Castel Sant'Elmo

Naples, Italy

Castel Sant'Elmo is a medieval fortress located on a hilltop near the Certosa di San Martino, overlooking Naples. Documents date a structure at the site from 1275, from the era of Charles d'Anjou. Known originally as Belforte, it was likely a fortified residence, surrounded by walls, its entrance gate marked by two turrets. In 1329, using designs by the Sienese architect Tino da Camaino, king Robert of Naples enlarged the fortress.

The Angevin fortress was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1456, which demolished the external walls and the towers. The Aragonese rulers of Naples, and notably Don Pedro de Toledo, the first governor and cousin of the Viceroy, included it in a comprehensive scheme designed to fortify the land perimeter of the city, based on four separate strongholds. Castel Sant'Erasmo acquired its hexagonal star shape between 1537 and 1547 under the designs of Pedro Luis Escrivafrom Valencia, a military architect. The daring hexagonal shape drew fierce criticism from his contemporaries, to such an extent that in 1538 Escriva defended his design in a published Apologia.

The castle served as an autonomous military outpost, with a governor who had absolute authority over both military and civilian matters. Around the parade grounds were situated the officers' quarters, chaplain's house, a church (1547) designed by the Spanish architect Pietro Prato, and the surviving buildings from the Angevin Belforte. Don Pedro de Toledo's funerary monument (1588) is found in the sacristy of the church.

In 1587 the munitions depot of the castle was struck by lightning, and exploded, destroying the church, the chaplain's house and the officers' quarters. Reconstruction was carried out between 1599 and 1601 under the architect Domenico Fontana. Despite successive rebuildings over the centuries, the castle conserves its original structure. Built of volcanic tufa, it overlords over Naples, and ever since the famous Tavola Strozzi incident (late 15th century), for centuries it was a symbol and bastion of government oppression. In 1604 it was used to imprison Tommaso Campanella, branded as a heretic, and in 1799 the patriots of the Neapolitan Revolution, including Gennaro Serra, Mario Pagano and Luigia Sanfelice. With the departure of the Bourbon garrison in 1860, it remained a military prison until 1952, when the prison was transferred to Gaeta.

Today there are several permanent art exhibits in the castle. One of the most unique is the railing featuring an inscription in braille which was installed in 2015. The railing, which is more than 30 feet long and dotted with braille letters, is above the drill grounds on the northernmost wall of the castle near the west corner.



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Founded: 13th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in Italy

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User Reviews

Romain LEFEBVRE (2 months ago)
I recently visited Castel Sant'Elmo in Naples, and I must say the view is breathtaking. From this vantage point, you can admire the entire city, with its historic buildings, the bustling port, and even the majestic Vesuvius in the background. The castle itself is an architectural masterpiece, constructed from volcanic tuff, and it impressively overlooks Naples. In addition to the panoramic view, the site offers a fascinating dive into history with its exhibitions and galleries. An absolute must-visit for all lovers of culture and spectacular landscapes!
Nikita Shemyakin (2 months ago)
A must see place in Naples, been in the city for the first time not really knowing much what to do except the old historical quarter route but on the go the castle got my attention from the coastal side. Next day decided to get here in the morning and it was one of the best improvisations during the trip to Italy. Getting here isn't complicated, you can use the funicular if you stay in the city center/around Napoli Centrale/old quarter. Buying tickets to the castle right at the office in early April wasn't a problem. Fantastic views from whichever side of the walls you go but the most favorite is definitely the panorama of the sea and Vesuvius, you can also spot the Capri isle from there. Spent around an hour here and could probably stay for more but had plans to go to Sorrento in the afternoon…
Razvan S (3 months ago)
Be on top of Napoli by visiting this site. Especially beautiful at sunset. You’ll overlook the vibrant and colorful city, the sea with its coast and mount Vesuvius. Nice for an evening walk, with more things to do nearby.
Θοδωρης Νικος (3 months ago)
A castle worth visiting. Huge structure with an amazing view of the Napoli city centre and the sea. There is a 5 minute uphill walking inside the castle to reach the top, it's not hard. There is a small cafe on top with decent espresso to rest. I visited in April but in the summer it will be very hot. 5€ entry fee.
Tomi Valny (4 months ago)
For me as a first time Naples visitor, this is my number one place to recommend to visit in the city. Huge walls as you see from down, cannons hidden in the walls to defend the medieval castle, long ramp to access the top part platform and the views of 360 deg. of Naples with its bay and Vesuvius makes this place very unique. Views are really breathtaking and iconic! Definitely recommend to visit, if possible early morning , 9am, as at 10-11 its already crowded. This way you can admire the views without crowds of noisy tourists around you. Can be interesting also during sunset.
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