Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Apr. 2003, update 2014, 2023                  

                The Royal Palace

Overlooking the Bay of Naples is the long red southern facade of the Royal Palace. It is one of four palaces that the Bourbons of Naples used  during their rule of the Kingdom of Naples (1730-1860): one is in Caserta, another at Capodimonte overlooking Naples, and the third is in Portici on the slopes of Vesuvius. Those three were actually built by the Bourbons. This one, however, is somewhat older. The building was actually conceived by Ferdinando Ruiz de Castro, Count of Lemos, Spanish viceroy in Naples between 1599 and 1603, to be a fitting residence for King Phillip III of Spain, who was planning a visit to the city. The architect chosen was Domenico Fontana (1543-1607). The building was put up on the site of the older Spanish vice-royal residence (the link in the small yellow circle on this 1566 Laffréry map).

From the original version of 1600, the palace has undergone numerous architectural additions and changes, including some by Luigi Vanvitelli in the mid-1700s and then by Gaetano Genovese in 1838 after a fire had damaged much of the palace. The main entrance is on the west side of the building on Piazza Plebiscito, where the facade displays a mini-history lesson: statues of the rulers of the eight dynasties to rule Naples since the foundation of the Kingdom of Naples in the twelfth century. They are, from left to right: Roger the Norman, Frederick II of Swabia, Charles of Angiò, Alfonse of Aragon, Charles V, Charles III of Bourbon, Gioacchino Murat, and Victor Emanuel II.

[See this link to "Eight Statues"]

Stairway at the main entrance
of the Royal palace

From the main entrance you can enter the palace grounds and visit most of the building. The central courtyard contains the bronze portals that were once part of the Maschio Angioino (or Castel Nuovo), and in the inner courtyard there is a cannonball embedded in one of the gates such that it could only have been fired from inside! Either that, or, the story goes, the gate was taken as booty by Charles VIII of France, whose ship was attacked on the way back to France by the Genoese. The gate was set up to ward off a cannonade and one of the balls got stuck. The gate was subsequently returned to Naples by the victorious Genoese and put back in place, cannonball and all. 

Today the palace and adjacent grounds house the San Carlo Theater, a museum, the National Library of Naples and a number of offices, including those of the regional tourist board. Also, the premises serve for various art shows and exhibits throughout the year. 

An irony connected with the Royal Palace is that Phillip III never got around to visiting the city and staying in the house built just for him.

[also see this update from 2014]

This site was one of the 22 Royal Bourbon properties in the Kingdom of Naples. They range from the large Royal palaces to smaller residences and hunting lodges. This is the complete list with links to entries:
Palace Naples
Palace Capodimonte
Palace Portici

Palace Caserta
villa d'Elboeuf 
Villa Favorita
Palazzo d'Avalos
Lake Agnano
San Leucio
Palace Quisisana
Demanio di Calvi


  ====================update March 2023========================

                                     The Royal Palace on the Sea
by Ottavio Ragone and Conchita Sannino
                                                   photo by Riccardo Siano

This pamphlet will come out in early April, inserted in La Repubblica, both on-line and in their paper edition. The theme is "The Royal Palace, In Search of a Lost Identity". I'm not sure exactly what this is supposed to be. What follows here is not a translation of their article, but my musings on what they call an "ambitious project".
They want to see the Royal Palace return to what it used to be — "the center of the cultural and social life of the city... returned to what it was historically."

  Modern Italian geopolitics has made that quite impossible; before the unification of Italy in 1860, the Royal Palace was the seat of the Kingdom of Naples. There were other royal residences, yes, but this was THE Royal Palace, amidst the pomp and trappings of majesty, this was where the Kingdom lived. The square in front was Largo del Palazzo —Palace Square.
  Today, that square is called Piazza del Plebiscito -Plebiscite Square. (The name commemorates the plebiscite, the public balloting, of October 1860 that ratified the annexation of the defeated Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (aka Kingdom of Naples) to the Savoy kingdom of Sardinia (aka Piedmont-Sardinia), to form the modern nation state of Italy. "Ratify" here is meaningless. Nation A conquers Nation B by force of arms. That is a fait accompli. Nation A won. Nation B lost. Nation A then says to Nation B, Is that ok with you? Here, you can vote on it. Put an X next to Yes or an X next to No. This is all a charade because nothing is going to change, but we want you to feel that you're part of the process.

The symbolic poetic justice here is that the Royal Palace used to be the center. Palace Square was a piece of space, a
nothingness. Now, it's the one great wide-open space for parades, parties, and outdoor installation art. (At one point. it was a grand parking lot!) You can go inside and visit the past, so to speak, and look at the old royal rooms, where the king lived. There's a very important National Library in there and a center for art restoration. The San Carlo Opera is annexed  on the north side (off the image on your left). But it used to be The Royal Palace on the Sea.

The editors of the paper are not idiots and not Neo-Bourbons* and no one is suggesting turning back the historical clock.
Let's undo the modern Italian Republic? No. The whole thing is a thinly veiled suggestion to clean up the area such that we
again see the gardens, statues, and buildings that are degraded
to reestablish the connection with the sea. Even
if that is all it is, it's  still a tall order.

*Neo-Bourbonism (Italian: Neoborbonismo) is nostalgia for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which went defunct in 1860 with the unification of Italy. The term was coined in 1960 a time when various autonomist movements in Italy sprang up. A northern equivalent might be the Lega Lombarda (The Northern League) and underwent a surge around 2011, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. The Neo-Bourbonist movement is supported by small political movements, amateur websites and prolific pseudo-historical publications.

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