Villas of the “Miglio d’oro”

The term “Miglio d’Oro” (the Golden Mile), describes the line of the Strada Reggia delle Calabrie (The Royal Road of Calabrie), because of the very high concentration of eighteenth-century villas, and also architectural manufactured articles of very high value, which from San Giovanni a Teduccio almost reaches the borders of Torre Annunziata. This is a big urban phenomenon, started by the prince of Elboeuf, by King Carlo and by Queen Amalia. Of the former 200 villas, at present 121 are under the guardianship of the Ente Ville Vesuviane (Organism for Vesuvian Villas), and the greater part of them now belongs to private citizen. It is however possible to arrange a tour among the many residences scattered on the vesuvian territory, so as to be able to admire both the amazing architectures, and the wonderful furniture, still preserved inside the villas.

Villas have been actually designed by the most capable architects of the Baroque age, from Ferdinando Sanfelice (1675-1748), to Domenico Antonio Vaccaro (1678-1745), Giovan Antonio Medrano (1703-?), Ferdinando Fuga (1699-1781), and Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-1773). From a strictly architectural point of view, villas have the typical characteristics of the baroque, and rococo style, a scenographic taste, a wise use of perspective effects, with an architecture behind the scenes, and with backgrounds like the Vesuvio, and the sea, an unprejudiced mixture of architectural sequences. Inside villas a great attention is given to the noble floor, enriched by balconies and frescos that often suggest the same landscapes, also visible from outside. A tour among the villas of the vesuvian area, can only start from Portici, which is certainly already known by romans, who use to go there on holiday, because of its mild climate. This area also had a period of many difficulties, on 1631 it was stricken from the violent eruption of the Vesuvio, which destroyed the whole inhabited area, which was rubuilt during the bourbons period. First stop is at Reggia di Portici, that from 1873 became the centre of the Agrarian Faculty of Naples University Federico II. This palace was built by will of Carlo of Bourbon, on 1738, and it was the starting point for the building-up of the famous complex of vesuvian Villas, one of the most important architectural and historical patrimonies of the vesuvian area, and very interesting under an architectural point of view. To this project worked: Antonio Medrano, Antonio Canevari (1681-after 1759), but also Ferdinando Fuga and Vanvitelli, who finished it.

When the works were finished, on 1742, they realized that the building wasn’t big enough to house the whole courtyard, and for this reason a series of other luxury villas were built near the same palace. Only after a decade this complex was built, it had already fulfilled two requirements: it was a royal residence and centre of the Museum Ercolanese. This last museum was founded to collect the Ercolano finds, and very soon it became a very appreciated destination of the Grand Tour. The royal palace, built for the Bourbon family had a square plan, and during the French period were added two wings, one turned to sea, and another turned to Vesuvio. From the building sea side, there are a series of terraces offering an amazing landscape to the sight. The building consist of two parts, an upper, and a lower part, which are separated by a huge courtyard, preceded by the Horsewoman building on the right, and on the left by the former barracks of royal guards. It is possible entering the first floor, through a great staircase whose walls and ceiling are painted with false perspectives. By crossing the great staircase it is also possible having a look at some statues, arranged in niches, of Roman origins and coming from Ercolano. On the first floor, under an artistic point of view, there are Sala delle Guardie (The Guards Room), and the Sala del Trono (The throne Room), still preserving some original decorations, a bathroom of Luigi XVth style, and another Chinese bathroom with a flooring coming from Ercolano.

The wonderful Cappella Barocca (Baroque Chapel) still preserves two pillars of red marble, used for the carrying-out of the altar, which are from Ercolano Theatre. Besides, it is very interesting the courtyard, decorated with statues coming from Ercolano, and from the Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden), where there are some extraordinary beautiful elements, such as the Mermaids Fountain, with a statue of the vittoria excavation, and the Chiosco di re Carlo (The Kiosk of king Charles), with a small table with mosaic, always from Ercolano. The Palace also houses two parks: the Upper, or the Guassone Park, and the Lower. At Portici, there are also other villas worthy to be visited, such as Villa Elboeuf, which took its name because the prince wanted the construction. This villa was built on 1711 by Ferdinando Sanfelice, in a wonderful panoramic position, overlooking Portici sea. On 1742 Carlo of Bourbon bought the building and the park as a maritime annex of the near Royal Building. Later on Ferdinando IVth had a small building built, on the seashore, at the foot of the villa, the so-called “Bagni della Regina” (The Queen’s Baths). The three floor building, hasn’t been properly preserved, however there are still two visible elliptic stairways, connecting the building to the beach, meeting the nobles’ foor on a platform delimited by a piperno, and white marble baluster, which together with the sanfeliciani portals, are the most important architectural element of the complex.

Approaching Ercolano let’s not miss a visit to Villa Campolieto, which regained its original magnificence, after some restoration works made thanks to the ente Ville Vesuviane (Organisam protecting Vesuvian Villas), that purchased it. This villa was built on 1755 by will of Luzio de Sangro, duke of Casacalenda and prince of Campolieto, who entrusted Mario Gioffredo (1718-1785) for the works. The works of the Villa were followed by Michelangelo Giustiniani, and finally finished by Luigi Vanvitelli. The main building structure of the villa is connected to an amazing elliptic parvis. The hallway, houses a spectacular and monumental access staircase, recalling the same hallway situated in the Reggia di Caserta (Caserta Royal Building). From the big entry hallway on the street, it is possible to reach the Rotonda (round terrace), characterized by arches and pillars of Tuscan style order, creating a two level walk, together with the upper terrace. The upper floor hallway is covered by a dome and it is decorated by an upper door with medallions representing the Quattro Stagioni con scene mitologiche (The Four seasons with mythological representations), a work by Crescenzo La Gamba (second half of the XVI I Ith century). On this floor there are the noble apartment rooms. Here there is a big space covered by a circular vault, overlooking the Vesuvio, where frescos of the quadraturisti (artists keen of squared angles and shapes) piacentini (from Piacenza city), like Giuseppe Gennaro Magri (XVIIIth century) are still visible, with colonnades in perspective where the statues of Minerva and Mercurio are framed, a work by Jacopo Cestaro (1718-1778). We finally reach the big parties hall, with mythological representations and perspectives, by Fedele Fischetti (1732-1792), who made a vine-trellis where cupids and coloured exotic birds circled, with evident references to the decorations of Caserta. Another visit to be done in Ercolano, is the visit at Villa Favorita, built by will of the Beretta family, by the Roman architect Ferdinando Fuga, later on purchased by the prince of Aci and Campofiorito, Stefano Reggio Gravina, who gave it to the king Ferdinando IVth of Bourbon.

The villa was named Favorita, because it recalled Ferdinando’s wife, Maria Carolina d’Austria, who celebrated her wedding banquet inside this villa, which was Schonbrun’s the favourite one. This is a very interesting visit for two reasons. First because under an architectural point of view, the building is different from the recurrent schemes, typical of the eighteenth-century villas of the Miglio d’Oro. Actually, along the main facade axle, there are no openings sides, allowing a direct sight on the inside park. The second reason for its being unique is due to how spaces are articulated, inspired to the local late Baroque production, with dodged levels, among the ground floor, the elliptic hall, and the garden.

The two symmetrical courtyards, laterally arranged to the main villa structure, are nevertheless very important. The big park area, ends-up towards the sea with the bourbon landing. Inside the park there is a very high value building: the Palazzina del Mosaico (The Mosaic Building), an annex to the sumptuous villa. Also Villa Petti Ruggiero is a very important place, it was built by will of the Petti baron, around the half of the XVIIIth century. It will belong to this family up to 1863, when it will be given to the Ruggiero family. The villa is situated at the slope of the Vesuvio, and since it is a long way from the sea, it belongs to the so-called country residences, once linked to agricultural activities, and therefore devoid of that elegance that characterised villas on the coastal area.

The villa has a very simple structure, a building structure, with two short side wings, connected by an exedra, so as to define the space of a half- elliptic courtyard. The elegant facade setting, is dominated by stucco ornamentations, but it is the beautiful main door on the street edge, the very important architectural element, which despite the later addition of a second floor, homes a round arch with ashlars side pilasters in piperno stone, surmounted by white marble ionic capitals. On the noble floor there is the central hall, adorned with paintings recalling the Roman age style, because of the use of exotic ornamentations, like long feathers of exotic birds, and warm colours. From this space it is possible to have access to the terrace with decorations of clear rococo style. The presence of racing stables is very interesting, since it is possible to observe piperno stone elements still unchanged, like drinking troughs and the manger. At present, a permanent pictures show, running-through the different phases of the works carried-out inside the villa, has been prepared inside the stable.

Before leaving Ercolano, let’s visit two Churches: Santa Maria di Pugliano and Sant’Agostino. The church of Santa Maria di Pugliano is the most ancient sanctuary of the vesuvian area. Actually it was already known during the medieval epoch, since during some excavations for the building-up of the church, two beautiful sarcophagi of the Roman age, still preserved inside the church, and of very high artistic interest, were found. From outside it looks like a complex of buildings of different epochs, and the bell tower is what remains of the original structure of the Basilica.

Inside the church, whose plant is of three aisles with side chapels, there are interesting works. One of the most interesting element is the altar with polychromatic marbles, where it rises an aedicule, also made with polychromatic marbles, where inside there is a wonderful wooden sculpture preserved, and dating-back on the fourteenth-century, representing the Madonna di Pugliano, object of great veneration. The nave houses a beautiful wooden pulpit, in Baroque style, richly carved. One of the most beautiful and interesting works in the church is the Crocifisso Nero (the Black Crucifix), a wooden sculpture, dating-back to the end of the XIIIth-XIVth centuries, maybe the most meaningful work of the basilica. The church of Sant’Agostino is in Baroque style and dates-back again to 1613. The church is structured with a unique nave with side chapels. Also this church preserves works of artistic value, such as La fuga in Egitto (escaping to Egypt), attributed to the Zingarelli, the paintings representing Sant’Agostino, attributed to Luca Giordano (1634-1705), and the painting of the Vergine che appare a San Nicola da Tolentino (the Virgin appearing before San Nicola from Tolentino), by Antonio Sarnelli (1742-1793). The greater altar made in the eighteenth-century marble, houses a throne where a seventeenth-century copy of a painting of Byzantine epoch is situated, representing the Madonna della Consolazione (the Madonna of the Consolation), where the church takes after its name.

From Herculaneum let’s move to San Giorgio a Cremano. From this point it is possible to continue with the itinerary leading inside the enchanting vesuvian villas. First stop is at Villa Bruno. The villa, with a plan dating-back to the eighteenth-century, originally belonged to the Monteleone family. Its actual aspect is strongly influenced by the transformations operated during the neo-classic period.

Nevertheless, the back prospect, even if very simple, preserves the wide depressed arch, a characteristic of the Baroque period, and the related main balcony. Other eighteenth-century evidences are also represented by some niches located in the atrium, and the rococo doors arranged in the hall of the noble floor, as well as the garden that preserves the original eighteenth-century plan, which during the nineteenth-century restoring works had some elements added, such as the statues, the stone seats, and other sculptural elements. The plan floor preserves nineteenth-century decorations and frescoes representing landscapes, according to the vogue of reproducing external environment inside the halls. Villa Bruno is the Building of the vesuvian Culture, a place of demonstrations, events and meetings. The historical eighteenth-century house, once the foundry of Royal Neapolitans, during the last years has become a very important point for the social, cultural and economic city life. Today this is the permanent centre of many activities and important companies. Another villa worthy to be visited is Villa Tufarelli, with a plan map made of two “L” shaped bodies, rejoining the atrium. The villa was built in the sixtheenth century, to be a chase country house, and it was restored during the eighteenth century, when it passed to the Tufarelli family.

Continuing the itinerary of the vesuvian area, we reach Torre del Greco, of Roman origin, whose native centre consisted in two sea places, Sola and Calastro, subsequently put together and whose population was devoted to the fishing activity.

Also Torre del Greco is part of the so-called Miglio d’Oro and also in this place it is possible to have a look at a series of villas, whose natural aspect has been altered. Let’s just highlight, for those who will reach this charming town, that even if they will some ancient residences, they are also part of the eighteenth-century course, and that even if they won’t be allowed to have an inside visit, they will have the chance to live again its great charm. Among the different villas let’s quote: Villa Bruno-Porta, whose access is through an imposing portal, surmounted by a sacred aedicule, containing the statue of San Gennaro and flanked by two balconies, Villa del Cardinale, whose main facade stretches in a horizontal sense, from the string-course frame, corresponding to the noble floor balconies. And in the vertical sense, from the composite parastakes already present in the beautiful piperno portal, they reappear to the upper floor edging the central balcony opening, Villa Prota, whose ancient structure was probably restored again with a rococo style, by Antonio Vaccaro, who gave it decorative elements, typical of the Neapolitan Baroque style, where the main decoration element was the “traforo” (the fretwork). In Torre del Greco it is impossible not to visit the beautiful church of San Michele, on a Hill of volcanic origin, and devoted to Sant’Alfonso. In this place, already during the XVIth century it already existed a chapel devoted to St. Michele. On 1602, the University gave the hill to the Comunità dei padri Eremitani Camaldolesi (the Community of hermitage fathers).

It was in this period the hill was changed its name, becoming Camaldoli della Torre. On 1867, because of the suppression of ecclesiastic goods, the monks had to abandon the hill, sold by the State, which passed in the hands of different privat citizens. During the Second World War, the hill suffered some serious damage, and it had to be restored by the State and purchased by the order of the Padri Redentoristi of Sant’Alfonso Maria dei Liguori. The church rises on the hill, and it is definetly worthy to be visited, especially for its amazing panorama, and for its clean air it is possible to breathe there. It is in Baroque style and it rises where there was the ancient chapel that was demolished on 1741, when the works for the actual church started. It has a plan with a unique nave, with side chapels and among the most valuable works you can find here, let’s mention the beautiful altar in polychromatic marbles, the two fonts situated on the church facade, at the two portal sides, and the wooden choir. There are also the interesting sacristy frescos, by Francesco Palumbo of 1764. In the most inner part of the vesuvian territory, there is a small town worthy to be visited, the city of Boscoreale, a centre of agricultural origin, already existing in the IInd century A.C. as evidenced by the archaeological remains, situated between the slopes of the Vesuvio and the archaeological area in Pompei. In this place we find a nice residence, Villa Regina, that very few people know, but however worthy to be visited. This is one of the many villas flooded by the Vesuvio eruption, on 79 A.C., and brought to light during the eighties of last century.

The villa was a production unit, specialised in wine-growing, evidenced by the discovery of 18 doliis, buried there for the must preservation, deriving from the near vineyard that surrounded the villa. A very interesting thing to see, it is the great wine cell, with pitchers put down in a ditch in order to preserve the wine. Close to Villa Regina there is the Museo Archeologico di Boscoreale, (Archaeological Museum in Boscoreale) dedicated to archaeological evidences, regarding the agricultural developpment and the natural environment of the Roman epoch, with finds coming from pertinent archaeological excavations, such as Pompei, Ercolano, Oplontis, Stabiae, Terzigno, Boscoreale. In the two rooms of the exposition tour, there are finds coming from country villas of the territory and reconstructions of natural environments.

On the way to Sorrento, there is Castellammare di Stabia, which extends like an amphitheatre in front of the Tyrrhenian sea, and whose greater resource are the natural sources of mineral waters that spontaneously gush out from the slopes of the Faito mountain and that have given life to two thermal establishments.

The centre of Castellammare is Piazza Giovanni XIIIth, also known as Piazza del Municipio, where there is Palazzo Farnese, built there by will of Duke Farnese, to whom the city belonged. On the piazza there is the stately Chiesa Cattedrale (Cathedral Church) dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and San Catello, built in the XVIth century where there was a Christian cemetery of the IIIrd century, enlarged and decorated among 1875 and 1893 by Ignazio and Giovanni Rispoli (XIXth-XXth centuries).

Inside the church there are three aisles with five chapels each side, and it preserves important works of artists like Giacinto Diano (1731-1804) and Giuseppe Bonito (1707-1789), wooden statues of Neapolitan school (among which the statue of San Catello city Patron) and the paintings by Spagnoletto (1591-1652). Taking Via del Gesù, flanked by the neoclassic church of the Anime del Purgatorio (Purgatory Souls), we reach the seventeenth-century Chiesa del Gesù, which preserves among the most important works, a painting by Paolo De Matteis (1662-1728) and a painting by Luca Giordano (1634-1705). The library part of the Church, is of big cultural interest.

Such a pleasant place could just be the favourite destination of Angevins sovereigns, who had their summer house built there, on 1310, in the peaceful atmosphere of the Quisisana. The villa, subsequently passed to the Aragonese, therefore to the Bourbons, who turned it into a royal residence. Garibaldi turned it into a hospital for his volunteers, then it was finally turned into a hotel. To the Varano hill feet, there is the grotta di San Biagio, (San Biagio grotto) a rocky inhabited area, dating-back to the paleochristian time, rich of history and surrounded by an halo of mistery. Its original function is uncertain, perhaps it was a pagan crypt turned by the Benedictines into a Christian basilica.

Here it is possible to find paintings, of important value, and they date-back at different periods. The paintings overlap on the walls of the cave so as to form a real palimpsest. Archaeology keens, cannot escape the visit of the Antiquarium Stabiano, a Museum housing interesting finds especially from the Roman Stabiae, and from its magnificent villas. On the Varano plateau, not too far from Castellammare, along the Archaeological Walk, there are some ruins of two buildings of Roman epoch, called Arianna, after a fresco found again on the site, the other San Marco, for an eighteenth-century chapel devoted to the saint.

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