The volcano magic

an oral tale of 1800


One day a man named Mauro  appeared on the mount Vesuvius, he had  a face as black as night and asked the magic of the volcano to be transformed into a normal man.

His prayer was answered. Suddenly an angel appeared who took him into the crater and blowing onto his face made his kin white like snow.

So the two craters were called Angelo and Mauro.

But not all the  volcano stories  end well: when a wicked monk  invoked Vesuvius asking for help to implement his bad design, the mountain was angry hunting from the crater a pillar of fire and sending down a magical horse with flame eyes  and a snake mane.

The animal chased the monk and  when he was  reached, the horse clapped with its socket on the ground  which opened swallowing the evil man.

Those places were then called “Horse  atrium” and ” Monk”.

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The ghost of the beautiful Bianca

a  folk tale by popular tradition


At the beautiful balustrades of the staircase in palace Spinelli Laurino, located in Via dei Tribunali, some people swear  having often seen the ghost of the beautiful Bianca.

Being an orphan, Bianca  grew up in the halls of the palace and  was assigned as a bridesmaid to Lorenza Spinelli, daughter-in-law  of the  Prince. This lady  was as much a wicked  as an overpowering woman,  so her husband, just to stay away from her for some time, decided to go to war.

As he came into  his wife’s rooms to greet her, as usual he was answered rudely. Annoyed, the husband turned away to leave, but at that same moment his look met, in the mirror,  the sad and sorrow look  of  the good and lovely Bianca who was combing the lady, sorry  for what had happened.

It was a  completely innocent look, but the wicked lady, whom that eyes understanding did not escape to, thought otherwise.

The husband was still down on the road,  when she  ushered  Bianca into a small compartment of the wall in her room and made build a brick wall in front of it.

The poor girl could not defend herself in any way, she only said: “Let me entomb alive, but in gladness or greatness you’ll see me again.” It is said, in fact, that her ghost appeared very often in that palace to one or another Spinelli, always three days before the family  happened to have  a happy occasion  or a misfortune.

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The Ghost and the cap

a story of 1700


Not far from the catacombs of San Gennaro in Capodimonte there was a tavern.  One evening  two travellers  arrived near that crossing.

Chatting with a beautiful girl who served them, they began to speak about  the dead and their appearances; the girl said she felt  no fear, so much so – she said – while no one was going at that hour to draw water from the near  wood, because it was necessary to pass in front of the cemetery, she would have gone immediately.

Saying and doing was one matter, she took the bucket and went. Passing by the entrance of the caves, she saw in the middle, sitting on a tombstone, an old man with a long white beard, with a red cap on his head.

She mistook him for the groom of the tavern, she came near him  and took the cap from his head, saying: “I will  give it back to you, later at  home.” Returning, she learned that the groom had never moved, and in fact, he had  a red hat on his head.

At night the girl got into her room, bringing with her the cap of the mysterious old man; at midnight she heard a knock at the door and weak voice said: “Give me my cap, give me my cap.” The young girl opened, but saw no one, then she tried to throw the red cat out of the window, but it always came back.

For many nights the spirit came back to knock on the room and finally the girl went to confide in the parish priest, who decided to make a big procession.

The evening of the dead in fact, a great procession composed by the people of the neighboring houses, with crosses, images of saints and candles went to the catacombs of San Gennaro.

The old man was sitting on the tombstone bareheaded. Among  smoking incense, to the sound of hymns, the brave girl approached him, and put on his head  the much desired  red cap.

The  tombstone cover  then crashed open with a thunderclap and the man sank there.

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An Ancient Superstition

a tale by popular tradition


In 1500 there was in Naples, on  Ottocalli Square, a church dedicated to Saints John and Paul. The road was wide and free of buildings or houses.

In the middle of the road and right in front of the church, there was a marble column,  whose meaning or  origin nobody kew.

A meaning, however, was found by the locals, who, supported by the parish priest, attributed to the column a special power:  the one of causing rain or fine weather depending on the needs and demands of the people.

A superstition, but it went on for quite a while, till  Archbishop Annibale of Capua  banned it with a measure of 1590 and made even demolish and remove the column, so preventing any possibility of revival of the incredible superstition.

This is the custom of the Neapolitans. When farmers wanted some sun for  their fields and the weather, however, was not fine,  they went to the pastor of the church of St. John and Paul and asked him to organize a votive procession for obtaining a grace from heaven.

Then the pastor with all his followers  and citizens, ran from the right side around   the column and stopped  there to pray. Shortly after that, the sky got clear, the clouds disappeared and a bright sun  was shining in the sky with great joy of the Neapolitans.

If the request was for rain, being too hot and  crops ruined, the procession moved to the opposite direction, going around  from the left side  at  the sea side, they  told the planned prayer, and soon after it was pouring.


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the Solfatara

In ancient times  the Solfatara was known as the  square of Hephaestus, where  even then the volcanism of the Phlegrean Fields was observable.

The only monumental rest of District Terra is the temple of Augustus,  fully saved, as  transformed into the church  of St.Procolo in the XI century. The church underwent some changes  between 1500-1600 during the construction of the side chapels.

The restoration  works, following a fire,  brought to light one of the best examples of the Augustan architecture.  It was built by the architect Lucio Aucto who realized the crypts of Cuma and Naples.

Outside  the  District  Terra there are numerous ruins now incorporated into modern houses.

Monuments such as the Temple of Diana and Neptune are difficult to be reached, but their size reflects the importance of the city in the late Republican and Imperial age.

Flavian Amphitheatre

Located between the solfatara and Mount Guaro, just there, where crossed the most important streets:  Domitiana, Campana  and Antiniana.

The Flavian Amphitheatre was built by Vespasian following the increase of the population of Pozzuoli, at that time a  flavian-augustan colony.

This is evidenced by the discovery of registration Colonia Flavia Augusta Puteolana pecunie sua.

The amphitheater had three architectural orders crowned by an attic. An elliptical porch surrounded the building, through this it was possible to reach four main and twelve secondary entrances, to facilitate the exit of the spectators.

From the outside porch departed twenty flights of stairs allowing  to reach higher areas. Other   meeting points  were obtained in the arches under the auditorium.

In the first arch there was a podium for statues with marble floor with inscriptions dedicated to Caio Trofimiano.

The auditorium was divided into three ranges, above these there was a porch with columns and statues , which in the Middle Ages were used for the production of lime.

Ambulatories and underground kept well preserved as  they were covered by the ashes of solfatara.  the basement  could be reached  by  two steep stairs.

Observing the underground we can understand the operation of  lifting structures, essential for Venationes,  or shows with wild beasts.   There were stored the  necessary  tools for the shows too.

The basement consisted of two corridors crossed in   the center (assuming a form of H). The four  rooms were communicating with each other.

The corridor was fitted with  stone openings,  with wooden hatches from which animals were raised.

Even this one, as other amphitheaters, is related to the Christian martyrology.  St.Gennaro  was taken here to suffer his torment, but the sentence was suspended because of the absence of the governor of Campania, so the penalty was  commuted to his  beheading.

Only in the fifth century his relics were transported to  Naples,  becoming a destination of worship such as those of S.Procolo in Pozzuoli.

Today of this amphitheater you can only see  about  ten arches, and the auditorium from Via Solfatara, other arches are observable from Via Vigne.

The building is to be dated about in  the second century.

the Macellum

known as the Temple of Serapis for the discovery of the statue of the god in 1750, the Macellum is actually a public market, with a round building in the center (one of  the same type is located in Pompei, but  smaller)  as large as was necessary  to serve the center of a big commercial city.

The building has a square courtyard surrounded by thirty-six Corinthian columns, decorated with shells containing dolphins.  The court and the porch were paved with marble slabs.

At the center there is a circular building called Tholos, with walls covered in marble.  Access to the court was provided by four stairs, with four  railings  dolphin shaped and  with friezes of seas animals.  Sixteen Corinthian columns supported the lintel, and on it  rested a perhaps conical coverage.

Around the porch there were the shops, six on  the  entrance side  and eleven on the other two sides.

The need to increase the usable space pushed  to develop a second floor decorated with a second order of columns and accessible  through  two flights of stairs.

In the corners were the bathrooms, decorated with marble niches, and lit by a large window.

Perforated marble benches communicated with a discharge channel which, thanks to a proper slope,  let waters flow away  and guaranteed hygiene.

The most important point of the Macellum was represented by the  front hall  embellished by honorary statues.  Important was the flooring with  red, yellow, purple and green marble.

Three niches contained  statues of the  market protectors:  Serapis – Genius -Macelli – characters of the imperial family.

From the Temple of Serapis it is possible to observe the phenomenon of bradyseism on the three central columns,  where the holes left by the sea dates, demonstrate the level reached by the sea.

In the Middle Ages the floor was five meters below the water level. In 1700 the temple was re-emerging, but in 1800 the slow sinking made it unhealthy.

Macellum - Tempio di Serapide

The Macellum – Temple of Serapis

The harbour

The  harbour is the economic center of the city.

From the second century b.C. it was an important trade center of the Mediterranean,  by Pozzuoli passed anything was to reach Rome, from the slaves to the corn.

Of the old pier, following the construction of the new one, nothing remains.  Except for some eighteenth-nineteenth century depiction,  we would have never known  what was the appearance of the old port, considered one of the greatest engineering works of the time.

The old harbor was formed by 15 pillars supporting 15 arches on which rested a platform, at whose end there was a triumphal arch with statues of Neptune and the Dioscuri and probably a lighthouse.

This structure of the Augustan age was damaged by a storm and restored only in the time of Antoninus Pius.

Via Campana

Campana  Street is the main  outside-town street   of Pozzuoli, it was edged with monumental tombs  today giving us an idea about the costumes and about Roman funerary architecture.

Among the various tombs prevails a tomb  with columbus patterns, or rooms with perforated walls to house the urns. Two or more storey graves were often dug  towerlike.

It was frequently found,  to be family  or associations tombs which  ensured a decent funeral at little cost. Cremation was the most common practice, the deceased was  burnt on a stake  and the ashes kept in a funerary urn and subsequently  placed in the niche.

Once  the urn was placed into the tomb,  only the name and age of the deceased was indicated.

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The Catacombs

The  tuff hills  from the  old age  have contributed to the construction of underground tombs.

The catacombs began to develop from the second  up to the tenth century ( from the second century  are dated the oldest  paintings known).

Christianity spread from the first century, and this development is attested by the  privileges given  by the Emperor Constantine, an example is the construction of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte.

Maximum expression of early Christian culture are: the Catacombs of St.Gennaro-  St.Gaudioso -S.Eufebio.

 Catacomb of San Gennaro.

Named after the bishop of Benevento martyr in Pozzuoli in 305.  The relics were taken to  Naples into the catacombs in the fifth century.

People  have access to the Catacomb  from the church of Good Counsel. The original center was an underground buring place   of a noble  Christian family in  the second century.

There were numerous  expansion works, which were completed in the fourth century, having reached  a second level of galleries.

In the fifth century the faithful people wanted to be buried next to the saint, and it was necessary a further expansion with the opening of new cubicles.

The ancient tomb consists of a trapezoidal room with a central  baptismal source, commissioned by Paul II.  In  776  a  repainting of the room with the fresco of Christ’s baptism took place.

To the south we find the basilica of Agrippino dating from the fifth century, worth considering are paintings depicting the saint who heals the Moro, works dating back to the mid-ninth century.

Behind the vestibule are the tombs.  The upper catacomb dating from the third century, is formed by two almost square rooms communicating with each other by a  staircase.

That the tomb belonged to a Christian community, is demonstrated by a fresco on the ceiling of Adam and Eve. (Dating from the third century)

Poorly preserved is the scene of two women  building  a tower, taken from a Greek work “the pastor of herms”.  In  the catacomb centre there  is the Crypt Of Bishops.

Cripta dei Vescovi

Crypt of Bishops.

Decorated with mosaics depicting bishops of the fifth century, remarkable is  the one  of  bishop of Carthage, a circular field of golden tiles surrounding the African bishop recognized by different colors of the cards, holding the book of Gospels.

In this same crypt, all the bishops of the fifth century were buried, but the absence of registration does not allow their  identification.

Catacomb  of San Gaudioso.

It is located at the Church of St. Mary of Health.  It owes its name to an African bishop who died in exile in Naples in 452.

It can be  reached  through a passage to the catacombs beneath the altar.

It leads to a double row of cubicles,  found again  in 1616, after  the Dominicans had obstructed the passage with twelve altars.

The St.Gaudioso tomb is recognizable by the  mosaic epithaf  in which  the saint is exactly depicted.


Catacombs of S.Eufebio.

They are named after  the eighth bishop of Naples.

The catacombs were digged again  in 1931, of  the two frescoes found,  one is dating back to the fifth century (a prayer  with a red tunic between two saints), the second painting represents a dead woman  between the archangels Michael and Gabriel.

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The ancient core of the town  can be related to he Greek-Roman city (Rettifilo – Street Foria – Street Tribunali). Roads following the ancient main road of the city, (composed of vertical axes “Decumani” and horizontal axes “stenopoi” characterizing the  Greek town-planning  of the fifth century.)  The area where Neapolis arose was fortified by  tuff walls.

Later there was the need to reinforce the walls and partly rebuild some new ones. (IV century).

Due  to the adjustment of  the wall circle, the city managed to withstand the attack by Hannibal. Remains of these fortifications are still present in Piazza Bellini.

During Roman age  the walls restoration led to cover them with plaster,  and in  440 they were extended to the west for the defense of the port from the Goths.

Some remains are still visible in Piazza Bellini, they  are composed of tuff blocks in double curtain with double system of spurs. Due to its tufa quality and the construction technique and especially considering   the quarry signs, we can date these findings in the fourth century and it is possible that this line of walls belonged to a defensive tower.

scavi archeologici di Piazza Bellini

archeological escavations under piazza Bellini

Under the hospital of the Incurable there is another stretch of wall dating back to the fifth century. Built in grainy tuff blocks, 10.50 meters high. The wall is firmly built in the hill,  thanks to  series of spurs beds at about 3 meters from each other.

Rare are the signs of the quarry, which are ofte seen  on the blocks of the fourth century.

The  Dioscuri Temple.

Father Gods  of the city were Apollo, Demeter and the Dioscuri. The worship of the god Apollo, is due to the Apollo founder of the motherland Cuma. Demeter was worshiped as Altaea in Naples and in her honor was celebrated the feast of lamps. Of Castor and Pollux, we preserve the remains in the church of San Paolo Maggiore. The church of San Paolo Maggiore was built between the eighth and ninth centuries exactly above the pre-existing temple dedicated to the Dioscuri.

The old structure was preserved until 1538 when it was partially demolished by fathers Teatini to build the present church with the facade and appearance that we see today. Of the  ancient look,   only the Renaissance drawings by Palladio still remain.

Thanks to these drawings it was possible to reconstruct the architecture and style of the temple, which stood on a podium with hexastyle front, with two Corinthian columns on the lapels. The few remains are from the Roman period and almost certainly have been modified by a restoration which  took place around the first century.

The ancient Theatre.

We have only a few remains about the ancient theater. The few findings  are of Roman age.
The inability to make excavations, makes the hypothesis of the presence of the ancient greek theater, just under  the ruins of the  known theatre , unverifiable.

The literary evidence  telling us about the theater are exclusively of Roman age, related to the passion of some emperors for the theater. Claudius Nero considered the Neapolitan play,  the only one to  be considered worthy of being seen by an emperor of his importance. Nero was responsible for the invention of “Claque” or  a group of persons appointed to loudly express their appreciation for the play  in progress.

Well preserved is the building of the scene. The external fasade was divided into three orders, each of 23 arches, on pillars which stood against semicolumns.

The seat capacity was for about 8000 people. The absence of excavations makes  difficult  the  dating of the remains, which appear to be of the first century.

We know with certainty  it was damaged by several earthquakes and the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, but it remains unknown,  although plausible,  the possibility that  the remains  we see  today have undergone some  restoration work.

Next to the theater there was the Odeion.  We have some proofs about it  from the Neapolitan poet Statius, who lived in the time of Domitian.

Today of this building there are very few remains embedded in modern buildings. About other nearby buildings ,as the thermal bath and caesareum (art gallery)   only some literary memory remains.

Statue of the Nile

Nile Square is named after the statue of a river god.

The statue is an old man lying, resting with his left side on a rock from which water flows. He is anteriorly covered by a mantle  and posteriorly naked. Under his feet  there is  a crocodile, and the presence of the sphinx alludes to Egypt. It was found in  1500 and only in 1734 it was placed on the current stand.

Following several and important  renovations, very  little remains of its original appearance.

Statua del Nilo

Nile statue


Tomb of Virgil

Near  the church of Piedigrotta you can see the tomb of the poet Virgil. It is a funerary monument standing on a cubic base, the wall structure is made of concrete.

Inside the base there is the burial chamber, a square plan with a barrel vault lighted by three slots.


In front of the new  Spa, some ruins were found  allowing  us to determine with certainty the existence of a  much older spa complex.

The main building was built on a terrace supported by wall buttressed by pillars, another wall with 9 exedras stretched to the west.

Due to the long use during the Middle Age, the plant got altered in its original structure. Among the findings, great importance has the statue of the  Sea Venus, now preserved in the new spa.


Submerged in the sea, because of bradyseism, there  are some inaccessible ruins of the villas  which  from the first century  stood at the foot of the  Posillipo hill.

Near Gaiola remains have been found of an Odeion.

The monuments found in the area confirm that the hill was considered a magnificence, especially thanks to the extraordinary view it allows to admire the gulf.

The  most famous villa is the one by Vedio Pollio, a complex called pausilypon.

Also we can watch and still cross the cave of Sejanus, a  800m long pass,   crossing the hill and reaching the area of Coroglio.

Grotta di Seiano

Grotto of Sejano

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Samnitization and Romanization

The Samnites were a people of Sabellic lineage who moved between the valleys of the river Volturno and  river  Calore.  They superseded the Etruscans in the domain of internal Campania, in 421  they conquered Cuma and Dicearchia (now Pozzuoli), while Naples  managed to avoid the military occupation.

Samnites expansionism collided with the Roman one,  likewise seeking the conquest of Naples, as important port of the Mediterranean.

In the clash between Samnites and Romans, Cuma sided with Rome, (getting in 338 Roman citizenship without, however, the opportunity to vote.) Naples instead remained pro-Samnites and at the end of the war, following the victory of the Romans, in 326 it was militarily occupied.  At the end of the clash, the whole  phlegrean area  was in  Romans’ hands.

Naples  managed to “trade”  its own autonomy with the promise to provide its fleet in case of need, to the Roman Empire.

In 264 the Romans undertook the expedition to Sicily and Naples had to remain faithful to the previously agreed covenant.  From this collaboration  Naples came out with advantage, being able to do business  where the strong  Roman military penetration  opened some gates!

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The miraculous rescue of Constantine

a tale by  folk tradition.


King Constantine was returning to Rome with her daughter  Constance and niece Patrizia, when his ship was hit by a violent storm.

Then the king  promised to God that, if they would have been saved from the drowing, he would build a church in Naples to St. John the Baptist.

The two women instead, prayed St. Lucia to be rescued from the danger and to let  the ship return  into  the harbour  without accidents.

With the prayers the young Constance made a solemn vow to the saint, whom she was devoted to: if they were returned without danger, she would  give an amount of moeny for the construction of the church wanted by her father.

God heard their prayers and made them land in Naples safely.

King Constantine and his daughter Constance immediately started  works to keep the promise and vow. The church was later enriched with paintings and precious objects and became the center of  cult for St. John and St. Lucia in June  and  December.

The church of San Giovanni Maggiore is located in the historic center of Naples, among the four largest parishes in the city. It was  built in the  place of a pagan temple dedicated to Antinous  by  Emperor Hadrian.

It underwent many modifications and restorations, and in 1685 it assumed the final form.

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Sister Solfatara

By Nicolò Lombardo, La Ciucceide, 1724


Know then, that in this mountain,

where we will enter, there is an Ogre.

He never comes down to  this country,

but remains closed there, like a pig.

And what does he eat there? What is he eating?

He eats stones, trash. How dirty!

He eats gold, lead, silver!


It’s called Vesuvius and has a sister,

she too an Ogre  and is called Solfatara,

which is not far away, and they went out

both from a belly; and rare,

as they are both from the same love.

If she  is cheerful, clears up

the face of this one; but if this one

rages, she begins to stir.


If this one smokes, the other smokes;

if that one is hungry, he has same desire.

Does this one drink? That other takes water.

She is walking, he raises a leg.

That shows an  unfaithful face?

And this one  explodes and makes you call mom.

In short, if she laughs, he too  does;

If this one is crying,   you see her crying.


He has one thing only, she does not have;

and you see that he is stout

and that one next to him  is just an anchovy.

He makes certain things dirtier,

because he usually  suffers trots;

and sometimes vomits everything for nothing;

and when he wants to, in front of the mouth

he climbs this mountain, and you are beaten.

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