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History of Naples

The recorded history of the Naples (Italian Napoli) begins in the 7th century BC when the nearby Greek colony of Cumae founded a new city called Parthenope. Cumae itself had been founded by people from Euboea. Precisely why the inhabitants of Cumae decided to expand is not known for certain, but the Cumaeans built Neapolis (the “New City”) adjacent to the old Parthenope. At about the same time, they had warded off an invasion attempt by the Etruscans. The new city located in the bay of naples grew thanks to the influence of the powerful Greek city-state of Syracuse in Sicily and at some point the new and old cities on the Gulf of Naples merged to become a single inhabited nucleus.

Naples became an ally of the Roman Republic against Carthage. The strong walls of Naples held off Hannibal. During the Samnite Wars, the city, now a bustling centre of trade, was captured by the Samnites. However, the Romans soon took it from them and made Neapolis a Roman colony. Neapolis was greatly respected by the Romans as a place of Hellenistic culture. The people maintained their Greek language and customs, and elegant villas, aqueducts, public baths, a theatre and the Temple of Dioscures were built. A number of Roman emperors, including Claudius and Tiberius, maintained villas in or near Naples. It was during this period that Christianity came to Naples, and the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul are said to have preached here. St. Januarius, who would become Naples’ patron saint, was martyred here.

Following the decline of the Western Roman Empire, Naples was captured by the Ostrogoths and incorporated into the Ostrogothic Kingdom. However, the Byzantine general Belisarius recaptured Naples in 536, after famously entering the city via the aqueduct. The Gothic Wars raged on, and Totila briefly took the city for the Ostrogoths in 543, before, finally, the Battle of Mons Lactarius on the slopes of Vesuvius confirmed Byzantine rule. Naples remained in contact with the Exarchate of Ravenna, which was the centre of Byzantine power on the Italian peninsula. After the exarchate fell, a Duchy of Naples was created. Although Naples continued with its Greco-Roman culture, it eventually switched allegiance under Duke Stephen II to Rome rather than Constantinople, putting it under papal suzerainty by 763.

The years between 818 and 832 were a particularly confusing period in regard to Naples’ relation with the Byzantine Emperor, with feuding between local pretenders to the ducal throne. Theoctistus was appointed without imperial approval. This was later revoked and Theodore II took his place. However, he was driven from the city by a popular uprising and replaced by Stephen III, a man who minted coins with his own initials, not those of the Byzantine Emperor. Naples gained complete independence by 840.

The duchy was under direct control of Lombards for a brief period, after the capture by Pandulf IV of the Principality of Capua, long term rival of Naples. However this only lasted three years before the culturally Greco-Roman influenced dukes were reinstated. By the 11 C, like many territories in the area, Naples hired Norman mercenaries, the Christian descendants of the Vikings, to battle their rivals. Duke Sergius IV hired Rainulf Drengot to fight Capua for him. By 1137, the Normans had grown hugely in influence, controlling previous independent principalities and duchies such as Capua, Benevento, Salerno, Amalfi, Sorrento and Gaeta. It was in this year that Naples, the last independent duchy in the southern part of the peninsula, came under Norman control. The last ruling duke of the duchy, Sergius VII, was forced to surrender to Roger II, who had proclaimed himself King of Sicily seven years earlier. This saw Naples joining the Kingdom of Sicily, where Palermo was the capital.

After a period as a Norman kingdom, the Kingdom of Sicily passed under the Hohenstaufens, the powerful Germanic royal house of Swabian origin. The University of Naples was founded by Frederick II in the city, making it the oldest state university in the world and Naples the intellectual centre of the kingdom. Conflict between the Hohenstaufen house and the Papacy led, in 1266, to Pope Innocent IV crowning the Angevin Duke Charles I as King. Charles officially moved the capital from Palermo to Naples where he resided at the Castel Nuovo. During this period much Gothic architecture sprang up around Naples, including the Naples Cathedral, which is the main church of the city.

In 1282, after the Sicilian Vespers, the kingdom split in half. The Angevin Kingdom of Naples included the southern part of the Italian peninsula, while the island of Sicily became the Aragonese Kingdom of Sicily. The wars continued until the peace of Caltabellotta in 1302, which saw Frederick III recognised as King of the Isle of Sicily, while Charles II was recognised as the King of Naples by Pope Boniface VIII. Despite the split, Naples grew in importance, attracting Pisan and Genoese merchants, Tuscan bankers, and with them some of the most renowned Renaissance scholars and artists of the time, including Boccaccio, Petrarch and Giotto. In the middle of the 14 C, the Hungarian Angevin King Louis the Great captured the city. Alfonso I conquered Naples after his victory against the last Angevin king, René, and Naples was unified with Sicily again for a brief period.

Following Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand, culminating in the Siege of Gaeta, Naples joined the Kingdom of Italy as part of the Italian unification in 1861, ending Bourbon rule. The kingdom of the Two Sicilies had been wealthy and 80 million ducats were taken from the banks as a contribution to the new Italian treasury, while other former states in the Italian unification were forced to pay far less. The economy of the area formerly known as Two Sicilies collapsed, leading to an unprecedented wave of emigration, with estimates claiming that at least four million of those who left for the north and abroad between 1876–1913 were from Naples or near Naples.

During World War II, the bay of naples  was more heavily bombed than any other Italian city. Although the Neapolitans did not rebel against Italian fascism, Naples was the first Italian city to rise up against German military occupation, liberation being achieved by 1 October, 1943. The symbol of the rebirth of Naples was the rebuilding of Santa Chiara which had been destroyed during an Allied air raid.

Special funding from the Italian government’s Fund for the South from 1950 to 1984 helped the economy to improve somewhat, including the rejuvenation of the Piazza del Plebiscito and other city landmarks, but there was huge waste. Naples still has high unemployment, high crime, and grossly inefficient local government manifested most visibly in decades of unregulated trash disposal and the untrammeled expansion of the Camorra organised crime network. Recently, the Italian Government of Silvio Berlusconi has held ministerial meetings in Naples to demonstrate that they intend to tackle these problems once and for all, but little has come of it to date.