– MYSTERY AND DECAY OF PALACE PENNE –
Palazzo Penne is a Renaissance building in Naples, built by Antonio Penne, located in the Piazzetta Teodoro Monticelli, in that narrow blind alley that leads to the long and narrow “Scalea del Pennino” in the Sedile “Porto”.
Antonio Penne, so named because coming from the town of Penne in Abruzzo, belonged to a wealthy bourgeois family, and in 1391 he became secretary and special adviser to the king Ladislaus of Anjou (Naples 1374-1414), son of Margherita of Durres, nephew of the Queen Joanna I. His prestige at court became so high till to obtain permission to erect his own memorial in Santa Clara’s church, exclusive place for Angevin nobility, where today, in a chapel we can still admire his tomb.
Once this property was famous for a legend that hovered over, while in the last centuries a total negligence led it to ruin.
Palazzo Penne was built in 1406 and the area where it is located is called “Pennino” (meaning slope), because it was a small hill where the road surface was about 5 meters lower than now, a place that at the time was considered healthy, and safe against flooding landslides.
The year of manufacture can be inferred from the inscription on a plaque above the arch at the entrance of the building: “XX anno regni regis Ladislai sunt domus haec facte nullo sint turbine fracie mille fluunt magni bistres centum quater anni.” The inscription arranges a single block with the Anjou-Durres’ coat of arms. The concession of the sovereign to embellish the building with weapons and symbols of the royal family, as well as the approval of Penne’s blazon, signified the eternal protection to the family Penne.
The facade is made with ashlar rusticated “piperno” alternated with “soft stone of the mountain”, referred to as “piperino tuff”, which is actually trachyte: a compact yellowish rock. The pediment is formed by arches called “flaming Gothic” with the crown of King Ladislaus in the first order, and below the Cross of Jerusalem, Majorca’s coat of arms (poles), and the stripes of Durres’ lineage. In the ashlar frame you see the “feathers”, symbol of the house in three rows, topped by Angevin lilies in seven rows, in honor of King Ladidslao. In the middle of the arch, a composition represents the religious and superstitious spirit of Antonio Penne: the stylized clouds from which come out some beams (the divine light) with two hands holding a tape containing two engraved lines of Martial (against evil eye) “Avi Ducis Vultu Sinec Auspicis Isca Libenter Omnibus Invideas Tibi Nemo” (you, who do not turn your face and do not look at this building willingly or envious, envy everyone well, no one envies you). The door is oak, although altered over the centuries, is one example of craftsmanship with steel spikes, iron studs called “Peroni”, consisting of the original arches of the Gothic period.
The inner courtyard is decorated with a beautiful five-arched portico with a lovely garden still partly preserved. Originally, in the courtyard there were sixteen stables, while the beautiful porch was adorned with statues of the Roman period, all remodeled in 1740 and then covered up by the construction of the janitor’s home, as well as the “Majestic Arch” which remains only a track in the wall. In the apartment on the first floor there were two rooms, one looking out on the porch and another on a courtyard that led into the park, all with frescoed ceiling. In the courtyard there was a spiral staircase that led to the basement that were below the level of the building. A scale of piperno led to the second floor, where there was a large terrace with a balustrade still made with piperno.
After Antonio Penne’s death, the building passed to his nephew Onofrio, as long as the last heirs sold it to the family Rocco or Rocca, and finally in 1558, to Aloisia Scannapieco Capuano who in turn gave it to her son Giovanni Geronimo, married with Lucretia de Sangro.
In 1685 the house was purchased by the Order of the Somascan Fathers, the nearby church of Saints Demetrius and Bonifacio. The fathers Somascan modified it according to their needs and transforming it in novitiaten and cells for the Fathers. The transformations occupied nearly a century, new houses were built in the garden area, while part of the cellars, adjacent to the Church of Santa Barbara, were transformed into shops and other flats. The final annihilation of the ancient structure happened with the destruction of the top floor’s roof. With the arrival of the French, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, and with the abolition of religious orders in 1806, the building was put up for sale and became the property of the abbot Teodoro Monticelli, noble barons of Cerreto, a volcanologist.
After his death in 1845, the assets were sold to the University of Naples, while the watchman Saverio Monticelli remained, the grandson of Theodore. In memory of Monticelli was a plaque on the first floor of the building, commissioned by the Civic Administration in 1909. In 2002, the Region of Campania bought the building for 10 billion lire, held by a private possession who had transformed the building into a “bed and breakfast” . The palace was then transferred on loan to “University Orientale” in 2004. The project involved the construction of laboratories, rooms for seminars or conferences, and services for students. Work on the renovation of the building that never initiated by the presence of squatters in the building. In 2007, the intellectuals Alda Croce e Marta Herling, daughter and granddaughter of the philosopher Benedetto Croce, obtained the suspension of the squatters works inside the building for the construction of some housing units by the occupants (who resumed work despite the ban). To no avail the appeals of the President of the Republic and UNESCO for the start of restoration work. On 20 May 2008 the investigations requested by UNESCO through the Italian judiciary, were concluded, and among the defendants the governor Antonio Bassolino and the then dean Pasquale Ciriello, for the non-restorative intervention against an artifact of historical and artistic interest. In November 2009, the Prosecutor has requested the dismissal of the process, giving the opportunity to the Public Prosecutor to appeal to the prosecution, if the case. In 2013, all the defendants in the trial, for damage to property of historical interest, were acquitted by the Tribunal of Naples because the crime does not exist. The agreement between the Region and the last two individuals, illegally occupying the building and to which it has been procured an alternative residence, has allowed to finally put the entire building under the supervision of the Region and the University Orientale, which must agree to the restorative intervention and the intended use. In November 2008, work for the safety of the building has begun, to prevent further deterioration, as a new abusive attack, nipped in the bud by the Superintendent and the City of Naples, took place in the early months of 2009 when an adjoining hotel was taking possession of the garden.
For now, the only certainty is the decay and neglect that still prevail in the building.
As soon as the noble Antonio Penne come to Naples with the French entourage, he fell in love with a beautiful Neapolitan young girl.
Having too many offers of marriage and the next day to give an answer to other suitors, the damsel replied that she maybe would agree only if the Penne had built, for the next morning, a building equal to her beauty, as a pledge of love and wedding gift. Sure that he had not been able to fulfill such an absurd request because, alas, she already had chosen the man to marry.
Aware that he could not cope with such an impossible request, it is said that to just to have a change, the nobleman asked for help to the devil, Beelzebub, who accepted in exchange for Penne’s soul. Antonio accepted by signing with his own blood, but reserving the right to insert an irrelevant clause that he would reveal in the end.
At midnight the evil forces began their work, and at dawn and the building was ready. At this point Beelzebub asked him about the last clause and Antonio explained it: he would have sprinkled many grains of wheat in the courtyard, and the devil would have to pick up and count them all, and if he had missed even one of them, the agreement was no longer valid. Said than done, when the devil counted the grains their number wasn’t exact, because Antonio deliberately had mixed them with pitch, and inevitably some of them stuck under Beelzebub’s nails. This one protested demanding for his soul, but Antonio made the sign of the cross obliging the devil to sink in the courtyard, where today it is said that there is a well.