more of a cultural one and is what this new museum annex is all about: every time you stick a shovel into the ground near sea level in Naples, you strike archaeological pay dirt. Maybe it's part of the Spanish fortifications (from the 1500s) of the Angevin fortress at Piazza Municipio; maybe it's the actual Roman port, itself; maybe it's part of the original Greek wall of the city or a Roman imperial building at Piazza Bovio. Any and all of that is possible and, as a matter of fact, all of that has happened within the last few years.

Of the 20 stations meant to connect the highest area of Vomero with the downtown area and the main train station at Piazza Garibaldi and then the new Civic Center, eleven of them are well above sea level. All of those have been completed. Three more in the "lower city" in the heart of town, the stations of Materdei, Museum and Piazza Dante, have also been completed. All of that is up and running; trains now connect the uppermost reaches of Vomero with Piazza Dante. The remaining six stations are Toledo, Municipio, Università, Duomo, Garibaldi, and Centro Direzionale, all of which are at varying stages of construction. The first four of those, plus  the finished stations of Museo and Piazza Dante have all dug down into some piece of history, down into one or more of the six significant layers of archaeology that lie below the city: prehistoric, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval, and Aragonese/Spanish. That is what the new museum represents and presents. The museum is, in fact, a prototype "metro/museum." Others will open as the stations themselves go into operation. 

The entrance to the new museum is what greets you as you come up the escalator from the Museo station. You can either go left and out onto the street, or call in sick on your cell-phone and walk straight into this magnificent display. (Do you even have to think about it?)

The top photo on the right of this text is of the general interior of the premises. Below that is a photo of one of the wall displays; it is an aerial view of the construction going on at Piazza Municipio, the square adjacent to the Angevin fortress (on the right in the photo) and directly in front of the passenger terminal of the port of Naples. The Museo-Metro is concerned with explaining with graphic and video displays what is going on at the unfinished stations at sea-level along the mile stretch between the fortress and the main train station to the east. This photo is already out of date, since the road on the right side of the square leading down to the port is now closed off as construction bores beneath the street from the fortress grounds to the center of the square, the site of the old Roman harbor. Below that is an artist's rendition of what the completed train station will look like as trains and passengers move beneath what used to be the ancient port. The last photo is of a scale model of a Roman ship, three of which were recently excavated from the harbor and removed for restoration. The plan is to return them to the site, which will then house another fine little combination of train station and museum.


Further entries on the metropolitana

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