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Naples is one of the most fascinating cities in Italy. Located on the northern shore of the eponymous gulf, the city is scenically arranged like an amphitheater on two large slopes. The inhabited center occupies the western side of the foothills of the Phlegraean Fields, and in the northeast, it occupies the plain that opens between the Phlegraean Fields and Mount Vesuvius.
Stretching along the coastline at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, Naples presents one of the most urbanized landscapes in the country.
A historical capital of the South and the largest Italian city until the twentieth century, Naples is the center of a vaster area that extends outside the regional borders. The historic city center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, and the city has retained considerable cultural prestige over the centuries.
The seat of important museums and cultural institutions, and the seat of one of the oldest universities in the world, the city presents itself as a lively capital that has preserved most of its secular charm.
A remarkable revival of the city happened in 1994 when Naples hosted the G7 summit. On that occasion, Naples underwent a profound reorganization that re-evaluated the astonishing landmarks like Piazza del Plebiscito, which was completely restored.
But the history of Naples covers a period of several millennia. The place where the first urban agglomeration arose, namely the hill of Pizzofalcone and the surrounding area, attracted many populations over time, and it has been occupied uninterruptedly since the Middle Neolithic era.
Over time, Naples has grown into one of the most important cities of the West, and its history presents itself as a microcosm of European history made up of various civilizations that have left traces in a rich artistic and monumental heritage.
Naples was once the capital of Duchies, States, and Empires. Captured, attacked, and destroyed many times, the city also experienced several natural and man-made catastrophes that reshaped its boundaries and determined the character of its people.
The Romans arrived in Naples in the fourth century BC and established a federated city that remained faithful to the Empire during the wars against Pyrrhus of Epirus and Hannibal. However, the Romans did not reciprocate Naples’ loyalty and downgraded the city to a town in 90 BC.
In 82 BC, Naples was devastated by the partisans of Silla with the subsequent development of nearby Pozzuoli. As a result, this refined center of Hellenistic culture was further downgraded to a colony under the Romanization process of Emperor Claudius.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Naples became the focus of disputes between the Goths and the Byzantines, who conquered the territory between 536 and 553 AD. Shortly afterward, the settlement was transformed by the bishops into an autonomous duchy that managed to remain independent until 1139, when it was conquered by Roger II of Hauteville.
Under the Normans, the city prospered and enjoyed a wide administrative autonomy. Passed to the Swabians after a strenuous resistance, Naples was deprived of all privileges by Frederick II who, nonetheless, endowed the settlement with a prestigious university in 1224. In fact, Naples’ university remained the only one in the South for quite some time.
Then, with the defeat of Manfred in Benevento in 1266, the city passed to Charles I of Anjou and in 1282, after struggles with the Sicilian Vespers, Naples became the capital of the Kingdom of Naples.
Thanks to this role, Naples became an internationally renowned political and cultural center. Yet, heavy taxes and profound social imbalances oppressed development. After decades of struggles and sieges, in 1442, the last Angevin King, René of Anjou, was defeated by Alfonso I of Aragon. Under Alfonso’s rule, the city experienced its most splendid period.
During this time, Naples doubled its population and started to attract local and foreign merchants, officials, writers, artists, Byzantine exiles, and Jews. However, the Aragon dynasty did not enjoy a strong popularity among the locals, especially due to the intrusiveness of Catalan elements in all areas of city life. This did not win over the people with its magnificence, but rather reduced the locals to increasingly miserable conditions.
Starting in 1494, the House of Aragon and House of Anjou fought for control of Naples. Charles VIII of France ruled briefly after expelling Alfonso II of Naples, but was soon forced to withdraw and yielded power to the House of Aragon once more. Eventually, the successor of Charles VIII, Louis XII, attempted to claim Naples once more, leading to a revival of the war between Aragon and France for the Kingdom of Naples. While the House of Aragon officially gained control of the kingdom in 1503, the following decades saw repeated attempts by the French to regain control, which dwindled as time went on. Eventually, the French relinquished all claims in 1559, finally leaving Naples to the Spanish.
Under the Spaniards, the city witnessed a considerable expansion enhanced by the immigration of people from the countryside. Despite this expansion, the period also came with social challenges, including the siege of Odet of Foix, Viscount of Lautrec in 1527 and the insurrection of Masaniello against the Viceroy Ponce de Léon in 1647.
The spread of pestilence in the subsequent years halved the population, then the city was troubled by later events that ended with the War of Spanish Succession. During the war, the viceroyalty of Naples passed to the Austrians, but in 1734 Charles III of Bourbon, the son of Philip V of Spain, forced the Austrians out of the city and set the capital of an autonomous kingdom in Naples.
The reign of Charles III was characterized by an extraordinary splendor; the city was enriched with monuments and attracted many men of letters and arts. A flowering culture helped Naples enjoy the reformist and enlightened politics of Charles III, but also the politics of his successor, Ferdinand IV.
Under Ferdinand, the university was reformed and it was established as a new Academy, as well as the National Library and Museum, the Academy of Science, and the Military College. These bold political and social reforms interested all social classes, but the events related to the French revolution had wide repercussions throughout the Kingdom.
Ferdinand IV participated in the anti-French coalition of 1798 and sent his military force to support the Austrians against the French. However, the French troops pushed the king out of Naples and formed the Parthenopean Republic that resisted for about five months, until King Ferdinand IV returned to Naples, restoring his authority and ending the republic.
But France reacted to the anti-French attitude of Ferdinand IV and occupied the city in 1806. The king retreated to Sicily and Naples passed under the rule of Giuseppe Bonaparte, and then to Joachim Murat in 1808.
Murat brought new reforms to the city, which included the abolition of feudalism and the introduction of the Napoleonic codes.
In 1815, with the fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, Ferdinand IV returned to the city and soon after assumed the title of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies.
Shocked by revolutions and social struggles, the city passed to Francis II who set up a new constitution. But in spite of the retrospective politics of the rulers, the city saw continuous progress in the fields of arts, letters, and technology. In fact, the first steamboat in Italy and the first railway, inaugurated in 1839, were built in Naples.
The Revolution of 1848 concluded with the revocation of the constitution and with the preparation of the liquidation of the Bourbons. But in 1860 Garibaldi entered the city and a popular plebiscite sanctioned the annexation to the state of Savoy, then it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy soon after its constitution.
Naples gave further proof of heroism during the Second World War when, after more than 120 bombardments, the people forced the German garrison to capitulation. Shook by the war, the city entered a rebuilding phase from the 1950s to the 1980s, which saw the restoration of many major monuments of the city center.
Today, Naples is the third largest city in Italy and has retained its status as one of the most important cities in Southern Italy with an economy based on service industries, manufacturing, and commerce.
The city’s vast wealth of art, architecture, history, cuisine, and scenery have made it a desirable destination for national and international tourism.