History of Naples


See Naples guide for highlights and historic monuments

The earliest history of Naples is surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty, due to the lack of both a literary tradition and a clear evidence of archaeological finds.

Two names are associated with the Naples of antiquity: one is Pale├▓polis (meaning the "old town" and perhaps it can be identified with Partenope, which was born near the "Bay of Cuma", the Gulf of Naples was then known) and the other is Neapolis ( or "New City"). This demonstrates the existence of two separate towns.

Some scholars believe that both these towns were of Greek origin, while others maintain that the oldest existed in the pre-Greek age.

In any case, the so-called Old Town seems to have been founded around 650 BC by some Greek colonists of Chalcis and Eretria who came from nearby Cumae, where they had already been established for a century or so.

See history of Cuma for details of this earlier settlement.

The location of this site has been identified as today's Pizzo Falcone promontory, where remains such as the cemetery in Via Nicotera date perhaps to the7th century BC and was used until the 5th century. Traces of walls have also been found, probably dating from the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

From ancient coins discovered in Naples we can see the symbols which were associated with the city in ancient times: on one side is the goddess Athena wearing a helmet, on the other a bull with a human head, perhaps representing the god Achelous, the father of the Sirens. On the coins you can read the ancient name of Napless inhabitants: "Nepolites" or "Neàpolites.

From Roman Naples onwards

Moving forward, by the second half of the 4th century the Roman conquest of the hinterland led to the Neapolitan war with Rome, who laid siege to the city and forced her to accept, in 326 B.C., a treaty, the so-called "Foedus Neapolitanus", which required the city to accept Roman rule. The ancient Greek spirit, and even the language, was maintained in the town that was a favourite of many emperors, including Tiberius, who made his residence in Capri.

Naples after the Romans

In the sixth century AD Naples was conquered by the Byzantines, but remained the main city in southern Italy. A period of major development and glory continued in Naples under the Swabians, and especially under the reign of Frederick II (the founder of the University of Naples, 1251) then the Anjou (1266) and under Robert of Anjou (1309 -1343).

The 15th and 16th century were tough years for Naples, fouight over by the Angevin, Aragonese and finally by the Spanish, who began their domination in Naples from the early 16th century.

The 17th century was one of the most tragic in the history of Naples, which became crowded (with more than 600,000 inhabitants), and with the subsequent development of popular revolts (it is famous for the revolt of Masaniello in 1647).

Even the 18th century was very troubled, despite the political autonomy achieved by a cadet branch of the Bourbons of Spain - the French Revolution had considerable effects on the Kingdom: King Ferdinand IV was forced to flee, while Naples was proclaimed the to be the French Neapolitan Republic in 1799.

Things were little better during the Napoleonic Era, because Napoleon declared the end of the Bourbons, and put his brother Joseph on the throne of Naples in 1806, followed by Giacchino Murat from 1808-1815.

With the fall of Napoleon, the Bourbons returned to Naples in 1815 under Ferdinand IV, who assumed the title of King of the Two Sicilies.

During the period of the Risorgimento Naples saw some attempts at insurrections in 1820-1821, in 1844 and again in 1848. The famous 'Giuseppe Garibaldis Thousand' ended the Kingdom of the Bourbons, and Naples became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.