Are you looking for a destination for a fun excursion and want to know more about the foundation of Naples and Cumae? Here, we try to give you the right information
Among the countless magical places that Campania offers to explore, some are really easy to reach.
Just get informed, tie your shoes and take a walk to see the places of everyday life with new eyes, with a pinch of initiative and extra curiosity, the same ingredients that pushed the ancient Greeks to enter the colonies of Cumae and Naples, years and years ago.
The Greek colony of Cumae
First Greek colony of Italy, Kýmē (which in Greek means “wave”) dates back to 740 B. C. Visiting the Archaeological Park of Cumae is a must. The oldest finds date back to 720 B.C., but every year, the excavations reveal many surprises.
The area where the Greek colonists settled was already inhabited by local populations, probably Osco-Sabellic, who were driven out. The Cumans located the acropolis and its religious buildings in the hills, which can still be visited today.
In the former soldiers’ dormitories of the fortress, arranged in continuous sequence on two levels, the visit begins with the section dedicated to Cumae, located on the second level and composed of 24 rooms in which the history of the site is illustrated, from the settlement of the IX century B.C.
Many of the finds from the excavations of Cumae are kept at the National Museum of Naples and at the Archaeological Park of the Phlegraean Fields.
The flagship of Cumae is the Sibyl’s cave, one of the two in the Phlegraean territory. The gallery was discovered in May 1932. The archaeologist Maiuri recognized it as the place where the Sibyl, prophetess of the God Apollo, received her faithful and foresaw their future. Today it is believed that the long tunnel was dug for military purposes.
Greek Neaples, Parthènope and Neapolis
After colonizing Cumae, the Greeks stopped at Parthènope, at the end of the 8th century B.C.
Founded on Mount Echia , it was not a city proper, but a a very small military and commercial maritime station, devoid of large monuments. Originally, in short, Naples was composed “only” of a network of roads.
Mount Echia is a 60 m high hill overlooking the sea. Towards the ground, it was isolated by a gloomy, artificially dug trench, with its necropolis on the hillside. In front of Mount Echia there was an offshoot that previously was probably joined to the same mountain. On this small island, called islet of Megaride , where Castel Dell’Ovo stands today, traces of many settlements, even Phoenicians, have been found
After two centuries, following the victory of the Greeks over the Etruscans, the Cumans built a real city, on the model of Syracuse, choosing the islet of Megaride, with an area quadruple compared to Mount Echia, of about 80 hectares, of the same height, defended and bordered by two riverbeds of torrential waters, east and west.
Neapolis, “the new city” was built on this sort of slight slope that descends from north to south.
The Decumani and the agorà
The urban plan of the city is still built today on the ancient roads. There are three major directions that dominate the historic center of the Campania capital and are called the Decumani . These roads, intersected by secondary roads so as to form a network, were set at different altitudes to gradually slope down towards the sea. Such a type of stepped structure gives the inhabitants a full view of the gulf, a scenographic vision of the city.
The agora of Naples , the main square of the polis, corresponds to the area of the current Piazza S. Gaetano where the temple of the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux was already located in the fifth century, the twin sons of Zeus, deities worshiped by the Cumans.
The arrival of the Romans in Naples
The Romans came to Naples at the end of the 4th century, maintaining the Greek character of the city unaltered, until the advanced imperial age. Naples was occupied in 327-328 a. C. and the legionaries remained there in order to continue to have control of the port. In 326, the Romans settled permanently in the city, allowing the inhabitants to keep the cults and the language.
Cumae and Naples are counted among the oldest cities of Magna Grecia . When we speak of Magna Graecia, in Greek “ Megálē Hellás “, we mean the set of colonies founded in southern peninsular Italy and in eastern Sicily between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C.
These poleis reached their apogee in the 6th century B.C. They enjoyed independence and autonomy, which is why they were often in conflict with each other, a rivalry that, over time, led to their weakening and their conquest by the Romans.
The choice of colonies
The expansion of Magna Graecia developed in two directions: towards the east, in the Black Sea, and towards the west, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Following in the footsteps of Achaeans and Cretans, Greek people moved away from their homeland to found new colonies, driven by political and economic reasons, but also by curiosity, instilled by Homeric stories.
Before leaving, the leader of the expedition, interrogated the Oracle of Delphi for instructions on where to find the new colony. Meanwhile, the motherland organized the expedition and provided ships, food, engineers and architects.
Thanks to the discovery of Greek artifacts from periods prior to the eighth century B.C., we know that the places chosen for the foundation had to be located near landmarks. After commercial use of the affected areas and before the colony was founded, some were sent first to observe the potential new colony. The new cities gave settlers a better chance to live in areas close to waterways, fertile plains, with a climate similar to that of the motherland.
Thus the foundation of Naples and Cumae took place.
The structure of the poleis
Once the colony was founded, the defensive walls of the polis were built. The lands were divided and entrusted to the colonists; Temples were built, but as in the case of Cumae, the new arrivals also had to deal with the Italic populations of the place. Each city had an acropolis, or “upper city”, hosting spaces reserved for religious ceremonies and sacrifices and a “lower city”, with irregular layout and narrow streets. In this sense, as we pointed out above, both Cumae and Naples follow the Greek model.
In short, visiting Naples and Cumae can become a wonderful full immersion in Greek and Roman history.