Today, the castle is the seat of the Neapolitan Society of Homeland History (Società Napoletana di Storia Patria) and of the Naples Committee of the Institute for the History of the Italian Resurgence (Comitato di Napoli dell’Istituto per la Storia del Risorgimento Italiano).
The Civic Museum (Museo Civico) is also located in the castle, to which the Palatine Chapel and the museum itineraries on the first and second floors belong.
In 1266, Charles I of Anjou, after defeating the Swabians, ascended the throne of Sicily and transferred the capital from Palermo to Naples. Until then, the royal residence of Naples was Castel Capuano, but the Norman fortress was inadequate for this function, and the king wanted to build a new castle near the sea.
The project was assigned to the French architect Pierre de Chaule, and the works for the construction of Castrum Novum began in 1279, to finish only three years later. However, the castle remained unused, because Charles I of Anjou, following the revolt of the Sicilian Vespers, lost the crown of Sicily in favor of Peter III of Aragon.
The new king, Charles II the Lame, son of Charles I of Anjou, moved to the new residence in 1289, which was enlarged and embellished. In 1309, after his death, his son, Robert the Wise, transformed the castle into a center of culture, thanks to his passion for the arts.
From 1343, the castle was the residence of Joanna I, Queen of Naples. Then, between 1399 and 1414, Ladislaus of Naples resided in the castle. Joanna II of Naples succeeded her brother Ladislaus, as the last Angevin sovereign.
Alfonso V of Aragon conquered the throne of Naples in 1443, and completely rebuilt the fortress in its present form. Alfonso entrusted the renovation of the old castle to an Aragonese architect, Guillem Sagrera, who rebuilt it in Gothic-Catalan style.
The five round towers reaffirmed the defensive role of the castle. The importance of the building as a royal residence was instead underlined by the insertion of a triumphal arch as its entrance, a masterpiece of the Neapolitan Renaissance, the work of the architect Francesco Laurana.
The conspiracy of the barons against King Ferdinand I, son of Alfonso, took place in 1487, in Sala dei Baroni (Hall of the Barons). Ferdinand I invited all the conspirators in this hall, arrested them and punished many of them with the death sentence.
The castle was sacked by Charles VIII of France in 1494. After the fall of Ferdinand II in 1496, and then of Frederick I in 1503, the Kingdom of Naples was annexed to the crown of Spain. Castel Nuovo lost its function as a royal residence, becoming a simple military garrison.
Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, the castle declined, being surrounded in time by all sorts of buildings and sheds.
The castle was reorganized by Charles of Bourbon, future King of Spain, who ascended the throne of Naples in 1734. Another intervention took place in 1823, by Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, who renovated the northern facade of the castle.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the castle was freed from various structures and warehouses erected between the 16th and the 18th centuries, and the facades were returned to the 15th century appearance.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The castle, surrounded by a moat, has a trapezoidal plan marked by five large cylindrical towers, crowned by battlements on corbels. The three towers opposite the sea are named, from left to right, Torre di San Giorgio, Torre di Mezzo and Torre di Guardia, while the two facing the sea are called Torre dell’Oro and Torre di Beverello.
Between the two towers that flank the entrance, a marble triumphal arch was erected, intended to celebrate the memory of King Alfonso V of Aragon. The work, inspired by Roman triumphal arches, has a lower arch, framed by Corinthian columns, with a bas-relief above depicting King Alfonso. A second arch overlaps the first, framed by Ionic columns.
Above the second arch, there are the statues of the four virtues: Temperance, Justice, Fortress and Generosity, surmounted by a semicircular tympanum with another bas-relief, and on top the statue of San Michele (Saint Michael).
The Palatine Chapel (Cappella Palatina) is the only surviving element of the 14th-century Angevin structure. Although damaged in the earthquake of 1456, the chapel was later restored. The facade of the chapel overlooking the internal courtyard has a Renaissance portal with reliefs by Andrea dell’Aquila and Francesco Laurana, and a rose window by the Catalan Matteo Forcimanya.
At the end of the chapel, there is a spiral staircase accessible from a door on the left which allows you to go up to the Hall of the Barons.
The Hall of the Barons, also known as the Throne Hall, is the main hall of the castle. The hall was frescoed by Giotto around 1330, but the frescoes were lost. Under the Aragonese domination, the room was practically rebuilt by Guillem Sagrera.
The large hall is covered by an umbrella vault with low pointed lunettes, reinforced by ribs that converge in the center, dominated by a luminous oculus. The floor of the hall is decorated with white and blue glazed majolica from Valencia.
Cappella delle Anime del Purgatorio (Chapel of the Souls in Purgatory) was built in the second half of the 16th century, by the will of the Spanish viceroys who intended to change the appearance of the castle. The interior features a Baroque decoration with frescoes and panel paintings enclosed in stucco and gilded wooden frames.
The Chapel of San Francesco di Paola is a small chapel dating back to the 15th century, which is accessed through the Room of Charles V, on the first floor of the castle. The chapel was consecrated in 1688, after a restoration in Baroque style, as evidenced by a marble plaque placed on the entrance door.
Inside the castle, there is a museum itinerary inaugurated in 1990 that starts from the 14th-century Palatine Chapel, passing through the Armory Hall up to the first and second levels of the castle, the latter intended for painting and sculpture.
On the first floor of the museum, there are frescoes and paintings from a period ranging from the 15th century up to the 18th century, by artists such as Battistello Caracciolo, Fabrizio Santafede, Luca Giordano, Francesco Solimena and Mattia Preti. On the second floor, however, there are exhibited works from the last three centuries.
HOW TO GET THERE
Castel Nuovo is located about 2.6 kilometers away from the main railway station of the city, Napoli Centrale. The closest Metro station, Municipio, is located about 240 meters away, in Piazza Municipio, on the Metro Line L1. The closest bus stop, Acton-Molo Beverello, is located near the castle, in Via Ammiraglio Ferdinando Acton, on the bus Lines 151 and 154.
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