Castel dell'Ovo: the oldest castle in Naples
Il Castel dell'Ovo (in Latin, castrum Ovi), is the oldest castle in Naples that rises on the islet of Megaride where, according to the legend, the siren Parthenope landed there which gave the first name to the ancient city, first settlement of the Greeks, the Cumans (of Greek-Euboian origin), in the mid-seventh century BC
After the islet the mainland was also colonized, represented by Monte Echia (the current village of Santa Lucia), where the first inhabited center of ancient Neapolis was built. The islet was then connected to the mainland and the Roman patrician Licinio Lucullo built a beautiful and elegant villa, the Castrum Lucullanum, which remained on the site until the late Roman era.
There were many events that damaged the original Norman appearance of the castle, which was subject to various reconstruction works during the Angevin and Aragonese period.
History of the Castel dell'Ovo
Il Castrum Ovi, or the Castel dell'Ovo in Naples, is the oldest manor of the cities.
It lies on a small island composed of tufa, called di Megaride and according to legend, it was in this piece of land that the siren Partenope landed, the one who gave the first eponymous ancient name Napoli, founded by the Greek Cumanis, around the VIII century BC
The rock with a marina is currently famous with the name of Borgo Marinari and it is really much loved by the Neapolitans and not only, especially when, in summer, the sea breeze softens the heat and gives coolness to the visitors thanks to the presence of the bay where restaurants and typical restaurants rise.
Borgo Marinari is connected to the mainland by a bridge that links it exactly to the Naples waterfront, in via Partenope.
The first ancient inhabited center was founded on the natural extension of the Monte Echia, which was conquered immediately after the taking of the islet; the islet is connected by a rock isthmus to the mainland and in it, still today, stands the district of Santa Lucia.
Before the foundation of Castel dell'Ovo, in the first century BC, the island and the mainland were connected by the patrician Lucio Licinio Lucullo, who was a forerunner in realizing the enormous potential of the place: having acquired a very vast land in that very strip of land surrounded by the sea, he built his enchanting villa, known as Castellum Lucullanum.
In his sumptuous castle, Lucullus gave life to philosophical and historical studies, to demonstrations of wealth also through endless banquets, dances, entertainment shows, games and other excesses, which, in fact, generated the adjective "luculliano" to indicate this flashy way of life. Even then, in the Villa of Lucullo, there were farms of morays, peach trees, coming from the Persian and cherry lands, imported from Cerasunte, today Giresum, capital of the Turkish province of the same name.
Lucullo's villa suffered several attacks both in the Angevin and Aragonese periods, and this required frequent renovations to give it its original Norman appearance again.
Retracing and narrating the history of Castel dell'Ovo is far from simple, due to the fact that it is a continuum of historical events, popular myths, anecdotes and legends that have been intertwined since its foundation and up to the present day.
Among these narratives, a popular story also comes to life the poet Virgil and his egg.
The Castrum was the most famous villa in the entire Gulf of Naples, it rose from the mountain of Pizzofalcone to Piazza del Municipio, where today the Maschio Angioino is present. In this imposing villa works of art from the Asian provinces were collected, there was an impressive library to which intellectuals and men of science from all over the world visited.
Rare fish were bred here and the villa was equipped with fish ponds capable of yielding millions of sesterces.
On the death of the consul the Villa di Lucullo was acquired by the empire for a long time e it was Valentinian III who fortified it, until the moment in which it even became the seat of the exile of Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor of the West, who died right inside these walls, in the 476.
From the 5th to the 10th century, the villa then became a hermitage for Basilian monks coming from Pannonia: they adopted the Benedictine rule and devised the scriptorium, also thanks to the immense library works inherited from Lucullo himself. In the 10th century, the monks had to leave the castle after the arrival of the Saracens, when the Dukes of Naples turned it into a fortress and outpost for the defense of the city.
The religious left the monastic complex to take refuge in Pizzofalcone. Of the documents dating back to 1128, they tell of the existence of a fortress created by the Basilian monks and called Arx Sancti Salvatoris and of which only the fragment of an entrance with large arches in the loggia reached us.
With the junta of the Normans many administrations related to trade and development were delocalized from Castel dell'Ovo to Castel Capuano.
The castle was fortified once again under the reign of Costanza d'Altavilla, queen of the Swabians, by Frederick II himself, who built Torre di Colleville, Torre di Mezzo and Torre Maestra. In this period the manor was used as a palace and as a state prison.
In the 1370, a earthquake he collapsed the natural arch of the castle and Queen Giovanna I on the one hand ordered its reconstruction in masonry and on the other took the opportunity to restore even the Norman constructions. The monarch lived here as a sovereign, to find you then imprisonment until the exile of Muro Lucano, as a result of the betrayal of his own nephew.
Further reconstructions took place at the behest of Alfonso V of Aragon, who had the pier restored, strengthened the defense by lowering the towers and in general, giving more wealth to the royal palace; the castle fell into French hands and to reclaim it, his son Ferrante I, decides to do it through heavy bombing.
The last Aragonese king was overthrown by Spain; subsequently the towers were damaged and rebuilt once again, to appear as we see them today: octagonal in shape, with walls made thicker and more resistant and with defensive structures oriented downwards and not towards the sea.
The advent of the Spanish viceroys first and of the Bourbons later led to the creation of two drawbridges and a further fortification with batteries.
From the eighteenth century Castel dell'Ovo stopped being definitively the seat of the royals and was used exclusively as a military outpost, as a shelter and as a prison: Tommaso Campanella was imprisoned there before the death sentence and several Carbonari, Jacobins and liberals.
After the Unification of Italy a rehabilitation plan was studied which was to change the whole aspect of Naples and which included the whole demolition of the castle to replace it with a new district; fortunately it was not continued with this purpose, although the fortress remained in total abandonment until the restorations that took place in the 1975.
Today Castel dell'Ovo can be visited and is part of the district of Santa Lucia: inside, in the beautiful halls are held events, conferences, meetings and exhibitions. As mentioned, in front of the walls there is the small port of Borgo Marinari, home of the Neapolitan nightlife and various important nautical clubs.
Legends and curiosities of the Castel dell'Ovo in Naples
Castel dell'Ovo is made known and mythicized, as well as for the long history that distinguishes it, even for one legend which concerns the poet Virgil, which, in the Middle Ages was also considered a magician.
He composed both the famous opera in Naples The Bucoliche is the 4 Georgic books.
According to legend, the poet-magician he would have hidden a magic egg inside a crystal container, in turn enclosed in an iron cage and hanging from the ceiling of the secret rooms, located in the basement of the building. This egg had the power to keep the manor standing, to guarantee the integrity of the islet and therefore to protect the whole city.
In the event that the egg, which actually was never found, broke, heavy catastrophes would have struck the entire city of Naples.
Legend has it that during the reign of Joanna I, the 26 July of the 1370, the castle was partially demolished by an impressive swell at the height of the ramparts and a prisoner, such Ambrogio Visconti, escaping from prisons hit the container and broke the egg. The fortress began to collapse along with a part of Mount Echia and to prevent panic from spreading among the inhabitants, the queen herself had to confess to having replaced the egg.
This legend is actually linked to the fact that the poet loved Naples to such an extent, that he spent much of his time there and became a character known to the Neapolitans, who, always fond of popular beliefs, attributed him a role of magician, who he never bothered to deny it first.
There's more, why Virgilio, friend of the magister civium, or of the then mayor of the city, he was hired by these to help him in the reclamation works of the city of Naples, which was then continually affected by pestilence, due to the absence of sewers and the presence of numerous swampy areas.
The poet, thanks to the teachings given by his farmer father, was a notable connoisseur of the subject and this allowed him to be remembered for his collaboration in the vast rehabilitation works and, as the epitaph in his tomb recalls, above all for having given origin to the first excavation of the underground tunnel that linked Mergellina to Bagnoli.
This underground allowed travelers to avoid climbing over the inaccessible Posillipo hill and to avoid the long deviation of the underground passage of Seiano.
These were great works that met with great success, as they facilitated the movement of the Neapolitans and who helped to boast the poet of the title of magician.
The legend of the egg actually it dates back to a long time before the presence of Virgil and it was exclusively a colorful way of explaining how the Castrum Lucillum had earned that name, which was simply due to the fact that Ruggiero I Normanno built it on pre-existing ruins, giving it an ovular shape.
The Neapolitan archivists and scholars of the nineteenth century were very famous figures for their skill and it was they who testified that the name of the castle had nothing to do with any egg, but was linked solely to its shape.
The fact remains that historical truth, as it really is, is often forgotten and partly lost because it is considered a little curious and stimulating for those who listen to it, while the fascination with legends has the power to make them appealing, interesting and easy to remember. , thus giving him greater longevity, if not making them even immortality.
What to visit of the castle
The structure of Castel dell'Ovo
The external part of the Castel dell'ovo
The enchanting fortress known as Castel dell'Ovo, today the headquarters of the Regional Directorate for Cultural Heritage and Landscape of the Campania Region, shows all its beauty as soon as you arrive, as you can already admire the view of the gulf from the outside: it is about of something unique.
The pier overlooking the sea is known as Ramaglietto, which was built above the "sun's edge" where windmills once stood and it is a welcoming place for its visitors and where buffets are organized .
The only internal road is the one that crosses the Normandy Tower, which rests on piperno arches and shows an ancient Guelph battlements inserted in a subsequent rise. After the tower, we come to the Church of San Salvatore, which rests on columns made of granite, has Roman capitals of bones and preserves some late Byzantine frescoes.
The terrace of the Cannons is the highest area of the castle and the view that opens before the eyes of visitors leaves you breathless, especially during the hours of sunset. La Terrazza dei Cannoni, as the Ramaglietto is suitable to accommodate the nightlife in search of a suggestive place to regenerate and are often used also for photo shoots.
The view of the Gulf of Naples is finally offered by the two terraces known as Loggiato ovest and Loggiato est: the first offers a view that looks towards the Neapolitan city and is adjacent to the inner rooms of Compagna, Antro di Virgilio and Megaride, which are often exploit for congresses and meetings. The East Loggia is facing the gulf and partially occupies a space of the Church of San Pietro, which was built by the monks of San Basilio and today is almost completely destroyed. Of the monastic complex, the "hermitages" remain, that is the cells carved into the rock in tuff: some are simple cavities, others have a vaulted ceiling and were probably used as altars. The cells are connected by tunnels and were brought to light in the early twentieth century. The most adorned cell is the one dedicated to Saint Patrick.
On the East Loggiato today we organize pleasant coffee breaks and buffets during the various events that take place inside the fortress.
The interior rooms of Castel dell'Ovo
When you enter the castle, you can immediately see several rooms on which there are ancient frescoes, made directly on the plaster, but now almost illegible.
Among the most beautiful of the castle, there is the Sala delle Colonne, where there are precisely several columns that rest on pointed arches. The drills are part of the larger columns, have sharp-edged grooves and exhibit a marble whiteness that contrasts with the yellow tuff. The hall, divided into various naves, although it appears as a sort of church, was almost certainly used as a refectory for the monks. The materials often reused in the restructuring of the castle, recall the original villa of the first century BC by Lucullo.
At the height of the entrance rampart, there is a room in tuff which is called the Prison of Queen Giovanna. The Hall of Prisons is made with a large central compartment from which various corridors lead to the windows on the west and east sides of the castle. This room was probably born as a fortification, to then be used as guardian of treasures and documents, such as the secret archives of the State.
Inside Castel dell'Ovo there are various rooms used in conferences, meetings and meetings, which are each time stripped and freely adapted by the organizers, based on the type of event.
The Sala Italia, with its beautiful vaulted ceiling, is the largest and most prestigious of all, followed by the Sala Sirena, entirely carved out of the tuff rock. Virgilio's Antro includes a main hall and two smaller rooms, which lend themselves to become secretariats, buffet areas or wardrobes.
Virgilio's Antro is below the Sala Compagna, more modern than the others and located in the highest area of the castle: it can be reached through two lifts, or along an evocative path inside the castle. Behind the Sala Compagna lies the Megaride Room, composed of an internal room suitable for depositing materials and a room capable of containing an audience of 80 people.
How to reach us
from the highway, ring road, exit Centro - Porto, take Via Marina to Piazza Municipio
from Alibus airport to Piazza Municipio
from the railway station (Piazza Garibaldi), subway Line 1 from Garibaldi, direction Piscinola, Toledo stop. Or from Piazza Garibaldi take R2 bus to Piazza Municipio
Toledo stop 1 line, on foot for 750 mt.
from piazza Garibaldi R2 up to Piazza Municipio; from Piazza Vittoria 1 tram to Piazza Municipio
Information on Castel dell'Ovo
Address: Via Eldorado 3 - 80132 Naples
in the summer (with the application of summer time):
- on weekdays from 9.00 to 19.30 - last access 19.00 hours
- on holidays and Sundays from 9.00 to 14.00 - last access 13,30 hours
in winter (with the deactivation of summer time):
- on weekdays from 9.00 to 18.30 - last access 18.00 hours
- on holidays and Sundays from 9.00 to 14.00 - last access 13,30 hours
Prezzi: free access
Events and latest news on Castel Dell'Ovo
The Castel dell'Ovo in NaplesThe castel of the Ovo (in Latin, castrum Ovi), is the oldest castle in Naples that rises on the islet of Megaride where, according to the legend, the siren Parthenope landed that gave the first name to the ancient city, the first settlement of the Greeks, the Cumans (of Greek-Euboian origin), in the mid-seventh century BC
Email: [email protected]
Hours for visitors (updated to 2 August 2021):
Admission for visitors is free.