Naples and Neapolitans of 20th century

Napoli e i napoletani del XX secolo (Leggi versione in italiano)

From “Risanamento” to post-war reconstruction, from the economic boom of the sixties to the industrial decline of the nineties. The Short Century, with its innovations, accompanied the transition of the city life from the 19th century city life to modernity.

The beginning of the renewal of Naples, and its entrance into the twentieth century modernity can be identified, beyond the dates, with the law of the “Risanamento della città di Napoli” of 1885. That law marked the end of the decay of the city, which capital of a kingdom had become city out from the places where decisions were taken, awkward situation in which it had been put by the Savoy monarchy and the post unitary ruling class aimed only to speculation and draining of wealth. The South defeated and conquered by Giuseppe Garibaldi became undeserved war booty of speculators and the Piedmont caste state which, by destroying the petty bourgeoisie, increased their wealth through scandals and theft.

There were 8,000 deaths in the city due to poor housing conditions and lack of an effective drainage system, because of cholera epidemic of 1884, brought to Naples by some sailors from Sardinia. The government of the time, led by Agostino Depetris, passed a law, known as the “Risanamento di Napoli” which aimed to eliminate the causes of the epidemic that had caused a number of casualties than any European city.

A good portion of degraded central districts places on a lower level than the surface of the sea, which did not allow runoff sewage in the sewers, were cut down. Roads connecting Municipio Square to the central railway station were created, by raising the ground a few meters. Via Guglielmo Sanfelice, via Depetris, Piazza Bovio, Corso Umberto, called “Rettifilo”, corso Garibaldi, which linked the railway station to Piazza Carlo III, were built. In addition there were interventions on Municipio square which took its present form, with the removal of blocks of houses around the square. On either side of these roads new and modern buildings were built in place of unhealthy housing. Since most of these new residential buildings were destined for the city’s middle class, there was a transfer of families of the weaker sectors in the suburbs.

The twentieth century opened with the National Hygiene Expo of 1900 which took place in the park “Villa Comunale” of Naples. Seven temporary stands were built. Some of them were transformed then in Tennis Club Napoli which is located in Viale Dohrn. The Expo was inaugurated in May by King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. It was innovative because, for the first time, an emphasis was marked on personal hygiene and hygiene in general, as prophylaxis against the development of epidemic diseases. Bad luck had it. On July 29, 1900 there was the murder of Umberto I. This tragic event ended early Neapolitan exposure.

Early 20th century, the port of Naples had become the maritime link between Italy and the African colonies, and then the port turned into the outdoor of the southern migrants in search of a new life in North America and South America: United States, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. Emigration, which until 1900 had affected mainly the northern regions of Veneto, Friuli and Piedmont, with starting center from the port of Genoa, involved so massive the southern populations from the early years of the new century. About 20 million people are interested in the phenomenon, a number equal to the 1860 Italian population. Between 1900 and 1920 three million southern farmers, having no chance to escape their desperate economic and social situation, embarked in Naples headed for America. Today the descendants of those migrations constitute a significant part of the populations of those places.

225px-A_Diaz
Armando Diaz (1921) Photo by Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C – Lombardi Historical Collection

The outbreak of the Great War saw Naples not involved because of the distance from the war front. However, many Neapolitans were joined in the army and sent to the front to fight. The Neapolitan industries gave their wartime contributions devoted to the construction of weapons and bullets. In November 1917 there was the catastrophic evolution of the clashes in Friuli and Veneto, with the defeat of Caporetto and the risk of an invasion of the Po Valley by the Austrians. The King Vittorio Emanuele III replaced the commander of the armed forces Luigi Cadorna who did not hesitate to lay the blame for the defeat on the cowardice of some detachments of army, to hide his responsibilities. The Neapolitan general Armando Diaz was appointed commander in chief, who led the Italian army to victory.

During World War Naples was the subject of one of the first aerial bombardments in history. On the night of 10 March 1918 the Austrian Zeppelin LZ104, took off from the Bulgarian base of Yambol, made three throwing bombs on the city. There were 16 dead and 64 wounded. Only after the war it became clear that the blasts of March 10 were bombs dropped from a blimp. Those responsible for the air defense of the city, totally passive during of the bombing, were tried and sentenced.

After the war there were the first manifestations of fascism followers, who had in Naples one of its most important basics. On 24 October 1922, during a preparatory event to the Fascist March on Rome, the procession of sympathizers was made the subject a launch of a bouquet of flowers that hid a stone in via Foria. As a reaction a fascist follower grasped a gun firing wildly. An elderly woman who was looking out of a window was hit by a stray bullet and died. On October 28, they left Naples thousands of fascists heading for Rome. That “March on Rome” had as result the birth of the government headed by Mussolini.

A prominent figure of fascism was the Neapolitan (born in Portici) Aurelio Padovani. He had had followers in the city perhaps even greater than Mussolini. Aurelio Padovani was the first dissident in his party and soon he was ousted from the levers of power for his ideas related to revolutionary syndicalism. He died in tragic and suspicious circumstances to the collapse of a railing of a balcony in via Generale Orsini where he had appeared to greet the crowd that chanted. Also died eight other members of the party who were on the balcony died with him.

During the Fascist period Naples was the basis of imperialist expansion starting over the Mediterranean, Libya and North Africa. In this regard in 1936 it was given a great development to the port with the construction of the new harbor. The new construction necessitated the demolition of some existing buildings and the ancient “Lanterna del molo“.

The “Mostra d’Oltremare” in the Fuorigrotta district of Naples was built in conjunction with the creation of the EUR district of Rome, in one project area aimed at Italy’s African empire celebration. The construction involved the development of all the Campi Flegrei area, which area was transformed from agricultural area into the new business center of the city. Viale (avenue) Augusto was built, a false straight line connecting the tunnel today named “delle Quattro Giornate” with the entry of Mostra d’Oltremare. The avenue Augusto had, in recent years, avenue Giochi del Mediterraneo as ideal continuation, finally connecting with Viale Campi Flegrei, the last stretch of the avenue which, dividing in two the Bagnoli district, reached the sea.

End ‘800 and early’ 900 were fruitful years for music in the city. At that time the “classic Neapolitan song” came at the hands of intellectuals who inserted in the lyrics and in the music elements that reported at the time artistic and literary currents.

The Neapolitan song had originated at the time of Frederick II, when washing women of the Vomero accompany their work with the singing of popular rhymes. The oldest song of which we know in some verses, “Jesce sole“, probably of the 13th century, is an invocation to the beautiful days of laundresses women of Arenella.

The presence of the ancient city music Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella contributed to the development and dissemination of music and Neapolitan songs. Numerous musicians, conductors and composers masters were formed in this Conservatory, so that the city of Naples can be considered good title one of the capitals of classical music.

Enrico_Caruso ( anteriore al 1921) Photo Laveccha Studio
Enrico Caruso (anteriore al 1921) Photo Laveccha Studio

The early twentieth century were characterized by the prominence of the Neapolitan song on the Italian song. It was interpreted by the most famous opera singers of the time and was played by orchestras around the world. Enrico Caruso, Tito Schipa, Beniamino Gigli, Mario Del Monaco are just some of the singers who founded part of their popularity and prowess on classic Neapolitan song. Poets and musicians: Salvatore Di Giacomo, Libero Bovio, Ernesto Murolo, Vincenzo D’Annibale, Salvatore Cardillo, Ernesto De Curtis, E. A. Mario (Giovanni Gaeta), dedicated their musical and poetic vein in creating verses and melodies that have marked the history of Italian music.

The Second World War had Naples heavily involved. It was the front line with other European cities who paid a high price of destruction and human lives. Germans and Allies, before clashing on the battlefield, fought in the cities: London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Dresden. Naples suffered a high number of air strikes. Many Neapolitan families, following the advice of the authorities, had moved in the villages and surrounding countryside before the bombing of cities had started. Other families followed the first just started bombing. Many Neapolitans, not having the opportunity, sought refuge in natural caves and tunnels citizens.

In November 1940 began the bombing on the city’s strategic objectives. The first was the British. The Americans continued with so-called carpet bombing, which had no difference among military targets, apartment blocks and hospitals. Bombings that took place in broad daylight when people were busy with their daily activities. There were thousands of civilian deaths. Industries, docks, railway station, port and many buildings were hit and destroyed.

The uprising of the population between 27 and 30 September 1943, called “Four Days of Naples“, with the expulsion of the Germans from the city and the arrival in Naples of allied army on October 1, did not mark the end of the war in Naples, as the bombing continued for a few more months by the German Air Force, with goal Naples, which had become the ally behind the lines of the Cassino front.

Meanwhile, Benedetto Croce met the Italian politicians and representatives of the allied forces in Villa Tritone in Sorrento, where he lived during the war, as president of the Liberal Party and for his reputation as an intellectual, to agree on the formation of a national unity government that would accompany the nation in those tragic days of national liberation. On June 18 of ’44, as a result of the meetings of Sorrento, Bonomi government born, where Croce was appointed minister without portfolio. It was asked to him to become interim head of state with the birth of the republic, but the Neapolitan historian refused to devote himself to his studies.

After the war, Naples became the place where the military allies were in holiday from the front to rest. A flourishing trade, in all that people needed, developed smuggled into the city, many smugglers plied between the surrounding countryside where they procured food and consumer goods and the city where they sold at prices much increased. Naples was invaded by many “shoeshine boys“, children and young people offering to polish shoes for the American military, and many “segnorine” selling their bodies in exchange for a few dollars needed for their survival and that of their families.

With the economic boom that swept Italy in the ’60s, Naples saw the birth and development of numerous industries and economic activities, which were born with the help of Isveimer and the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, institutions that had the mission to finance the nascent industry in the south of Italy. In 1910 the ILVA steel plant was born in Bagnoli. Immediately after the war was created, next to ILVA, the factory of Cementir, for the production of cement and conglomerates. In the 60s the filled sea was created. The shore in front of the steel plant, which had changed its name in Italsider, was filled with soil of a volcanic hill that was located inside the perimeter of the factory, on the side of Bagnoli, which was completely flattened. Walkways were also created on the sea where the ships docked to unload iron ore, raw material of factory.

An ancient and glorious shipbuilding yard is in Castellammare di Stabia, just a few kilometers from city. The shipyard was founded by Ferdinand IV in 1783, at the suggestion of Prime Minister John Acton, former commander of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany fleet and lover of Queen Maria Carolina. The entire military fleet of the kingdom was built in that site. In 1931 the present school ship of the Italian Navy, the Amerigo Vespucci, was also built in Castellammare, the most beautiful training ship in the world. In 1966 the shipyards of Castellammare were included in the publicly owned company Italcantieri which included the Ansaldo shipyards in Genoa and the Trieste Adriatic shipyard.

In addition to numerous military ships the yard of Castellammare had the construction of numerous ferries: Boccaccio, Carducci, Manzoni, Leopardi, Pascoli and Petrarca. In the nineties Fincantieri, which had acquired the shipbuilding activities of Italcantieri, adopted a business plan that included a downsizing of Campania yards.

In 1953 Adriano Olivetti commissioned architect Luigi Cosenza to build a plant in Pozzuoli to be used in the construction of calculating machines. Thus a factory was born with a splendid view over the Gulf of Pozzuoli, where it was able to employed the workers con wages above the national average and with assistance that Olivetti furnished its employees and their families. The Pozzuoli Olivetti had its sunset at the end of the 90s with the development of China’s electronics.

The Alfa Romeo, which had a plant in Pomigliano d’Arco for decades, planned the creation of a new factory for the construction of a car with the Alfa Romeo features but with a price which favored the large spread. The Alfasud factory was built next to the Alfa Romeo Avio plant in Pomigliano. Alfa Romeo Avio, a manufacturer of aircraft engines, was created in 1938 next to a small airport. Closed to the plant were born a house district where the workers lived and a large hotel to house workers and technicians from other parts of Italy.

In the early sixties the airport runway was used to build a car factory, the forerunner of the Alfasud, where R4 model of Renault was produced, following an agreement with the French company, offered to the Italian market. The first car Alfasud was delivered in 1972. the car was a great success, it had front-wheel drive and a flat-four boxer unit engine that favored a large elasticity in the various power schemes. The car production continued until 1984.

It was replaced by the Alfa 33 which quoted some of the most innovative solutions Alfasud. In 1984 began the production of ARNA, a car built in collaboration with the Japanese Nissan in the new plants of Pratola Serra. Some mechanical elements derived from Alfasud were produced in the plant in Pomigliano d’Arco. In 1986, Alfa Romeo was incorporated into the Fiat Group and merged with the Lancia. The nineties saw a major restructuring of the factory and the production of cars with Fiat brand.

In August of 1973 a batch of mussels, contaminated with vibrio cholera, from Tunisia, caused an epidemic in Naples and Campania, in some of the southern cities and also in some European cities, especially Barcelona. On August 24th some cases were recorded which put in a suspicious health authorities. The confirmation came a few days later, while the epidemic began to spread in the city. The health authorities, mindful of the many epidemics that had struck the city in the past with tragic outcomes, took drastic measures to stop its spread.

The Neapolitan, well aware of the seriousness of the situation, already had started taking the maximum hygienic precautions. The distributed drinking water from the aqueduct was used for cooking only after adequate boiling. The citizens used bottled mineral water for drink. Raw foods were eliminated and fruit was consumed only after careful washing. All the houses, the furnishings, the dresses were washed with hot water and disinfectant. The citizens provided even to wash the sidewalks in front of the shops and doorways.

The authorities organized in a few days, almost in a few hours, mass vaccination in all health centers in the city. Even family doctors and pharmacies injected vaccine. The command of the US military base organized, with the doctors of the garrison, the vaccination of the population using futuristic guns shoot vaccine, without the need for syringes in sports hall of avenue Giochi del Mediterraneo. In three or four days the entire population voluntarily submitted itself to vaccination. The epidemic was overcame in 15, 20 days in city and in Campania, thanks to the mobilization of all citizens. A thousand infected with a very limited number of deaths were counted. The victims were between 15 and 20. Most were people who were already suffering from serious illnesses.

Teora_1980
Teora_1980

On Sunday, November 23, 1980, 7:34pm a 6.9 degree earthquake on the Richter scale, 10th on the Mercalli scale, which lasts 90 seconds, with its epicenter between the towns of Conza and Teora, an area located between the provinces of Avellino and Salerno, hit and destroyed much of Irpinia, the province of Salerno and the Potentino, with serious consequences also in Naples and throughout Campania. The quake was felt directly across Italy. People spread in the street. Naples remained completely blocked by people who occupied squares and streets in order to escape any collapses.

Immediately after the quake, the city was wrapped a cloud caused by cracks in the walls of the buildings from which sprang a powder that spread in the air. After a few hours began to arrive on the news of the earthquake damage that suddenly there was disastrous. The severity of the situation was not immediately perceived by the authorities. Only the  Tuesday, following the cry for help launched by “Il Mattino“, the main local newspaper, which came out with the first page occupied by two words “FATE PRESTO (HARRY UP)”, with articles that told of thousands of deaths, the all nation mobilized. Columns of army vehicles, fire brigade, police, private headed out to the places of the tragedy, loaded with essential supplies, medicines, doctors, nurses, tents, tools to remove the rubble. Since many foreign countries left aid of all kinds, Austria sent a whole hospital full range of equipment and medical staff.

What had happened near the epicenter of the earthquake was not possible to describe. All the houses had collapsed, thousands of people were found, dead or alive, under the rubble. Building collapsed in Stadera street in Naples. In that building there was a birthday party, 52 people died. Other partial collapse occurred in the city. The statue of Our Lady on the Basilica del Buon Consiglio in Capodimonte fell on the church square. The perimeter walls of some buildings collapsed leaving bare pillars. All houses in the city suffered more or less serious damage. Fortunately for most of the cases damages did not compromise the stability of buildings. For many nights to come Neapolitans were stopped in the streets for fear of aftershocks. Total deaths were around 3,000, wounded 10,000, 300,000 of people were with no home. reconstruction lasted several decades and only in recent years can be considered closed.

In 1984 construction of the new “Centro Direzionale di Napoli” began. Already in the 60s the town had identified an area completely free from construction between Corso Malta, the railway tracks of the main station, the prison of Poggioreale and Rione Luzzatti where to build a business district in order to decongest the city center where were all the city offices. In 1982 the authorities commissioned the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange to design the urban complex of the CDN (Centro Direzionale di Napoli).

After two years the project was ready and the construction began. Since that ground was in the past an ancient swamp, it was necessary to raise the construction level of several meters. A huge pedestrian platform was created among the buildings, equipped with gardens and benches, under which the roads with numerous car parks were organized. In 1995 the CDN is presented complete with 13 towers and various buildings that house hotels, universities, offices of various companies, Region Campania offices. The Center also houses the new court district in a large complex close to the Poggioreale prison. In CDN is a stop of the Circumvesuviana railway and Metro Line 1 which is not yet in operation. An extension of the CDN is planned from the side of Luzzatti district, on a large surface where before there were the fruit and vegetable market and the municipal slaughterhouse, both decentralized in extreme periphery.

The short century seemed even shorter to Neapolitans, for the speed with which there have been profound changes in the lives of every day that accompanied Naples and Neapolitans in facing the third millennium.

(Top photo: Municipio square early 20th century – Giorgio Sommer)

Bibliography:
Vittorio Gleijeses, La storia di Napoli dalle origini ai nostri giorni, Napoli, 1977
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storia_di_Napoli
Mimmo Caratelli, Salvatore Biazzo e Aldo de Francesco, Ultime voci dall’epicentro, Tullio Pironti editore, Napoli, 1981.
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terremoto_dell’Irpinia_del_1980
Aldo Stefanile, I 100 bombardamenti di Napoli. I giorni delle AM lire, Napoli, Marotta, 1968
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombardamenti_di_Napoli
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centro_direzionale_di_Napoli

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