Castel Nuovo (or New Castle), which locals call the Maschio Angioino, is a medieval castle located in Naples, Italy. Built in 1279, it was the royal residence of the Kings of Naples until the 16th century. Today the gothic castle, which dominates the space between the waterfront and the central Piazza Municipio, is a museum and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city of Naples.
Visitors can explore the three courtyards, the defensive walls and the castle towers, as well as the Sala dei Baroni, the Chapel of San Giovanni, and the Cappella Palatina. The castle also houses numerous art collections, including paintings by Italian masters such as Battistello Caracciolo and Luca Giordano. With its rich history and abundance of artistic and architectural treasures, the Maschio Angioino is a must for anyone visiting Naples.
The local name comes from the Italian word for "male", or "keep", which centuries ago meant the main tower of a fortress. Angioino (or "Angevin”), on the other hand, refers to the dynasty that started the construction of the castle.
The History of Castel Nuovo
The oldest part of the fortress was built by Charles I of Anjou, starting in 1279 after the defeat of the Swabians and the transfer of the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily to Naples. Over the centuries, the castle has been enlarged and renovated several times, in particular by King Alfonso V of Aragon in the 15th century and by Charles III of Bourbon in the first half of the 1700s.
During its history, the Maschio Angioino has been the setting for key events, such as the famous abdication of Pope Celestine V, who gave up the papal seat in the main hall of Castel Nuovo on December 13th, 1294. Important artists and other historic figures have been hosted in the castle over the centuries, including Giovanni Boccaccio, Francesco Petrarca, and Giotto, who was commissioned to fresco the Palatine Chapel.
The Conspiracy of the Barons
After the Aragonese claimed the throne of the Kingdom of Naples in the 15th century, King Ferdinand I began to modernize the kingdom, with tax reform and laws to abolish feudalism. The area's powerful barons organized a violent revolt that ended in bloodshed in Castel Nuovo in 1487.
It was King Ferdinand himself, also known as Ferrante d'Aragona, who summoned the barons to the throne room under the pretext of wanting to celebrate the wedding of his niece. Instead, it was a trap: the nobles were arrested and put to death and now that room - one of the most beautiful in the Maschio Angioino - is known as the Sala dei Baroni (Hall of the Barons).
Highlights of the Maschio Angioino
The Maschio Angioino is one of the most striking sights in Naples. Today it houses a museum stuffed with art and other treasures dating from medieval and Renaissance Naples, but visitors can also enjoy a breathtaking view of the city from the castle ramparts.
The Triumphal Arch
The triumphal marble arch at the entrance to the Castel Nuovo was commissioned by King Alfonso of Aragon. The work is decorated with important sculptures dating from the Neapolitan Renaissance by Francesco Laurana and various other artists.
The Palatine Chapel
The Cappella Palatina, or Church of San Sebastiano or Santa Barbara, is the only surviving element of the fourteenth-century Angevin castle, though it has undergone much damage followed by renovations and restorations over time.
The chapel interiors are decorated with frescoes by Maso di Banco and a ciborium by Iacopo della Pila from the end of the fifteenth century. Other highlights include precious sculptures by Francesco Laurana and other works of the Neapolitan Renaissance.
The Palatine Chapel had been 'frescoed with scenes from the Old and New Testament by Giotto around 1330, but this cycle of frescoes was almost completely destroyed at the time of the Spanish Viceroys.
The Hall of the Barons
The Sala dei Baroni, initially called the "Throne Room", is the main room of the Maschio Angioino and was built at the behest of King Robert of Anjou. In addition to the bloody event to which it owes its current name, the room is famous for the splendid vault with crests and sails.
The Prisons and the Legend of the Crocodile
According to an ancient legend, the prisoners chained in the dungeons of the castle, which were also used as a grain store, were subject to mysterious disappearances. Over time it was discovered that the perpetrator was a crocodile who was able to pass through an opening in the basement and drag the prisoners into the sea by their leg. The discovery allowed the king to use the large reptile to carry out death sentences without too much fuss. In the end, the crocodile's fate was no better than its victims: according to legend, the animal was captured using a poisoned leg of a horse as bait. The most famous crocodile in Naples was stuffed and hung on the entrance door of the castle.
The Civic Museum
The Civic Museum of Naples, inaugurated in 1990, is housed inside the castle. Visitors first pass through the Palatine Chapel and the Armoury Hall, then climb up to the first and second levels of the fortress to admire the frescoes and paintings. The museum galleries display works by important artists of the Neapolitan Renaissance and Baroque periods, such as Battistello Caracciolo, Luca Giordano, Francesco Solimena, and Mattia Preti.
Getting to Castel Nuovo
Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino) is located in Piazza Municipio the center of Naples. The fortress is located a short distance from the port of Naples, including the cruise terminal and Beverello pier, where ferries to and from Capri and the other islands in the Gulf of Naples dock. Nearby sights include Piazza del Plebiscito, the San Carlo Theater, the Royal Palace of Naples, and Castel dell’Ovo.
The fortress is easy to reach with Line 1 of the metro (get off at the Municipio stop). You can reach the Maschio Angioino in just a few minutes on foot if you are arriving in the city via the port.
Roman Ships Found under the Maschio Angioino
In the Greco-Roman era, the coastline was located further inland than it is today and the sea reached the area where the castle now stands. During the construction of the Piazza Municipio metro station the port of ancient Neapolis was discovered along with five Roman ships that were probably used to transport goods and food. The boats probably date back to the end of the 2nd century and the beginning of the 3rd century AD and are excellently preserved. Some of the articles unearthed are displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Visiting the Maschio Angioino
Visitors must purchase tickets to enter the Maschio Angioino, which must be booked in advance on the official website of the Municipality of Naples.
The castle is open from Monday to Saturday from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM. Closed on Sundays.
Free: under 18 and over 60.