A MILLENARY JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY
Naples has its roots in Greek culture. The first settlers gave the city the name of Partenope and then that of Neapolis, whose defensive walls ran along the current Via del Sole and via S. Severo alla Pietrasanta, up to Piazza San Domenico. Traces of opus reticulatum and testaceum are still observable, as are floors and mosaics belonging to a Roman domus.
Like Athens, Neapolis was also divided into Phratries, social groups, each with its own temple. The Artemisii Phratry founded the temple dedicated to Diana Medica, goddess linked to the cult of the Moon, in the place where today stands the Basilica of Pietrasanta. In the basement of the Basilica there are the remains of the ancient Greek aqueduct: an underground path of tunnels and cisterns that ran not only under the basilica, but for the entire perimeter of the ancient city, allowing the distribution of water in the then already developed center of Neapolis.
In the bell tower, datable to the eleventh century, it can be seen many examples of reuse of architectural elements and inscriptions from the Roman era, including the ludus lastrunculorum, a game similar to checkers, very popular among Roman soldiers.
the Pietra Santa
“The Church, the Temple, the Pomponian Basilica, so called by its Founder, who was the glorious St. Pomponius, who was edifying it to expand it before the Most Blessed Virgin so much as his heart, like that of the whole neapolitan herd entrusted to his care”
The Basilica was founded in the sixth century after Christ, between 525 and 533, at the behest of the bishop Pomponius. The foundation of the church is linked to an ancient popular legend according to which the Devil, under the guise of a pig, infested the area between Piazza Miraglia and the ancient center, and scared with its grunts the passers-by during the night hours.
Pomponius had the basilica built as a result of a dream during which The Virgin Mary ordered him to build a church in the place where he would find a heavenly cloth. Under the cloth, the Pietra Santa, holy stone: a rock engraved with a cross, which would have been venerated by the worshippers over the years as a source of indulgence.
During the seventeenth century, the church was rebuilt due to the bad condition of the structure as a result of collapses caused by an earthquake in 1456.
The works for the construction of the new Basilica began in 1656, under the direction of Cosimo Fanzago and, after an initial suspension caused by the spread of the plague, ended in 1667. The seventeenth-century Church, which is the structure visible today, was developed on a Greek cross plan, with a 65 meter high dome. The bright naves, the contrast with the shadow that surrounds the choir, the architectural solutions of the entire system, make the fanzaghiana basilica an interesting unicum in the heart of Naples.
The church, which during the nineteenth century had already undergone radical changes to its dome, was subject to several successive changes. It twice suffered bombing, the first in 1942, when an artillery projectile destroyed the fronton after having struck the vault between the entrance and the dome, and the second, in 1943, when after an air raid parts of the dome and of the wall behind the high altar were destroyed.
The massive damage forced the church to close.
For decades, the site remained in a state of neglect. During the ’70s it was even used as a deposit of construction material, putting at risk the majolica floor of the Basilica.
THE COMPLEX TODAY
After 64 years, the church was reopened with a solemn Mass celebrated on 21 June 2007. The new management of the Pietrasanta Association has finally brought the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore back to the city, placing the site at the center of various cultural projects and events.
On 16 November 2017, in the presence of the Mayor of Naples Luigi de Magistris and the Assessors Piscopo and Calabrese, the Unesco valorisation project was officially concluded, with the closure of the works and the inauguration of the Mayor.
The activities organized to enhance the underground path of the hypogeum and the underground tunnels will result in the creation of a path that will provide the public with a complete view of the entire basilical system and which will demonstrate how much it has to tell and fascinate the incredible site of the Pietrasanta.