Naples is full of historical architecture, such as the Royal Palace in the Piazza del Plebiscito, but there can be few more evocative buildings from the city’s past than the four castles which have dominated the area since the Middle Ages. There are plenty of castles in the Italian peninsula which date back to this time, but Naples is almost unique in having its castles intact. The fact that it has no less than four well-preserved castles, each from a different era of the Middle Ages, means that for castle lovers, the city stands alone.
The oldest of the four castles of Naples, the Castel dell’Ovo was originally constructed in the first century BC. However, the original building has long since gone and what can be seen today is mostly the fortifications made by fifteenth century builders. Often referred to as the Egg Castle, the name of this building does not come from its shape but from a legend that the ancient poet Virgil placed an egg in the castle’s foundations – one that was said to have possessed magical qualities. Located just outside of the city, the Castel dell’Ovo is situated on a small island named Megaride. When it was first built, the castle was little more than a fortified Roman villa. In the Middle Ages, the castle came under Norman rule and it was later a possession of the Kingdom of Aragon, now an autonomous community of Spain. Visitors can expect to enjoy sights as diverse as the castle’s hall of dungeons, the impressive cannon terraces and sweeping vistas of the Neapolitan coast. There are a handful of restaurants located nearby, so you will be able to find somewhere to stop for a bite to eat, too.
Perhaps one of the lesser-known castles of Naples, the Castel Capuano was built in the twelfth century under the auspices of King Guglielmo, or William, a Norman ruler. The gate that stands by the castle, or Porta Capuana, once controlled the main road from Naples that led to the ancient city of Capua, hence the strategic importance of the site. Today, the building serves as offices for the local authorities and it is not always open to the public, as a result. However, when open, it is free to enter, so it is always worth checking on opening hours. Once you are inside the castle’s courtyard, the building’s medieval structure soon becomes apparent.
Built in the thirteenth century, and located in Piazza Municipio, next to the Royal Palace and the Teatro di San Carlo, the Castel Nuovo was commissioned by Charles I of Anjou to celebrate his coronation when the kingdom’s capital was transferred from Palermo to Naples. This castle is anything but new, although the name might suggest otherwise. Also called Maschio Angioino, the castle was much enlarged in the following two centuries after its original construction as it started to be used as a civic centre as well as a residence. In 1470, a triumphal arch was added at the main gate between the two towers. This arch creates a formidable look, being made from marble when the rest of the castle is constructed from mere grey stonework. The castle is home to Naples’ Civic Museum which houses frescoes, paintings and sculptures. Visitors can also enjoy a walk up the castle’s towers to obtain some fantastic views over the city.
The last of Naples four castles is the Castel Sant’Elmo which is located at the apex of the Vomero hill. Constructed soon after the Castel Nuovo, the Castel Sant’Elmo is an unusually early example of a star-shaped castle. The fortress continued to be used by the Italian military until the middle of the twentieth century. However, it now no longer serves a military purpose and it is only in the recent past that sections of it have been opened to the public following restoration works. Like the other castles of Naples, the Castel Sant’Elmo is a wonderful tourist attraction. Don’t miss out on the Piazza d’Armi which is the castle’s stunning rooftop terrace reached by lift.