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

Petya Penkova (2 years ago)
Great place to see views of the city. You can go and experience all the beauty of Naples with a little hike to the top. The walk up is through the small streets, a lot of stairs, but it is extremely beautiful! Well deserved views at the end. And admission to the castle was very acceptable, 2.5 euros
Rudie Vissenberg (2 years ago)
Such an impressive building, you will be awed. The view of Naples is great as well but immerse yourself in the castle. See how ingenious they constructed the entrance way. If you wanted to conquer this stronghold you would be dead by the first turn, shot down or boiled with hot oil or ripped to pieces by cannons before you could even cross the most. A must see and realise war had always terrible and made people very resourceful in many ways of killing the enemy.
Alexandru Dimitrie Costea (2 years ago)
Beautiful place with excellent views of the city. The only thing that bothers me is that you can't pay the entrance fee with credit card. How can a tourist attraction so visited doesn't have this option already?? Anyway, you will get to take beautiful panoramas of the city and harbour here.
Tom Hepner (2 years ago)
Some of the best views of Napoli can be found from the top of this castle. You can either walk up a bunch of steps and get a great workout in to get to the top, or you can take the funicular in the city up to the top. Either way, once your are here, the view is spectacular. There's really not much to see in the castle besides the walkways inside and the top courtyard. There are only a couple of interior spaces to view, entry is very inexpensive did the view is really amazing.
giorgos99 (2 years ago)
The best view from that point! You can see the whole Napoli and enjoy the view. Just for 2 euros. There are some signs with description at every corner of the castle that are really detailed. Loved it!
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