Cities of the Norman worlds


Naples was by mediaeval standards a very large city and a notable exception to the urban landscape of the Mezzogiorno. Only Palermo, with its different history, can compare. The population living safely within 4,500 metres of walls was reckoned at 20,000 inhabitants in the 12th c. This wall and many other surviving features of the city’s layout, including the chequer pattern, were inherited from the Roman past. Inside the present-day city, mediaeval Naples corresponds to the old quarters under the castle built after the Norman period by the Angevin kings.

The 11th and 12th c. city still had many vestiges of public monuments or private buildings inherited from Antiquity. They are not so prominent today, but there are a few Romanesque belfry towers still to be found in the small squares and ancient fragments have been reused in later buildings. The city was given a cathedral group back in the 4th c. – Santa Restituta and St John’s baptistery – and had grown in the 6th c. with the addition of St Stephen’s basilica (Stephania). Like all large cities, Naples had numerous religious buildings, monasteries, huge palaces and private residences, and leisure areas such as public gardens and baths as well.

The city was independent of the Lombard principalities before the Norman conquest and remained so until the period of monarchy. It was governed by a duke who shared power with the aristocratic factions that ruled the districts of the city. In this respect, the situation in Naples was like nowhere else in the Mezzogiorno and, without attaining the same degree of autonomy, bears similarities with the modes of organization of the urban republics of northern Italy. Finally integrated within the Norman kingdom in 1137, in the time of Duke Sergius IV, the city managed to preserve only a few legal and tax privileges. One major feature of its evolution in the 12th c., however, was its opening out to sea, witness the important role played by an active colony from the nearby coastal town of Amalfi.

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