Castel Sant'Elmo


Castel Sant'Elmo review Rate it

Castel Sant'Elmo takes its name from the small church that stood here in the tenth century, St Erasmus - corrupted over the centuries to 'St Elmo'. A castle has stood here since 1329, when King Robert of Anjou modified a pre-existing Norman watchtower using the artists, architects and builders who were working on the adjacent monastery of San Martino. The castle acquired its massive six-pointed star shape in the mid 16th century, during an extensive reorganisation of city defences. In 1587 the ammunition dump was struck by lightning; the castle was badly damaged and 150 people died.

Over the years, the castle's dungeon has held many illustrious inmates, including heroes of the 1799 Parthenopean Republic, and it was a military prison until the mid 1970s. That might help to explain why the castle has never been a popular destination for Neapolitans. Its unmistakeable bulk has, however, long provided a focal point for pictorial cityscapes, including the extraordinary Tavola Strozzi in next door's Certosa-Museo di San Martino.

The ground floor of the castle is closed, although its gloomy interior can occasionally be glimpsed through the glass panels on the first floor - which is only opened during major exhibitions.

Piazza d'Armi, as the top floor is called, is in fact the castle's roof, and is best reached by lift; the 360° view over Naples is arguably the most breathtaking in the city. The walkway around the battlements is splendid, and a gently sloping path inside the castle leads you back down across the drawbridge, passing under the coat of arms of Carlo V.

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Castel Sant'Elmo details

Via Tito Angelini 22

Area Naples

Transport Funicular Montesanto to via Morghen, Centrale to Piazzetta Fuga, or Chiaia to Via Cimarosa/bus V1

Telephone 081 578 4030, 081 558 7708

Open 9am-6.30pm Mon, Wed-Sun (last admission 1hr before closing).

Admission €3; free with Certosa ticket.

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