Galleria Umberto I

Ok, so here is a post about the Galleria Umberto I, since its impressive facade has featured in so many of my pictures so far! I typed out a long, well researched post earlier, and lost the lot. Very cross, would sum it up, basically, especially considering I don’t have a fully functional keyboard.

So the Galleria Umberto I… this magnificent building was built from 1887 to 1891 and comprises four arms in a cruciform pattern, linked by a central rotunda. The whole is covered by a domed roof of glass and iron, which in the central dome reaches a height of 184ft (56m).  At the time, it was one of the showpieces of the re-sanitisation movement – the clearing up of Napoli that was intended to pull the city and its people out of the doldrums it was left in by the cholera epidemic that ravaged the Neopolitans in the 1880s. Linking the grand areas of the Royal Palace, Piazza Plebescito and the Teatro San Carlo with the main thoroughfare Via Toledo (Via Roma), it was meant to provide a contrast to the tightly packed and narrow streeted slums in which many Neopolitans lived.  So, what on earth would the purpose of such a grand building be?

What else but… a shopping centre of course! 😀 They say that rampant consumerism is a modern problem, but clearly it was a hot topic then, too.

I’m being unfair – in fact the Galleria was designed with the purpose of uniting the common spaces of shops, offices and residential space, so that people could live in a more healthy way. It was a fair few years behind its inspiration in Milan, but it’s still a fantastic space now. In the evenings it’s the domain of the homeless and groups of boys playing football in the mosaiced central rotunda. During the day, it’s crowded with shoppers, people buying their pastries and having a chat, tourists taking pictures, hawkers selling everything you could possibly not need, policemen leisurely eating their pasticceria and utterly disregarding the flagrant law-breaking that is all around them, elderly men talking loudly and animatedly about everything under the sun, beggars, statues, small mechanical toys whizzing around unexpectedly under everyone’s feet, locals queuing up to pay their bills, cafes spilling their espresso-drinking masses into the central space. It’s a heady mix.

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Not everyone was in favour of this sanitisation process: Arthur Norway, writing in 1911, felt that the clean-up was at the expense of that unique character of Napoli:

“Naples is suffering a change ; and at this point one realises for the first time that the old city of dirt and laughter is being swept and garnished. The “piano di risanamento,” that much-needed scheme of resanitation which was conceived in Naples after the dread outbreak of cholera had scourged the narrow alleys in a way to make the most careless people think — that great conception of broad streets to be driven through the crowded quarters, letting the sweet and healing sea air course to and fro between the houses, has brought health and may bring cleanliness, but it seems to be expelling gaiety and picturesqueness with the mephitic vapours which have wrought such woe. Naples may be an idle city still, but it is not so idle. It is disorderly and not too safe, yet is more re- putable than it was. The rake is contemplating better things, and by-and-by may actually achieve them — an anticipation over which good men must rejoice. But visitors who come to play may lament the increase of seriousness and the vanishing faith that life begins and ends with laughter”

I can assure you that the streets were not too cleansed of dirt and laughter. Incidentally, I’ve no idea why it is necessary to have a tame budgie on a perch/your finger in order to sell lotto tickets, but judging by the number of men and budgies we saw, that’s what’s seems to be required here.


6 thoughts on “Galleria Umberto I

  1. I am completely in awe of your photos! I really appreciate your artistry and skill 🙂

    I bought a lovely dress in one of the shops in that shopping centre last year!

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