The ghosts of Castel Sant’Elmo

Let’s go into the basement of one of the most famous places in Naples to discover the legend of the ghosts of Castel Sant’Elmo …

The column to discover the mysteries and legends of the Neapolitan is back with the usual weekly appointment. This week we retrace the history of Castel Sant’Elmo and the mystery that hovers around the building, from the building to the mask room. This is Discover Naples: the ghosts of Castel Sant’Elmo …

If you missed our latest column, check it out here: Neapolitan legends of love

A little bit of history

pianta castel sant'elmo

Castel Sant’Elmo is perhaps one of the most famous landmarks in the city. Visible to the naked eye and located on top of the Vomero hill, the complex stands where a church dedicated to Sant’Erasmo was once built. Wanted by Roberto the Wise who commissioned its construction around 1329, the works were completed only in 1343 during the reign of Joan I of Anjou who, finally, sold it to Alfonso of Aragon in 1416.

A great example of sixteenth-century architecture, the current shape of the star plan with six peaks protruding twenty meters from the central part is due to the numerous fortification works commissioned by Viceroy Don Pedro of Toledo and carried out on a project by architect Luigi Scrivà.

The plan of the castle, as well as the whole construction, would seem to hide some secrets: if for some historians the six points had the sole purpose of facilitating the guards when shooting enemies, for others the story is very different. Those six points, in fact, could be a reference to alchemy since this form is the symbol of the union between water and fire and, therefore, of the cosmic balance.

The sieges of the castle

The history of the fortress is marked by numerous sieges. Sieges that will be the starting point of the ghosts legends of Castel Sant’Elmo. As early as 1348, after the murder of Andrew of Hungary, the fortress had “the baptism of fire” with his first siege by Ludwig of Hungary. The latter, who arrived in Naples to avenge his brother whose killing was attributed to Queen Joan I of Anjou, succeeded in making her abandon the fortress. After the queen’s surrender, the castle was occupied by Carlo di Durazzo.

However the real mysteries began in 1587, when lightning fell in the powder keg blew up most of the castle, killing about 150 men and destroying the church of Sant’Erasmo. Castel Sant’Elmo then became a prison where numerous great names of the city were prisoners: Tommaso Campanella, Giovanni di Capua, Giustino Fortunato, Luigia Sanfelice…

The mask room and the ghosts of the castle

the ghosts of Castel sant'elmo
foto HopeNapoli

Disturbing noises and excruciating screams: the ghosts of Castel Sant’Elmo are keen to make themselves heard! Or, at least, it would seem so and the stories of mysterious presences inside the castle are numerous … One of the most accredited, sees the interior of the basements being infested with supernatural presences that terrify those present. Precisely for this reason, some caretakers prefer to do the inspection tour in pairs…

According to the majority, one of the most haunted rooms of the fortress would seem to be the Room of the Masks: a place where all the characters who wore the masks on display would wander, from Totò and Peppino to Eduardo.

Another story, however, has as its starting point a gate south of the fortress from which the royal guards killed anyone who had attempted to penetrate the castle. The bodies were then thrown into the basement to make them devour the rats and it is precisely from the basement that it seems that even today, excruciating screams come…

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