Before talking about the Piazza del Plebiscito, let’s do some history. Naples is a city whose origin dates back to the time of the Greek expansion in the Mediterranean. Since at least the 5th century BC. C. the city has been inhabited permanently. However, the glorious time of the city is between the 18th and 19th centuries as the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Throughout those centuries Naples was rethought and redesigned to house great palaces and state buildings. The city, which had become a benchmark in the European cultural and industrial sphere, had to modernize its urban fabric. One of the actions was to modify the space occupied by what is now the Piazza del Plebiscito.
The Piazza del Plebiscito, a bit of history
In October 1860 a plebiscite was held by which the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to Piedmont was decided. This act is what gave the square its name, which was previously called Largo di Palazzo . This space, which for centuries was an irregular extension for popular celebrations, began to be regularized in the 17th and 18th centuries after the construction of the Royal Palace.
In 1809, with the Napoleonic invasion, the demolition of all the temples and old convents that surrounded the Largo di Palazzo was ordered . At the same time, a public tender was called to build a new plaza.
In the center of the Doric hemicycle a large civil building had been planned, but in 1815 King Ferdinand I decided to build a basilica as an offering to San Francisco de Paula for the reconquest of the kingdom after French rule.
Of course, after the construction of the new square, it became a key point in the city and, despite the fact that from 1963 to 1994 it was used as a public parking lot, today it is undoubtedly the most important square in the city. the Neapolitan city.
What can we see in the Piazza del Plebiscito?
The basilica of San Francisco de Paula
Following King Ferdinand I’s decision to build a basilica in the square, a public competition was called in 1817. Pietro Bianchi, a Swiss architect, was the winner and directed the works until 1824, when they were completed. But, it was necessary to wait until 1836 for it to be inaugurated by Pope Gregory XVI, who granted it the category of basilica.
The six pillars and two columns of the Ionic order of the pronaos support a classicist tympanum in which we can see represented, by means of three statues, Religion, San Francisco de Paula and San Fernando. In front of the entrance is the main altar, the work of Anselmo Cangiano, adorned with lapis lazuli and other precious stones.
In the center we find a roundabout 34 meters in diameter. Above this there is an imposing dome supported by 34 Corinthian columns 11 meters high. Around the entire temple you can see wonderful works of art, from paintings to sculptures.
The Royal Palace
It was the residence of the viceroys of the Crown of Aragon and later of the Bourbon dynasty for more than one hundred years, except for a brief period of time that was under French rule with the Napoleonic invasion. After the Italian unification, the palace passed into the hands of the Savoys until in 1919 it was ceded to the State.
The construction of the palace began in the year 1600 and it did not reach its final appearance until 1858, as the different monarchs that inhabited it were making extensions and modifications. The palace was opened to the public when it passed into the hands of the State. Since then, its western half became a museum and the eastern half became the headquarters of the National Library.
Most attractions of the square
In the square you will be able to admire other palaces: Salerno and the Prefecture. Also, as usual in these public spaces, we will find two equestrian statues, one of Carlos III de Borbón and another of his son Fernando I, both by the sculptor Antonio Canovas.
If you are tired of walking and seeing monuments, you can stop for a coffee at the famous Il Gran Caffè Grambrinus. There, in addition to regaining strength, you can admire the works of art on display, paintings and sculptures by important artists from the 1800s.
For years the square has hosted some of the most important events in Naples. Thus, if you coincide with one of them, you can blend in and enjoy the wonderful Neapolitan festive atmosphere.