The Castel dell’Ovo is the oldest castle in Naples which stands on the islet of Megaride where, according to legend, the mermaid Parthenope landed there and gave the first name to the ancient city, the first settlement of the Greeks, in the mid-7th century BC
The rock with tourist port is currently famous with the name of Borgo Marinari and is really much loved by Neapolitans and not only, especially when, in summer, the sea breeze mitigates the heat and gives visitors refreshment thanks to the presence of the bay where typical restaurants and bars are . Borgo Marinari is connected to the mainland by a bridge that links it exactly to the Naples seafront, in via Partenope.
The first ancient inhabited center was founded on the natural offshoot of Mount Echia, which was conquered immediately after the capture of the islet; the islet is connected by an isthmus of rock to the mainland and on it, nowaday, stands the district of Santa Lucia.
Before the foundation of Castel dell’Ovo, in the first century BC, the island and the mainland were connected by the patrician Lucio Licinio Lucullo, who was a precursor in realizing the enormous potential of the place: acquired a very large fund right in that strip of land surrounded by the sea, he erected his enchanting villa, known as Castellum Lucullanum. In his sumptuous castle, Lucullus gave life to philosophical and historical studies, to demonstrations of wealth also through endless banquets, dances, entertainment, games and other excesses, which, in fact, generated the adjective “luculliano” to indicate this showy way of life. Already then, in the Villa di Lucullo, there were moray eels, peach trees, coming from Persian lands and cherry trees, imported from Cerasunte, today Giresum, capital of the omonymus Turkish province.
The villa of Lucullus suffered several attacks both in the Angevin and Aragonese epochs and this required frequent renovations to give it its original Norman appearance again. Retracing and narrating the history of Castel dell’Ovo is anything but simple, because it is a continuum succession of historical facts, popular myths, anecdotes and legends intertwined since its foundation and until today.
Among these narratives there is also a popular story about the poet Virgil and his egg. The Castrum was the most famous villa in the entire Gulf of Naples, it rose from the mountain of Pizzofalcone to Piazza del Municipio, where today the Maschio Angioino is located. In this imposing villa, works of art from the Asian provinces were collected, there was an imposing library where intellectuals and men of science from all over the world went. Very rare fish were bred here and the villa was equipped with fish ponds capable of yielding millions of sesterces.
From the 5th to the 10th century, the villa then became a hermitage for Basilian monks from Pannonia: they adopted the Benedictine rule and conceived the scriptorium, also thanks to the immense library works bequeathed by Lucullus himself. In the 10th century, the monks had to abandon the castle after the arrival of the Saracens, when the Dukes of Naples transformed it into a fortress and outpost for the defense of the city. The religious left the monastic complex to take refuge in Pizzofalcone. Documents dating back to 1128, tell us the existence of a fortress created by the Basilian monks and called Arx Sancti Salvatoris and of which only the fragment of an entrance with large arches in the loggia has survived.
The castle was fortified once again under the reign of Costanza d’Altavilla, queen of the Avevi, by Frederick II himself, who erected Torre di Colleville, Torre di Mezzo and Torre Maestra. In this period the manor was used as a palace and as a state prison. The advent of the Spanish viceroys first and the Bourbons later, involved the creation of two drawbridges and a further fortification with batteries.
From XVIII century the Castel dell’Ovo stopped definitively of being the royalty palace and was used exclusively to military outpost, to billeting and prison: here found confinement Tommaso Campanella, before the death sentence of Carbonari, giacobini and Liberals After the unification of Italy, a rehabilitation plan was studied, which had to change the whole aspect of Naples and which included the entire demolition of the castle to then replace it with a new district; fortunately this purpose was not continued, although the fortress remained in total abandonment until the restorations that took place in 1975.
Today Castel dell’Ovo can be visited and is part of the Santa Lucia district: inside, in the beautiful rooms, events, conferences, meetings and exhibitions take place. As mentioned, in front of the walls there is the small port of Borgo Marinari, location of the Neapolitan nightlife and of various important nautical clubs.