In the heart of the ancient Neapolis, we are surprised by a small square with monuments all around. The Pietrasanta. Not just a basilica, but a true architectural complex, which the association of the same name has managed to rescue from oblivion and return to visitors.
On the left is the Pontano Chapel, a small mausoleum in Renaissance style, which the Neapolitan humanist dedicated to his wife and dead children. Outside, one can read warnings in Latin to passers-by: “Of fundamental importance is to know oneself”.
The Chapel of the Santissimo Salvatore
Always on the left, to the side of the church, the Chapel of the Santissimo Salvatore: inside, a splendid majolica floor and a triptych, whose history is intertwined with that of the vicissitudes of the city. Ruled by the Aragonese, Naples was occupied for a short time by Charles VIII (1495). It seems that the sovereign gave Pontano the polyptych, which depicts French rulers at the sides and, in the center, a crucifixion, in a mixture of religiosity and power.
The bell tower
On the right side of the church and separated from it, a tower of Romanesque style: the oldest bell tower of the city (XI century), with, at the base, some Roman pieces of reuse, including the ludus latruncolorum.
And then, the church. Entering through the portal of Sanbarberio, one is immediately struck by the height to which the dome reaches and by the majolica tiles, which reproduce on the floor the motifs of the altar balustrade. It is an architecture of the famous Fanzago, finished in 1667, with a strangely bare baroque style: the decoration is entrusted only to the pilasters of a giant order, and to some statues or paintings; such as the effigy portraying Pomponio, the bishop who had the old paleochristian church built on which the present one will be built.
This is not the end of the journey in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Stairs lead to the crypt and to a cavity, where an underground museum opens up: Lapis.
The visit with 3D viewer and augmented reality
Multimedia installations, including 3D viewers, videos, touch screens, the remains of a domus with mosaics and an exhibition, Sacra Neapolis; all illustrated by one of the friendly local guides.
For the first time the Stipe votiva di Demetra is exhibited: the votive objects of the Neapolis of the origins, generally kept at the Mann. These terracotta heads linked to the cult of the goddess of fertility, with the votive offerings associated with the sacred representations of the rape of Persephone (the beautiful daughter of Demeter kidnapped by Hades), were found in a pit in Caponapoli in 1933. The Greek priests had placed them in the “cabinets” so that they would not occupy the entire space of the temple.
There are also Greek coins, Roman statues and an inscription referring to the Greek-Roman religiousness of our city…
The descent into the cavity is spectacular: you reach a depth of 40 meters, through an illuminated staircase dotted with artifacts, contemporary installations, volcanic stones made available by the Vesuvian Volcanological Observatory!
The cavity is one of the 900 and more that make the Neapolitan underground like a Swiss cheese. It was used in the seventeenth century to extract the tuff necessary for the building of the basilica; you can see, on the wall, the signs of the quarrying and the “grappiate”, a sort of artificial steps used to work at different levels.
This, and much more, is Pietrasanta – soon to be opened the underground section related to the war shelters. Archaeology, art, volcanology, religion; horizontal and vertical stratifications of the city; 2500 years of history. An abundance of beauty, a microcosm capable of shedding light on the past of our city.