Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry May 2003 - update June & July 2015

           Nisida (1);      (2) Carlo Poerio      (3) Youth Detention Facility

Quite by accident, I discovered a connection between two unrelated items (or so I thought) in Naples today. The tiny island off the tip of the cape that separates the bays of Naples and Pozzuoli is named Nisida. The original Greek settlers of the area called this small island Nesis. The Romans called it Nisida. It is here that Brutus plotted the assassination of Julius Caesar, and it is here that Cicero says apud illum multas horas in Néside—that he had a long talk with Brutus after the assassination to discuss the future of Rome. In the 1800s Nisida was the site of a Bourbon prison, then an Italian state penitentiary, and, now, a reformatory for juvenile offenders.

Nisida before the first indignity               

In the early 1900s Nisida suffered two indignities: one, it was joined to the mainland by a causeway, and, two, it was encroached upon by the unsightly steel industry (photo) in Bagnoli. That patch of industrial blight is (as of 2002) a thing of the past, as the Campania region and the city of Naples pursue plans to rejuvenate the entire Bagnoli area. Most of the physical plant of the ex-steel mill has already been torn down, and there is already a thriving "Science City" fair ground on the premises in Bagnoli (but see last paragraph, below). Currently, part of the island of Nisida is also home to the administrative headquarters of NAVSOUTH, the naval forces for NATO's Southern Command. Also, there is currently some hope of luring the next America's Cup to the area. That would require major investment in port facilities. At present, there is a small port for pleasure craft, and that is where I found myself this morning, helping my friend, Bill, get his splendid sailboat, Down East, into the water and noticing how uneasy I am with such phrases as "Avast!" "Belay that!" and "Batten down the hatches!" ("Stand by to repel boarders!" did give me a thrill just to pronounce, though. I think it even shivered my timbers.)

Later in the day, I was looking for an address on via Poerio in Naples. Just as you can get lost in Naples by going to the wrong via Caracciolo (see here), so, too, can you wind up on the wrong via Poerio. There is one named for Carlo Poerio (1802-67) and another for Alessandro Poerio (1802-1848). They were brothers, both intimately connected with the Risorgimento, the political movement to unify Italy. Interestingly, their father, Giuseppe Poerio (1775-1843) was a supporter of the Neapolitan Republic of 1799, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. A family of trouble-makers, clearly.

On the slopes of the Nisida crater are the ruins of what is thought to be the villa of Brutus. In the background are the town of Bagnoli, then Cape Posillipo, then Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.

In 1849, Carlo Poerio was sentenced by the Bourbon court of Naples to 24 years at hard labor for his part in the political turmoil in Naples of the previous year. He was sent to —here is the connection— Nisida. He and other prisoners were confined in such miserable conditions that William Gladstone, after a visit to the prison in 1851, felt compelled to write his two Letters to the Earl of Aberdeen on the State Prosecutions of the Neapolitan Government. In these letters, Gladstone coined the now famous description of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies as "the negation of God erected into a system of Government." Indignation throughout Europe was partially responsible for Poerio's release in 1858. He was exiled but returned to Italy in 1861. He died that year in Florence.  [For more on the Gladstone "Letters...," click here.]

update: June 2015 - The announcement in May of the closing of the Nisida youth detention facility in Bagnoli (the white buildings on the rim of the extinct crater in photo above right) is a reminder of just how much has changed over the years. In the last decade, the considerable NATO military presence in Bagnoli has evaporated. The NATO Joint Forces Command (JFC - formerly 'AFSouth') moved lock, stock and barrel out of Bagnoli and up the coast a few miles to a new facility on the shores of Lago Patria. Part of the military presence in Bagnoli was also the location of the headquarters of the Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe (NAVSOUTH HQ pictured, right) at the Nisida harbor. That went away in June of 2013 concurrently with the shift of the large JFC base from Bagnoli to Lago Patria. The naval HQ had been there since 1967 when it moved from its earlier facility at Malta. Component members of the participating military forces stationed at Nisida were either absorbed into their local national command structures or moved to NATO spaces at Lago Patria. The building pictured was handed over to the Italian navy and now serves as a logistics administration building. NAVSOUTH was deactivated and integrated into the Allied Maritime Command, located at Northwood in the United Kingdom. That is full-circle since that is where it all started in 1953 under the command of Rear Admiral Louis Mountbatten

Thus, at one time, most of the island of Nisida and adjacent waters seemed to have something to do with either Italian state services, such as the youth facility, or the large international military presence (NATO). There were, and still are, a relatively limited number of civilian leisure facilities such as beaches and mooring spaces for pleasure craft along the causeway top photo this page (built in the early part of 1900s) leading to the island, itself. It is hard to say anything definitive about the final disposition of any of Bagnoli given its long history of urban blight and entrenched crime. For example, the highly touted new Science City, symbol of the rebirth of Bagnoli, located just before the causeway, was burned to the ground by the mob in 2013. Back to the Youth Facility...My secret fear is that it is going to be sold off to private developers. A few years ago, I was joking with this item about "caves for a song." But they weren't kidding. So we shall see.

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