PIAZZA DEL PLEBISCITO, NAPOLI
This square is now one of the big tourist attractions in the city, a good place to stroll and get your bearings. It hosts various celebrations during the year, from rock concerts to annual new year's Eve festivities. It is also the site of periodic displays of "installation art". The name of the square honors the 1860 plebiscite that ratified the unification of Italy. Narration & Photographic reportage of the square.
Piazza Plebiscito is the largest square in Naples. It is bounded on the east by the Royal Palace and on the west by the church of St. Francis of Paola with its impressive colonnades extending to both sides. In the first years of the 19th century, the King of Naples was Joachim Murat (Napoleon's brother-in-law). Murat in 1809 established the beginning of the works for the "Great and Public Square", the so-called "Foro Gioacchino", to be built under the direction of the Neapolitan architect Leopoldo Laperuta, assisted by Antonio De Simone. He started to build, a bit of imperial splendor, a Romanesque forum in the square. When the Napoleon was finally dispatched, the Bourbons were restored to the throne of Naples;
For the description of the Murattian planning perspective, Teresa Colletta says:
“Il nuovo disegno urbano della grande piazza pubblica era formata da un emiciclo porticato dalla forma semicircolare spinto fin sotto la collina di Pizzofalcone, impostato sullo spazio rettangolare sul cui lato lungo prospettava la reggia e chiuso sui lati minori da due palazzi gemelli allineati su uno stesso asse, ortogonale al primo asse di simmetria generato dal Palazzo del Fontana, congiungente l’ingresso reale al nuovo edificio pubblico circolare al centro dell'emiciclo. Il grandioso portico colonnato circoscrivendo la configurazione della piazza con un semicerchio, al cui centro si apriva un edificio circolare pubblico, coperto a volta per pubbliche adunanze, doveva risolvere il problema del fondale con funzione di quinta contrapposta a quella del Palazzo reale per il nuovo Foro Gioacchino, con spazi pubblici aperti e coperti. Nel punto di incontro dell’asse diametrale orizzontale di chiusura dell’emiciclo e dell’asse di simmetria dello spazio urbano vicereale, doveva collocarsi la statua equestre di Napoleone, quale punto focale dell’intero disegno urbano. Ai due lati, raccordati con l’emiciclo, due palazzi pubblici, costruiti in asse tra loro, determinano le due cortine edilizie laterali della parte rettangolare della nuova piazza; i due palazzi gemellari chiudevano la piazza secondo un asse di simmetria ortogonale a quello principale”
They went ahead with the construction of a church, erected between 1817 and 1831 to a design by the swiss architect, Pietro Bianchi (1787, Lugano -1849, Naples). The porch is formed with six Ionic columns and two Ionic pillars and the sixteen corinthian columns. Inside, the church is circular with two side chapels. The dome is 53 meters high. The high altar is inlaid with jasper and lapis lazuli; the side columns are of Egyptian breccia. Subsequent restorations have attempted to preserve the orignal interior. The church was dedicated to St. Francis of Paola, the name of the square commemorates the plebiscite, the public balloting , of October 1860 that ratified the annexation of the recently defeated Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the Savoy of Sardinia (aka Piedmont-Sardinia), thus forming the modern nation of Italy.
On the north side of the square is the Naples Prefecture (photo, right). It is on the site of the old Convent of the Holy Spirit built in the early 1300s. The clearing away of the monastery was part of the general campaign by the French during the Napoleonic decade under Murat in Naples (1806-1815) to, one, suppress monastic orders and, two, rebuild the space in front of the Royal Palace. This building was started in 1810, suspended when the Bourbons returned to the throne of Naples in 1815, and then continued, following the original plans. It is a "twin" of Palazzo Salerno, the building facing it from directly across the square. That building houses the Regional Military Command and, in spite of the identical appearance, is older; it was built in 1775 by the Bourbons to house a battalion of military cadets.
Palazzo Salerno, however, was then redone to look like the newer one in the photo as part of the French and then Bourbon plan to rebuild the square. Along the axis of the colonnade, isolated in the square, there are two equestrian statues of Charles III of Bourbon (initiator of the Bourbon dynasty) and his son Ferdinando I, built by Antonio Canova. Actually, the Prefecture is better known to most because it is adjacent to the Gambrinus cafe, a favorite haunt of poets and musicians during the late 1800s and early 1900s and, today, a favorite tourist attraction.
Until quite recently, the square had been allowed to fall victim to an urban decay of sorts; It had turned into one gigantic parking lot. As part of the general plan to make the city more enjoyable for residents and visitors alike, Piazza Plebiscito was cleared and restored by the city government in the early 1990s.