Discover Naples returns, like every Monday, to tell you about stories of the city. The usual weekly appointment, today focuses on the lava of the Vergini– in Rione Sanità – and on a particular phenomenon typical of the area in the 1950s…
With a name linked to an ancient Greek tradition and to stories of love and denied passions, that of the Vergini is a famous village in the history of the Rione Sanità. An area located north of the viceregal walls of Naples and north of Borgo dei Vergini up to the Capodimonte hill, which includes the area of Via Sanità, Piazza Sanità, up to the San Gennaro hospital area.
The history of the Rione Sanità begins with the construction, in the 16th century, in a valley used as a burial place in the Greek-Roman era; this is precisely one of the reasons why early Christian catacombs such as those of San Gennaro and the famous Fontanelle Cemetery are easily identifiable in the area. But that’s not all: Ponte Maddalena Cerasuolo, also known as Ponte della Sanità and the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità are just some of the characteristic (and accessible) places in the area, on a tourist route called the Miglio Sacro to discover the symbolic places of the Rione Sanità.
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The Borgo dei Vergini: its name and legend
Returning to our history, crossing Porta San Gennaro, we enter the Borgo dei Vergini, the heart of the Rione Sanità. During the royal era, the village was the only communication route between the Royal Palace and the Reggia di Capodimonte; consequently it was in this area that the rulers decided to build their own residences. Not only royal palaces, however, the Borgo dei Vergini is steeped in history starting with the Church of Santa Maria Succurre Miseris; the Church of San Vincenzo de Paoli; the Church of S. Maria dei Vergini where S. Alfonso de ‘Liguori was baptized; the palaces of Sanfelice and the Palazzo dello Spagnuolo!
To discover the history of the name of the Borgo, however, we must take a further step back to the era of Greco-Roman Naples when the area was occupied by a religious association: that of the eunostids. The community of eunostides was dedicated to temperance and chastity, but the myth begins when Eunosto, a young man from the brotherhood, is seduced by the beautiful Ocna. Despite the numerous refusals by the young man, Ocna did not give up in her courtship until, one day, our Eunosto was forced to chase her away, refusing, once again, the advances of the young woman. Wounded in pride, Ocna returned to her brothers and told that she was the victim of a rape by the young man who was killed to avenge the woman. Some time later, the truth was discovered: the two young men were arrested and Ocna took his own life.
The lava of the Vergini
Geographically talking, the Vergini area was located along a series of streams that started from the Colli Aminei. One of these streams (the one that went down the Ponti Rossi), when it reached Capodimonte, forked in two, giving rise to another stream that reached the village, flooding it. As long as the area was uninhabited, the effects of the overflow of the watercourse were not severe. However, starting from the 1950s, with the progressive population of the village, the water became a scourge…
Those who live in the Rione Sanità are familiar with the phenomenon of the “lava of virgins”. The Borgo dei Vergini, in fact, right in the heart of the district, for years was the bed of a stream that descended from the Capodimonte hill and from the Aminei hills reaching the sea. After the rain the torrent tended to swell becoming a real river.
“A lava! A lava! ” the neighborhood residents screamed as the stream flooded the streets.
The phenomenon found a real solution only with the arrival of Guido Martone who in 1953 noticed the existence of a bifurcation that carried the waters to Via Toledo, and following a dense exploration, he found himself in front of an underground tunnel, which, obstructed , prevented the “lava” from reaching the sea directly. In three months Martone had the tunnel cleared and took advantage of it to build a collector that made it possible to collect the debris and water from the Aminei and Materdei Hills. The neighborhood was freed from the famous lava and from that day the lava of virgins remains a memory for the inhabitants of the neighborhood.
Every stone and every corner of this neighborhood hides a story.