Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Jan 2009                          

The Tangenziale Highway of Naples

Some cities have what is called a “ring road” (raccordo annullare in Italian). Rome, for example, has one —a highway around the city. You approach Rome from any direction, get on that ring road and then drive clockwise or counterclockwise entirely around the city to continue on your way, or you can use one of the many exits from the ring to drive into the city at the point most convenient for you.The other kind of road that lets you by-pass a city is called a tangenziale. Naples has one, the A-56. (No one I know really remembers that number. It’s just “the tangenziale”. In the amusingly broken Italian of US military stationed in Naples, it may be called the “tan-gee” or worse, the “tange”, pronounced like the first part of the fruit, tangerine. Don’t ask what they do with tongue-twisters such as Domiziana, Gricignano or Capodichino!)

The idea for a road to avoid downtown Naples is not a new one. As early as 1850, when there was only horse and horse-drawn traffic and when the downtown area was much smaller and less congested, that idea, indeed, occurred to King Ferdinand II. At the time, if you wanted to go from Pozzuoli, another town entirely, almost at the western end of the Gulf of Naples, into Naples, itself, you essentially followed the old Roman road, the Domiziana, through the towns of Bagnoli and Fuorigrotta, then through the still functioning ancient tunnel, the "Neapolitan crypt", which passed beneath the Posillipo hill to Mergellina. From there, you trotted along the Riviera di Chiaia, went along the sea through Santa Lucia and into and then simply through the city.

The king built a new road —an early “tangenziale,” if you willand named for his wife. It was Corso Maria Teresa, today Corso Vittorio Emanuele. You could start at Mergellina, angle up away from the sea on the new road and to the east above and past the populated sections of Chiaia and the Spanish Quarters and move along what was then a sparsely populated (even bucolic) area below the San Martino hill; then, you turned down a mile or so later and were at the National Museum, effectively having passed by the congested city. From there, it was easy to turn north onto via Santa Teresa degli Scalzi, itself a major elevated road built some 50 years earlier, leading over the densely populated section of Naples, the Sanità and out of town past the Capodimonte palace. From the museum, you could also go straight to the east just outside the old city walls of the city along via Foria towards the other end of Naples. In either case, you avoided most of the city. Other seaside roads in the early 20th century —via Caracciolo and via Marina— also gave you another kind of tangenziale along the coast for the new motor-car traffic. You started at Mergellina and drove straight along the coast and past the port to get out of town. In the days before every family had two cars, that was actually not a bad route.

By the time of post WWII Naples, however, the tire-tracks were on the wall. In the 1960s, the city decided to build an entirely new road, the tangenziale, from Pozzuoli to the airport. It would run in back of the city —that is, on the north side; the bulk modern Naples would then lie between the new road and the sea. A number of exits would take you down into the city; the corresponding on-ramps would also be a quick way out of the city.

The first stretch of the new tangenziale was opened in 1972. For only 100 lire you could by-pass some of the city on the way in from Pozzuoli. Today, this six-lane divided highway runs all the way from Pozzuoli to the Naples airport. Both ends hook up to other multi-lane roads; in the east, the tangenziale connects to the major north-south autostrada in Italy, the A-1, and in the west to the road that runs up the coast to Gaeta.

Road construction behind Naples meant going through and between hills; the 15-mile stretch includes three long tunnels and a number of overpasses, one of which is almost a mile long. It was all major engineering, but not unusual in a city where people have been digging tunnels and quarries for many centuries. Along the tangenziale there are ample filling stations and rest stops, an SOS call-box every kilometer, and 14 on-and-off-ramps. Modern city traffic in Naples is unimaginable without the tangenziale. Sometimes, it is unimaginable with the tangenziale, but I have been stuck in traffic in the ring-road around Rome, too. (At those times, you just relax and beat on the horn like everyone else.) The 14 on/off-ramps on the tangenziale are numbered from the airport in the east to Pozzuoli in the west. They are Capodichino, Secondigliano, Doganella, Corso Malta, Capodimonte, Arenella, Zona ospedaliera, Camaldoli, Vomero, Fuorigrotta, Agnano, Pozzuoli /Via Campana, Cuma, and Pozzuoli /Arco Felice.

People thought that the original 1972 100-lire toll was going to disappear once the road was paid for. That's what they city said, and they wouldn't actually lie about something like that, would they? After all, it is true that there are no tolls on roads in southern Italy, but they apparently mean southern southern (sic) Italy. (That is, you can drive from Salerno, just south of Naples, hundreds of miles down to the tip of the boot of Italy for nothing.) The tangenziale was finally paid for and, glory-be!, the lire did disappear. Now you paid euros. Today, the toll is 70 €-cents. In purchasing power, the original toll of 100 lire was also the cost of a single bus ticket in 1972. Today, such a ticket cost €1.10. Thus, the tangenziale toll has not  increased as much as other things. But still...they promised...

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