From the historical perspective, the regions around Naples (the present-day capital of Campania, southern Italy) were probably inhabited since the Neolithic times. And while the ancient Greeks settled in the area and established their tiny commercial port of Parthenope (meaning – ‘Pure Eyes’, named after a siren in Greek mythology) by 9th century BC, the succeeding centuries were witness to an Iron Age power struggle between the settlers and the encroaching Etruscans – mainly focused on the control of the maritime trade in and around Naples. However, by 5th century BC, the Greeks managed to gain their supremacy, and this political situation resulted in the re-establishment of Parthenope as the revived Palepolis. And now, after almost 2500-years, archaeologists have identified the underwater remnants of an ancient port of Palepolis, possibly dating back to 474 BC.
Their findings came in the form of four submerged tunnels, a 10-ft wide street with the visible marks of the cart furrows, and a long trench. The latter discovery was made just 20 ft away from the renowned Castel dell’Ovo – possibly the oldest standing fortification in the city of Naples, dating from 6th century BC. This stronghold, located on the former island of Megaride (now a peninsula), is also believed to be the nucleus of the ancient commercial harbor and the proximate settlements. And thus the good news for history enthusiasts is that the collective nature of these findings might result in the reconstruction of the long-lost ancient structure of Parthenope.
Now as we fleetingly mentioned before, the areas around present-day Naples were settled by Greeks, who possibly constituted the Anatolian and Achaean merchants and their retinues and travelers. In fact, this particular region by the gulf was a commercially ‘strategic’ location that guarded the passage to the rich mineral lands of the high Tyrrhenian (of south-central Italy). The allure of trade and maritime economic benefits led to a state of eventual conflict between the Greeks and the Etruscans from the north. And while the Etruscans were in the ascendancy in the initial phase of this conflict, the Greeks turned it around by 6th century BC.
Consequently, in spite of the raids and forays – which led to the inevitable decline of Parthenope, the Greeks revived the settlement in the form of Palepolis. The interlude of peace further led to more companies of Greeks settling on the coasts of Campania and founding new settlements. One of these newer towns, further to the south, was ambitiously built and protected by a system of towers and defensive structures, and the Greeks named it Neapolis (or ‘new city’) – a term which leads to ‘Naples’.
And as Naples (or Neapolis) grew in its might, Palepolis was relegated to a peripheral neighborhood of the emerging coastal city – noted for its Hellenistic culture in Italy. However, the area still maintained its bucolic charm even during the later Roman times, with ritzy patrician villas (dating from circa post 1st century BC) cropping up in the vicinity.
Source: ANSA / Images Credit: La Repubblica