The rione Sanità is located just outside the historical center of Naples, in a valley at the foot of the Capodimonte Hill. It is one of the most interesting and lively neighborhoods of the city, with multiple beautiful churches and historical buildings.
Rione Sanità Naples
History and description
In Greek-Roman times, what now comprises the rione Sanità used to be a burial ground. In those days, it was forbidden to bury people inside the city wall, so it was quite common to choose a place right outside the center.
The district started taking its present form in the 17th century, when the Santa Maria della Sanità Basilica was constructed. Wealthy and aristoratic families started building their private mansions in the area. In the 18th century, after the Reggia di Capodimonte had been constructed, the royal family had to travel through the streets of the district to get to the historical center, which of course enhanced its prestige even further.
However, there was no easy direct route from the palace to the city, it was decided to build an enormous bridge over the valley. Work started in the early 19th century under Joseph Bonaparte and was finished under Gioacchino Murat. It was originally meant to have been called Corso Napoleone, but later the name was changed to Ponte Maddelena Cerasuolo. This does not really matter though, since everybody calls it Ponte della Sanità anyway.
After its construction had been completed, the rione Sanità ended up isolated from the historical center and thus lost its appeal for aristocrats and wealthy people. Criminality increased and the neighborhood started taking on slum-like characteristics. Even major tourist attractions like the Catacombs of San Gennaro were subject to decay.
The year 2000 was a turning point and the neighborhood is slowly turning into a favorite spot for both locals and tourists.
What to see in the Rione Sanità
In order to see the neighborhood’s main attractions you will have to go below street level. The Catacombs of San Gennaro and the ones of Gaudioso are located in the area. The minor Catacombs of San Severo are in the process of being restored.
The San Gennaro Extra Moenia Basilica, which is the entrance to the catacombs of San Gennaro, has been restored. Likewise, the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità, gives access to the Catacombs of San Gaudioso. The latter is recognizable by the yellow-green majolica decorations of its dome. The Basilica of San Severo and the Cappella dei Bianchi have also recently been restored.
The catacombs are not the only burial places in the area. The Fontanelle cemetery started its existence as one of the tuff stone quarries from which material was extracted to build Naples. In the 17th century, when there was not much left to extract, victims of plague (1656) and cholera (1836) epidemics were buried there.
Of the buildings designed by the architect Ferdinando Sanfelice, the Palazzo dello Spagnuolo is the most famous one. Like most of his creations, the palace is especially famous because of its elegant double staircase.
Totò was born in the Via Santa Maria Antesaecula, n. 109. This may not mean much to non-Italians, but in Italy he is considered to be the equivalent of Charlie Chaplin. His birth house is one of the most visited attractions in the neighborhood.