Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   Jan. 2011, update July 2022
Piazza Bellini
The first two items appeared separately in the Around Naples Encyclopedia on the dates indicated
and have been consolidated here onto a single page.
The third item was added in July 2022

entry Mar. 2003
rev. Jan. 2013
1. Bellini (Piazza)

This majolica tile view shows the square in the late 1700s.
The view is to the north. The main street is via Costantinopoli.
The statue of Bellini (below) was added in 1886.

Piazza Bellini is on via Costantinopoli, appropriately a few yards from the music conservatory, San Pietro a Maiella. The square is at a point where many historical threads of the city come together as they do in so many places in Naples. Bellini was one of the founders of Italian lyric opera. He was born in Sicily in 1801, but came to study and compose in Naples in 1819. The statue of Bellini is the work of Alfonso Bazzico (1825-1901). It was installed in 1886 and showed the allegorical representations of Norma, Giulietta, Amina and Elvira, four heroines of his operas. The city decided to remove them, possibly to protect them from vandalism. There is no word as to when, if ever, they are to be returned. (Among Bazzico's other works in Naples is the large bronze equestrian statue of Victor Emanuel II, the first king of united Italy, now at Piazza G. Bovio/alias Piazza della Borsa and originally installed at Piazza Municipio in 1900.)

Piazza Bellini is the site of a section (photo on right, below) of the original west wall of the Greek city of Neapolis, the massive blocks still lying where they were put in place four centuries before Christ. The wall ran the length of what is now via Costantinopoli; presumably, if you could tear up that street and tear down all the nearby buildings and dig down a few meters, you would find the whole wall, portals and all —in addition to making modern residents very unhappy. 

The square is also at the point along via Costantinopoli where the Spanish chose to breach the original walls of the city in the first “modern” expansion of Naples, in the 1500s, putting in place the gate right across the street that now leads to Port’Alba and Piazza Dante. There are some prominent buildings in Piazza Bellini. One is Palazzo Conca  (the prominent building in sunlight in the top photo on the right as well as the white building in the upper-right quadrant of the tile image at the top). The origins of the building go back to 1488 and it has long been seen as one of Naples’ major repositories of period furnishings and works of art, belonging, as it did during its long history, to two of the city’s most important families, the Concas and, later, the Orsinis.  The premises were also the site of the church and convent of Sant' Antonio delle Monache a Port' Alba and now house a university library and research center. (See that link.)

On the west side of via Costantinopoli, directly across from the statue of the composer, is the Palazzo Firrao (photo, left), also known as Palazzo Bisignano, built in the 1500s. The Baroque façade of the building is due to the facelift given the building in the 1600s by the greatest Neapolitan architect of the age, Cosimo Fanzago, whose countless other works in the city include the arched courtyard within the monastery of San Martino and the chapel in the Royal Palace. 

The façade is ornamental in the extreme and is listed in a 1718 catalog as one of the "most conspicuous" in the city. Among other things, the façade presents an array of statues of seven kings of Spain, ranging from the 15th century to Charles II (1661-1700)

Today, the square is a gathering place and watering hole for whatever passes as a ‘Bohemian’ element these days. It is, as noted, right next door to the music conservatory—and right down the street from the Royal Art Academy on via Costantinopoli. Music shops, coffee houses and art galleries abound, and there is an open-air antique fair on Sundays.

entry Sept. 2003
2. Bellini (Piazza)

piazza bellini collagePersons described in the morning paper as “Neapolitan intellectuals” have written an open letter to the city administration protesting the proposed renovation of Piazza Bellini. 

I am always amused by the definition of people as “intellectuals,” as opposed to just plain “intelligent” or even “very intelligent”. It makes you wonder if “intellectual” is a profession or, at least, an official position. Maybe they have a guild, union or club you can join where you get an ID card or decoder ring and learn a secret handshake, all contingent upon your oath that when others go bowling with the boys on Wednesdays, you go deconstruct Kierkegaard and smoke French cigarettes.

Whatever the case, this time they are right. The charm of Piazza Bellini is that it is cockeyed and a bit seedy. Is it dirty? Yes, it can be, but that condition, says the letter, won’t be helped by getting rid of the irregular, bleacher-type irregularities that make you step up once or twice and then down again as you cross the square. If you level the square and turn it into the planned black-and-white checkerboard design with a shallow platter-shaped fountain in the middle (with no water!), put in a single central palm tree (after getting rid of all the other trees), and even out the staggered entrances to the “literary” cafes that open onto one side of the square—if you do all that, you will then have a useless and inappropriate bit of urban surgery that will have cost the city 700 thousand euros—and it will still get dirty. 

Why not leave the square the way it is and just clean it regularly? Also, clean the statue of the square’s eponym, Vincenzo Bellini. The statue is the target of graffiti vandals and has been so abused over the years, that the four secondary busts of women from the composer’s operas have had to be removed from the niches that surround the base of the central figure of Bellini, himself. (In the course of the removal and transfer to God knows where, one of the busts disappeared.)

Modernization is not the answer to everything, says the letter. The city modernized the Villa Comunale and no one likes it (what happened to all the trees?); the city modernized Piazza Dante after the recent subway construction and turned it into wide-open flat space with no shade and very few places to sit. And so forth and so on.  Spend the money on regular maintenance and Piazza Bellini will be just fine.

July 2022 update

As of now, today, July 12, 2022, 0345 Central European Summer Time and the Livin' Sure Ain't Gettin' Easier (aka Daylight Saving Time) Piazza Bellini has changed but is still quite recognizable and pleasant looking. The statue of Bellini is still there. There are still  some
bleacher-type irregularities that make you step up once or twice and then down again as you cross the square, but the prominent change is the charming "literary coffee bar" (image), the "Intra Moenia" (within the city walls). You really can sit and enjoy coffee and pastries and a few snacks and wonder what happened to the good old days.

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