Castel Nuovo, or New Castle is located in the port area of Naples and is better known locally as Maschio Angioino (Angevin stronghold). Built between 1279 and 1282 by Charles I (1227-1285) of Anjou as a royal residence to replace the old castle.
Prior to Charles accession to the throne in 1266 the capital of the Kingdom of Naples was in Palermo, although Naples had a royal residence at the Castle Capuano this was replaced by Charles with the Castle Nuovo. Due to the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282-1302) the castle was not inhabited until after Charles death with the accession of Charles II (1285 -1309).
In 1347, during his first campaign against the Kingdom of Naples, Louis I of Hungary (1326-1382), sacked and severely damaged the castle. Extensive restoration was carried out by Queen Joanna I (1328-1382) of Naples, following her return. This work enabled the castle to resist the siege during Louis’ second campaign. The castle was besieged a number of times in the years that followed but due to its’ deep moat and study walls managed to resist.
Most of the existing building was constructed in the 15th century by Alfonso V (1396-1458) King of Aragon. In 1442, it was updated and fortified to resist attack from artillery. After the sack of Naples by Charles VIII of France in 1494, the Kingdom was annexed by Spain, and the castle was downgraded to military fortress. The last restoration of Castel Nuovo occurred in 1823.
In the 18th century buildings started to be constructed around the castle where they remained until the beginning of the 20th century, when work began in removing them and the reclamation of the piazza to its front.
The castle consists of typical medieval architecture with imposing towers and turrets. Entry is by the single-sided white marble triumphal arch integrated into the Gatehouse. This was built between the Torre di Mezzo (Halfway Tower) and the Torre di Guardia (Watch Tower) 2 of the 5 castle towers in 1470, to commemorate Alfonso of Aragon's entry into Naples in 1443, a scene that is depicted in the relief above the entrance as part of the portal. Standing 35 meters tall it has been elongated into two stacked arches flanked by two Corinthian columns. Above the lower arch is a second one surmounted by Lions and four niches with statues depicting the virtues of Alfonso. Above this is a rounded lintel with a statue of Alfonso in military dress. It also contains statues of St Michael, St Anthony the Abbot, and St Sebastian.
Passing under the arch through the Bronze Gates, you enter the internal courtyard. In the far left-hand corner of the enclosure, an area of glass flooring covers the foundations and cemetery areas of a convent that pre-dates the castle itself. It also contains the remains a pool or bath from a suburban villa. This area is known as the Armoury Hall and dates from the end of the 1st century to the second half of the 5th century AD.
The staircase in this corner of the courtyard leads to the Sala dei Baroni, (Barons’ Hall) named after the barons arrested here during a conspiracy against the king in 1486. The hall was once the main Hall of the Angevin Castle and the Barons were invited here by King Ferrante I (1458-1494) for a feast to celebrate his granddaughter’s marriage. Once there, his soldiers’ closed all the hall's doors and the barons were arrested and then later executed. The room is covered by the vaulted star-shaped ceiling 92 feet high with an oeil-de-boeuf at its centre from which radiates sixteen vaulting-ribs. Below the ribs is a gallery with eight square windows. Now containing bare walls the room was once decorated with frescoes depicting many of the famous people from antiquity such as Samson, Hercules, Achilles, Alexandra the Great and Julius Caesar. These were produced in 1330 but were lost when the hall was damaged by fire in 1919. From this hall a portal leads to the apartments of the Aragonese kings. The Barons' Hall was the seat of the Council of the commune of Naples until 2006
Adjacent to the Baron’s Hall overlooking the courtyard is the Palatine or Saint Barbara Chapel, which was constructed in the early part of the 14th century. This consists of a single nave with a wooden tie-beamed vault with a rectangular apse at the end. In the 14th century the chapel was frescoed with stories from the bible although only small fragments of these remain. The chapel contains a tabernacle with Madonna and Child; a rose window, dating from 1470; and a broad selection of sculptures from the 14th and 15th centuries.
Just off the Palatine Chapel is the San Francesco da Paola where San Francesco da Paola stayed in 1481 on his way to Paris. This did have a vaulted dome similar to the one in the Baron’s Hall but the ceiling was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt later.
Close by is the Purgatory Chapel, which was built around 1580. It has an interior decorated in the baroque style with frescos depicting the stories of the saints, and has paintings on panels set in guided stucco frames.
Since 1992 the castle has housed Naples' civic museum. The museum has a number of rooms which are used as showrooms, both on the first and second floors, these include the Charles V Hall, Loggia Hall - which are also used to host cultural events - and the Stoia Patrica Library. The first floor contains paintings from the 15th through to the 18th century; the second 19th and 20th-century works by Neapolitan artists, frescoes, sculptures, silver and bronze. There's also a fine bronze door, commissioned in 1475 by the Aragonese to commemorate their victory over the Angevins and has an embedded cannonball which probably dates from a sea battle off Genoa in 1495, when the door was being shipped to France.
Much of Naples history is connected to the castle so provides a good place to connect with the cities past.