Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews  entry Feb 2003

The Paupers' Hotel

     © by David Taylor

Via Foria, the road leading from the National Museum in the direction of Capodichino, is particularly rich in monuments of the Bourbon period of rule in Naples. Not the least impressive of these is the imposing building found in Piazza Carlo III and now known as the Reale Albergo dei Poveri (the Paupers' Hotel). It is adjacent to the Royal Botanic Gardens and forms part of the grandiose plans which the Bourbon rulers had for the ennoblement of their capital.

Seen today, the Albergo, despite its dimensions, presents a sad spectacle: the façade has only recently been liberated of the scaffolding placed there after the earthquake of ten years ago; seen laterally the scale of the earthquake damage becomes apparent — a section of the building collapsed. The entire structure appears abandoned to its fate unless one ventures beneath the arches and discovers that a building that was created of noble origins and intentions now houses garages, a plastics factory and a gymnasium. Yet while these uses are a little out of keeping with the original purpose of the building, it comes as something of a relief to discover that the abandonment is not total!

The idea of building the Albergo is generally accredited to Queen Maria, who suggest the project to her husband, Charles III, as a means of inculcating the spirit of work and community in the poor of the city. Charles wanted a good architect, and in 1749 Pope Benedict XIV sent him Ferdinand Fuga, a Florentine, who prepared a project  that was  accepted even before a site had been chosen.  Various locations were rejected, but ground was finally obtained in Via Foria, which at that time was taking on the aspect of a type of honourable entrance to the city. It is interesting to think that despite the present  considerable dimensions of the building, we see only one fifth of the work that was originally planned but which ultimately remained incomplete due to lack of funds.

Construction began in 1751 following a Royal Decree which stated: "we have seen fit to raise in this capital a hospice for the poor of every sex and age, and therein introduce the just and necessary skills that will ensure that the work is pleasing to the eyes of God and of benefit to this city and realm."

The original contribution of the King to the project, then known as the Reclusorio, was 24,198 ducats, but further intervention on his part was necessary despite fund raising amongst the religious orders and rich of the city. At one point the Pope closed eleven Augustan monasteries and gave their wealth to the project. Further monies were found when the King dedicated twenty years' salt tax from Oltranto and Basilicato — 200,000 ducats — to the building and upkeep of the hospice; this contribution was later extended by ten years. Additionally, taxes were exacted from theatres, and collections were made during the period of Carnevale.

Despite all this fund-raising, building was slow and eventually suspended, although the part of the hospice already built was functional. Construction work began again in 1816 and continued for a further 10 years at a cost of 240,000 ducats. The total cost of the hospice had now reached 3,000,000 lire!

Before and during the rule of Ferdinand II, the role of the hospice began to change: workshops and schools were introduced and eventually a juvenile remand centre and military barracks. By 1840 the idea was being discussed of making the hospice into a sort of collection point for the city's beggars. The rot had set in and despite ideas for its reform after the Wars of Unification, little was done to change the situation until the inmates finally revolted in 1866. The investigatory commission set up to study the mutiny discovered horrifying conditions within the institute. The able-bodied, the blind, deaf mutes and invalids were all mixed indiscriminately and only young men received any form of education. The condition of the women proved particularly alarming.

Since the days in which the hospice has ceased to function as such the city finds itself with a large building on its hands, which it seems unable to decide what to do with. The state of the building means that any project for its reintegration into the life of the city will be very expensive. Suggestions have been made for its use as university premises, a library, public offices, private institutions; the building was even recently listed amongst properties that might be sold off to help solve the city's debts. Whatever its final fate, one hopes that it may in some way reflect the original spirit with which it was built.

[For another item on the Pauper's Hotel, click here.]

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