Naples

(Napoli)
   Italy’s third-largest city, with nearly 1.5 million inhabitants, Naples is the center of a conurbation that stretches along the coast and includes such important towns as Erculano (site of the ancient town of Pompeii), Torre Del Greco, and the famous village of Sorrento. Its population density, at nearly 3,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, is one of the highest in the world; only Hong Kong and a handful of other cities in Asia are more crowded. The islands of Capri and Ischia, famous for their natural beauty, are also part of the province of Naples. Mount Vesuvius, a huge active volcano, looms over the city.
   The city’s history has been turbulent. It was founded in the fifth century BC. In 327 BC, it became a self-governing province of the Roman Empire. After the empire’s fall, Naples was successively occupied by the Goths (AD 493) and the Byzantine Empire (AD 536). Gradually the city achieved greater independence and became an important trading center. Both Lombards and Saracens tried to conquer Naples for this reason, but it was not until AD 1138, when the Normans captured the city, that Naples succumbed. In the later Middle Ages the Kingdoms of Aragon, France, and Spain successively ruled Naples.
   The city’s modern history began with the Spanish, whose corrupt rule, many argue, left a trace on the political culture of the city that endures today. In 1647, the city rose in revolt against Spanish misgovernment. In 1734, after a brief period of Austrian rule, Charles of Bourbon became monarch of an independent Kingdom of Naples that lasted until French troops occupied the city in 1798. In 1799, the people of Naples established a republic, but Bourbon troops supported by the British fleet crushed the nascent democracy. Napoleon reoccupied Naples in 1806. For two years, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, ruled the city; after Joseph became king of Spain, his place was taken by one of Napoleon’s most successful generals, Joachim Murat. After the fall of Napoleon in 1814–1815, the Austrians restored the Bourbons to power in what became known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In both 1820 and 1848, the city was the center of uprisings against absolute rule that were suppressed by the Austrian army. The city was finally liberated by GiuseppeGaribaldiin 1860. During World War II, the city’s insurrectionary traditions came to the fore once more: In four days of bloody street fighting (28 September to 1 October 1943), the people of Naples managed to liberate the city from its Nazi occupiers in advance of the Allies’arrival. Despite its glorious history, Naples has a reputation for being one of Europe’s problem cities. The ubiquitous Camorra (the Neapolitan mafia) and exceptionally high rates of poverty are the most troublesome issues. Illegal construction, insane traffic, widespread political corruption, and decaying infrastructure are additional concerns.
   See also Earthquakes; Napoleonic Italy; Southern Italy.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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