Il Duomo

Il Duomo is among the best historic buildings in Naples, with a story that goes back many centuries into the city’s past

Also commonly referred to as Duomo di San Gennaro or Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, Il Duomo is better known in English simply as Naples Cathedral. Dedicated to the city’s patron, Saint Gennaro, the cathedral boasts some stunning architecture including a neo-Gothic façade, which is a late addition of the nineteenth century. However the cathedral is no newcomer to Naples’ skyline and was, in fact, a place of worship in early Christian times. The cathedral structure comprises the remains of an early Christian basilica. Tourists can also enjoy many notable works of art and the miraculous blood of San Gennaro.

History

Il Duomo was originally founded in the fourth century AD and took over the site of an earlier Greek temple which was dedicated to the god Apollo. Although it has remained a Christian place of worship ever since, only the baptistery remains from this early part of the cathedral’s life. Much of the present building that can be seen today was built in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Utilising the French Gothic style found all over northern Europe, the construction phase of the present cathedral was started by Charles I, but only completed under Robert the Wise.

A number of reconstruction projects have taken place since it was completed which have altered the appearance of the building somewhat. At the start of the fifteenth century, for example, the western façade had to be rebuilt by Antonio Baboccio following the destructive power of an earthquake. Indeed, much of the rest of the building had to be restored following another earthquake about 50 years later. The cathedral’s famous neo-Gothic façade was designed by Enrico Alvino and this was completed in 1905.

Exploring Il Duomo

Entering Il Duomo, visitors are first struck by the large nave they see which has some 16 piers that incorporate in excess of one hundred classical columns, each hewn from granite. The internal decoration of the cathedral is mostly in the baroque style. Walking through the cathedral, many of the walls have portraits of the saints on them which were painted by Luca Giordano. Looking upwards, you can see the impressively painted ceiling which was fashioned by Fabrizio Santafede.

Heading off from the right aisle of Il Duomo, you can discover the Cappella di San Gennaro, chapel dedicated to the Saint, also known as Chapel of the Treasury, which dates back to the seventeenth century. Designed by both Francesco Grimaldi and Giovanni Cola di Franco working in tandem, it features the work of some of the most sought-after artisans and artists of the time. Together, they undoubtedly created one of the city’s greatest baroque highlights, including many fine examples of the style such as Giuseppe de Ribera’s painting of Saint Gennaro. Tucked away behind the altar is a strongbox which houses a silver bust containing the skull of San Gennaro and two small phials that are said to hold his miraculously liquefying blood. This blood is said to transform into a fluid at times and it was widely reported to have done so in 2015 when the cathedral was visited by Pope Francis. This was the first time the claim has been made of it liquefying in the presence of the pontiff since Pope Pius IX attended in 1848.

Other chapels of note in the cathedral include the fifth and seventh, both of which are situated on the left hand side, and which boast thirteenth century reliefs. The chapel numbered sixth on the left is home to a Byzantine-style mosaic of the Virgin with the Child by Lello da Orvieto which dates back to 1322. Also on the left side of the cathedral is the earliest surviving part of the building, the Basilica di Santa Restituta, the oldest church in the city, built on the 4th century as an independent church but incorporated to the Cathedral in the 13th century. However, what is on view is almost completely reconstructed following yet another earthquake that occurred in the late seventeenth century. Even that Il Duomo’s subterranean areas, which house many fascinating remains of buildings and roads dating back to the classical era, could remain closed due to restoration works for some time, the cathedral is still well worth a visit. Visitors should dress appropriately for a place of worship.