The artistic tradition of the three islands of Gulf of Naples has very deep roots, dating-back to millenniums before Christ’s birth, and it can satisfy art keens of every period, from the middle ages era, to contemporary art, as well as applied arts. The territory offers the possibility to admire different artistic expressions, such as for example: Roman villas, churches of every epoch, museums, paintings, reliquary busts, altars, and everything that was located in a certain church or building, from ten, one hundred, or one thousand years now, has become the keeper of traditions, secrets and legends characterising all populations. This is a tour leading through the city halls of the neapolitan islands, searching for an artistic – historical patrimony wich conceals hidden secrets.
Churches and villas with one more legend… wondering about the nine islands city halls
The trip starts from the Port of Marina Grande of Procida, to reach Terra Murata at the slopes of Piazza dei Martiri, rises la Chiesa della Madonna delle Grazie (Church of the Madonna of Graces) built on 1679, during the baroque period, with Greek cross plant with three apsidal arms and a dome with octagonal drum. The main point is the painting, of uncertain dating, showing the Madonna delle Grazie. The legend tells about a big miracle this Madonna made, and that refers to the assault suffered by a fisherman by a big sea cetacean without being killed. When the cetacean and its skin were captured, they were kept inside the Sanctuary, to remember the Virgin. Leaving Chiesa della Madonna delle Grazie it is possible to reach the upper part of Terra Murata, to visit the Benedict’s Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, a real art and culture case, founded on 1026, but which probably rises on an ancient religious complex of the Vth-VIth century.
In the church, with a basilican plant divided into three naves and seventeen altars. Particularly interesting is the lacunar of the nave dating back to the XVIIth century, and realised in wood and pure gold. At the centre of it there is the most impressive painting of the church: Saint Michael defeating Satan attributed to the painter Luca Giordano (1634-1705).
The whole building develops on two levels: the church and the abbey complex. On the crypt altar there is a skull and a little coffin of the XVIIIth century. The huge ossuary, wrapped up by a halo of mystery leads from the church to the sea for more than 70 meters. The ossuary is made of bone and ashes cumulated down there over the centuries, and the bodies were also thrown there without a logical sense. Outside the abbacy your eye will be caught by the former Royal Palace, which after the year 1815, at first became a military college, and then between 1830 and 1831, became a penitentiary under king Ferdinand IInd the Bourbon.
Coming down from Terra Murata, we meet Marina Corricella, a little fishermen’s harbour. For those tourists who like animals, we propose a stop to the VIIth century church of Sant’Antonio Abate, with a single nave and side chapels.
The VIIIth century greater altar is of very important relevance, being elegantly inlaid with polychromatic marbles. The same goes for the balaustrade standing in front of it, chiselled with pillarss decorated in relief, as well as some paintings by Francesco Solimena. In ancient times Procida islanders, during “Sant’Antuone” celebrations, used to bring in procession, around the church, their own animals in order to get them blessed and to protect them from epidemics. We suggest to all women still searching for a husband to have a stop in Lavadera street, at Sant’Antonio da Padova church, with a single nave plant and side chapels. Over the main altar, there is a painting of the XVIIth century representing Saint Anthony. Inside the church there is a statue of San Pasquale Baylon, in front to wich, according to Procida island women’s tales, inancient time young women searching for a husband used to go there. This Saint is considered the “spinsters protector” still now.
From the tourist harbour of Marina Corricella is possible to reach the little Vivara island that preserves many finds of its first inhabitants, brought back to light as a consequence of the many excavations carried-out on the islands. From that moment more Mycenaean finds were discovered, but there were also finds of native, as an evidence that on the island there were permanent dwellers. Among the above mentioned finds there are standard size vases, with or without handles, of standard or big dimensions, and also fragments of other objects of daily use.
Let’s move from Procida to Ischia Harbour, with its natural landing located inside a volcanic crater, dating back to on the IVth century B.C., and made by will of Ferdinand IInd the Bourbon. This landing was made by opening a channel in the rocks. In Piazza del Redentore it is possibile to visit the neo classic chiesa di Santa Maria di PortoSalvo. The facade is on two levels, decorated from outside with a Greek peristyle. The inside part has a latin cross plant, and it keeps three big paintings, by Neapolitan painters, of the XIVth century, located above the three altars.
From the Harbour let’s now continue the tour to get to Ischia Ponte. This is an old maritime suburb, whose name derives from the Bridge Alfonso from Aragon decided to build, in order to connect the village to the tuffaceous islet, where now there is the Castello Aragonese, a conglomerate of buildings of different ages. On the path leading to the castle’s top, at half of the climb, there is the Cappellina, worthy to be visisted. This Chapel is dug-out in live stone and dedicated to San Giovanni Giuseppe della Croce (1654-1734), the only one saint who was born in Ischia. It is possible to reach the castle by walking through the gallery Alfonso the Ist from Aragon dug-out around the year 1447, or by taking a modern lift. On the top of the rock there is the XVIIth century Chiesa dell’lmmacolata with a Greek cross plant. On its longer axle there is a quadrangular space, used as a presbytery, together with another space used as a pronaus. The Convento delle Clarisse, an abandoned convent dated on XVIth century, is a very fascinating place.
The convent was abandoned after the monasteries’ suppression occured in the XIXth century . The building expands like an elevated rectangular block, enriched with rectangular windows distribution. Here legend and tradition meet, each other since in the cellars of the church it is possible to visit the gruesome nun’s cemetery, where it is also possible to see the nun’s ossuary who instead of being buried, once died, they were just sat on brickwork chairs, the so called scolatoi (the drainers). You can’t miss to visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Libera where a fresco, of particular artistic interest and laying under another fresco has been recently found and restored. At the castle top it is possible to run into old ruins of the ancient Cattedrale that got bombed on 1809. The building of this cathedral dates back the year 1300 when Geronda inhabitatnts, was the ancient name of the Ischia island, decided to displace where the castle is located, owing to of the Epomeo mountain erutption. The cathedral stretches on two floors: the upper church and the crypt. On the year 1503 at the end of the left nave altar of the church, was celebrated the wedding between Ferrante d’Avalos and Victoria Colonna. The maior altar was moved into the actual cathedral after the destruction.
The last stop is the Church of San Pietro a Pantaniello, with its characteristic hexagonal plant, attributed to the architect Iacopo Barozzi, called the Vignola (1507-1573). Once at Ischia Ponte it is impossible to miss the visit of the actual cathedral, the Chiesa dell’Assunta, which dates back to the XIIth century, and which was rebuilt using baroque shapes. Inside the church there are valuable artworks, such as a baptismal fountain of the XIVth century, with a thub dating – back to the late Renaissance period, sustained by three Caryatids, and a wooden cross of the XIIIth century. Annexed to the church there are also the Storiche Prigioni (Historical Prisons), where Luigi Settembrini, Carlo Poerio and Silvio Spaventa got prisoned. In Casamicciola there is a “little jewel” of the XIXth century architecture, which is the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, with basilical plant, divided into three naves, with central sail lunette vault and little cross vaults in the central naves.
After Casamicciola let’s then reach Lacco Ameno, landing point of Greek peasants. In this place, during a very important archaeological excavation Greek pieces of very high value were brought to light, as the famous coppa di Nestore (Nestore’s Cup), now at the Museo di Villa Arbusto, bringing an epigram in three verses, considered as the most ancient Greek poetic text, contemporary to Omero’s verses. Also Christians have left here their cults and traces. One of the first religious community was born where now there is the Church of Santa Restituta, where in the ancient Rome there was a big cistern, and on that area between the IVth and the Vth century A.C. was built early Christian Basilica. The actual facade style is neo-classic and dates-back to 1910. Inside this basilica some paintings of the nineteenth century by Ferdinando Mastroianni (not. 1885), represent Santa Restituta’s martyr scenes. From Lacco we reach Forio d’lschia. In this place there are many artistic evidences, starting from the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto, dating back to the beginnings of the XIVth century. Here we find many artworks, as for example the sixteenth century table, showing the Madonna di Loreto, by the Neapolitan painter Decio Tramontano (second half of the XVIIIth century).
Near the City Hall we find the real symbol of the Ischia island inhabitants, the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso, whose entrance is decorated with polychromatic porcelaine, and is rich of ex votes of fishermen made when escaping from storms. Then we get to the highest City Hall of the island, Serrara Fontana, at Epomeo Mountain slopes. At the Mountain top there is the fifteenth century church of San Nicola. Annexed to the church there is an hermitage dug-out in the tufo, with caves, rooms and burrows, in operation of the hermitage. The last City Hall to be visited is Barano. It is in Piazza San Rocco, which is surrounded by a wonderful landscape that find the Parrocchia di San Giorgio, for which there is a legal act certifying there was a chapel in this place, since 1300. Among the artworks inside the church there are four altars, one of these altars was a gift by Ferdinand the IInd, and a crucifix of 1300. Now lets’ get to Capri, an island that offers one of the most fascinating itinerary, leading to the discovery of ancient villas. At the beginning those villas were twelve, and August and Tiberio wanted them to be built in this area.
Each villa, according to the tradition was dedicated to an Olympus god. The fame of the two island towns, Capri and Anacapri is to be attributed to Roman Emperors. Palazzo a Mare, a villa built as a wish of the emperor august, it’s easy to reach from Porto di Marina Grande. At the beginings this villa occupied the vast area streatching from Bevaro point, to the beach called Bagni di Tiberio, placing itself with various nuclei between the sea and the promontuory. Maybe this villa was a typical open Roman villa, with little scattered rooms, and with a big park. Now the ruins are the only things left to be visited by tourists: a very big slope wall, where there is a house, an exedra – nynphaea, and a little maritime basin, dated – back to the Emperor August’s age, with elements of Emperor Tiberio’s age. We suggest you to take the second stop at Villa San Michele, in Anacapri, reachable wheather from the famous Scala Fenicia, or by coming back to Marina Grande harbour, continuing after the famous piazzetta till Piazza Vittoria, where you will find indications. Villa San Michele rises near a little chapel, dedicated to San Michele Arcangelo, and it looks like a building rising on the ruins of an ancient imperial villa. Actually this villa preserves a sober and elegant style, and inside it, we find the Fondazione Axel Munthe.
Among the exposed finds, there are artworks of Roman, Etrurian, and Egyptian ages. Axel Munthe, who was a writer, made those old buildings remains restored, which were probably a Roman rest station at the end of the Scala Fenicia. Remains of another building of Tiberian age, are exposed at Villa Damecuta. It is quite difficult to recognise the originary extension of this building, which was brought to light during the excavations carried-out between 1937 and 1948. Of the original building now we have just some structures arranged on the brow of the rocky ridge, characterised by powerful buildings with arces. Like other imperial villas of the island, also this one had to proliferate of marble floors, decorations and artworks. Among the few remains, the ambulatio lodge, sustained by two pillars and arcs, is of particolar interest. Villa Gramola, another archaeologic site probably was a kind of appendix of Villa Damecuta. We suggest you to move on the opposite side of the island to reach the wonderful Villa Jovis. This is the main residence of Emperor Tiberio, dating back to the Ist century a.c., and still at present this villa allows visitors watch the fascinating and delightful landscapes that probably stroke very much the Emperor, who decided this place had to become his residence.
From Villa Jovis it is possible to have a look at the so called Salto di Tiberio, a viewpoint at the edge of a rocky precipice, where, according to the legend, the Emperor’s enemies were killed by being thrown in the void, after being also tortured. At present we only have the wall naked structures, because of removals occurred mostly in the XVI I Ith century, but some remains are still visible: a floor in African marble, covering the area on the highest altar of the Church of Santo Stefano, and there is another floor in the room of Reggia di Capodimonte in Naples. In order to visit the villa we suggest you to buy a planimetry. On the villa highest point, let’s make a short stop at the little Chiesa di Santa Maria del Soccorso, of the XVIIIth century. Palazzo a Mare, Villa Damecuta and Villa Jovis, are at different latitudes, so as to form a sort of bar occupying the two edges and the central part of the island, with a wide view of the Gulf of Naples, from Campanella point to Ischia.