Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law through marriage to his younger sister, Caroline Bonaparte, and King of Naples from 1808 to 1815, started a project of urban renewal of the city during his reign. This affected the suburban area, which later became Piazza del Plebiscito, home to numerous convents and gardens, as well as a place frequented by criminals.
The French general ordered the demolition of the buildings and the construction of a square that was supposed to take the name of Foro Gioacchino. The works began in 1809, but were never completed due to the ousting of Joachim Murat from Naples and the restoration of the Bourbon crown.
Back to the throne, Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies decided to build a church in the square, and the competition was won by the architect Pietro Bianchi, who had partly rediscovered the old project of Murat.
Domenico Barbaia became responsible for building the church and the first stone was laid on 17 June 1816. The facade was finished in 1824, the interior decorations in 1836, while the statues were placed in 1839. The church was completed in 1846.
Inspired mainly by the Pantheon in Rome, Basilica of San Francesco di Paola is placed at the center of the colonnade of Piazza del Plebiscito. Access is given by a short marble staircase, through a pronaos with six Ionic columns, also of Carrara marble, built by Carlo Beccalli, and two side pillars supporting the architrave.
Above the lintel stands a triangular tympanum on which are placed, on the left a statue of San Francesco di Paola by Giuseppe Del Nero, on the right a statue of San Ferdinando di Castiglia and on the top a statue of the Religion, the latter two sculpted by Heinrich Konrad Schweickle. The entrance inside the basilica is through three portals, of which the central one is divided into six compartments.
As you enter the church and pass the atrium, you reach the central body of the church, with a round shape, with a diameter of thirty-four meters, entirely paved with polychrome marble. Along the entire perimeter of the church are thirty-four marble columns, eleven meters high, ending with a Corinthian capital decorated with the Bourbon lily, to which eight pillars of the same height are interposed.
The dome is fifty-three meters high, internally decorated with lacunars and externally covered with calcareous stone.
HOW TO GET THERE
The church is located between two bus stations, Piazza Carolina and Solitaria, at about the same distance, both reachable with the bus E6. The closest subway station is Municipio, at about 550 meters away, on the Metro Line 1.