Naples, opposition to National Library relocation grows. Here's why

In Naples, the front of those opposed to the relocation of the National Library from the Royal Palace downtown to the Real Albergo dei Poveri in the Arenaccia neighborhood is growing. Here are the reasons of those in favor and those against.

In Naples, the front of those who say no to the relocation of the National Library of Naples from its historic location in the Royal Palace to theAlbergo dei Poveri, a structure that is currently dilapidated and in need of total and lengthy restoration. In fact, for about a month now, readers, students, scholars, workers, volunteers, collaborators, visitors, frequenters in various capacities of the National Library of Naples, ordinary citizens, and tourists have been filling social media pages and taking to the streets with many city committees and associations to make their strong opposition heard and prevent a “measure lowered from above” by Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, judged as capable of putting at risk the priceless heritage of the Neapolitan Library, starting from the complete corpus of Giacomo Leopardi’s manuscripts, which the poet kept with him until his death, and ending with the Library of Philodemus of Gadara, the oldest existing library in the world and consisting of the very fragile papyri of Herculaneum, charred by the eruption of Vesuvius.

Alongside them, in addition to numerous associations and committees, were the trade unions (CISL, CGIL, UIL and UNSA), the Order of Journalists of Campania, the Institute of the History of the Risorgimento in Caserta and many intellectuals including Pietro Craveri, Mauro Giancaspro, Tomaso Montanari, Marco Tedesco, Eugenio Mazzarella, Giulio Pane, Fausto Nicolini, Anna Poerio, Mariolina Cozzi Scarpetta, and Antonio Pariante who have expressed disappointment over a move that would remove the works from the precious historical-artistic context in which they are placed and valued, nullifying the many expenses incurred in recent years to modernize the structure and that would force the library for many years to interrupt its reading service.

The chorus of naysayers is now joined by theRanuccio Bianchi Bandinelli Association, according to which the National Library of Naples, whose priceless heritage is a reference in the historical context for the city, must remain in the Royal Palace. In fact, its location in the Royal Palace makes it an identity site and puts it on the tourist trail. The association is therefore asking Minister Franceschini to make a commitment to encourage the improvement of the Library in its current location and increase staffing. “The Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli Association,” explains President Rita Paris in a note, “strongly advocates that the National Library of Naples should remain in its current location at the eastern wing of the Royal Palace in Piazza del Plebiscito, with the appropriate works of adaptation and in particular with the increase of staff, necessary for the ever-better public use. Like other places of culture, this Library collaborates in the quality of life of citizens, scholars and visitors, who recognize in the Institute, along with the inestimable and special value of the heritage, a reference in the historical context of the city and in the tourist route thanks to the attraction of the location, spaces and activities that take place there. The Minister must favor every possible improvement of the Library in its current location, distancing any hypothesis of a relocation project, which would lead to a long path of closures and uncertainties, rather than the enhancement of an institution and an institution already established as an identity and prestigious place.”

The history of the transfer and the reasons for it

On July 1, 2021, the ministers for the South, Mara Carfagna, and for Culture, Dario Franceschini, organized a live web consultation to gather proposals on the new use to be given to the Real Albergo dei Poveri, thanks to the 100 million euro funding from PNRR funds. The 100 selected proposals expressed as criteria the respect of the original social-welfare purpose of the former Real Albergo dei Poveri. Of the many ideas received, only one referred to a possible relocation of the Library. However, as early as July 6, Minister Franceschini, on a visit to Capodimonte, seemed to have clear ideas: “There is a very interesting project for the Albergo dei Poveri,” he declared, “to transfer the National Library there, a transfer that would allow the entire Royal Palace to be used as a museum. We are working on it, but 100 million is not enough, we will need more.”

The idea is not new and had been put forward by others in the past. If anything, the new element this time is the significant economic support already allocated for the project, as well as the synergy between national government and local government invoked by the newly appointed mayor Gaetano Manfredi and the “Pact for Naples” signed with central institutions. Thus, in April 2022 engineers and technicians from the City of Naples contacted the Library’s management and began to prepare what to do.

What are the reasons of those who support the move? Essentially three. The first: “to allocate the Royal Palace all to a museum destination,” as stated by the minister. The second: according to proponents of the move, the National Library of Naples would enjoy new and larger spaces, designed specifically for the most modern needs of use. The third: the revitalization of the area. Indeed, it is argued that the Naples National Library is crucial to the revitalization of the area of the new location, which has been abandoned for many years.

The reasons of those who oppose it

A long list of reasons supports the critics. Many pose a problem of protection: the approximately 2 million volumes, including about 5,000 incunabula, 40,000 chincentines, 30,000 manuscripts, precious medieval illuminated manuscripts, Coptic manuscripts from the 5th and 6th centuries AD, and 1,800 Herculaneum papyri dating back to the 3rd century BC, would be seriously jeopardized by a mass move such as the one to be implemented, according to critics. The extreme fragility of the materials of these works often conditions even their consultation (to which the digital version is always preferred, unless for proven research reasons). When just one of these works is loaned for external exhibitions, at Italian or foreign museums, the insurance values touch several million euros, and one or two librarians accompany its transport entrusted to specialized firms (equipped with suitable equipment). In addition, the Library is also endowed with an important patrimony of furniture, furnishings, antique wooden shelves that are an integral part of the collections they hold, up to six meters high perfectly adapted or created on purpose for the spaces they currently occupy and that should be modified to meet future needs, as well as globes, statues, musical instruments, the incredible collection of taxidermied animals in the Africa Room of the Aosta Fund, with precious stones, hunting trophies, weapons and objects of indigenous craftsmanship: a very rich patrimony that rivals that of books and which the most basic rules of protection and conservation forbid touching. Nor is a dismemberment of collections and holdings considered scientifically acceptable.

Second, relocating the material, according to critics, would also prevent its enjoyment for several years, the time it would take to “box up” everything, transport, open and rearrange, net of slowdowns and delays. It would also interrupt indefinitely the collaborative and research relationships that the Library holds and will hold in the coming years, such as ongoing studies on Herculaneum Papyri, internships, and cataloging projects. Then there are economic issues. In 2019, more than 300,000 euros were allocated to renovate and air-condition the study room of the Papyrus Workshop; in the same year, work began on the new operational control center and the new reception point, with the addition of turnstiles based on magnetic cards, with total expenditures of 630.000 euros: work still in progress, to which are added those for distribution (600,000 euros), attics (2 million euros), and freight elevators (500,000 euros) made vain by the eventual relocation of the works. In addition, in the new location (pertaining to the municipal domain and not to the state domain like the current one) the Library may also have to pay a rent, and it will also be forced to constantly turn to the municipality for any maintenance needs.

Again, the Library would occupy only part of the Real Albergo, with other lots in the building earmarked for other projects (“City of Youth,” playrooms, gyms, associations). In addition, there are 80 families squatting in the building on the top floors; the large courtyard has become an illegal parking lot and there are numerous illegal garbage deposits: a situation that has been dragging on for years and if it were to remain so, even partially, it would jeopardize the preservation of the Library’s heritage. Still, the Library’s current historic location places it at the center of a “cultural quadrilateral.” in fact, several university campuses (Federico II, the Orientale, Parthenope, Suor Orsola), the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies, the Italian Institute for Historical Studies, the Library of the Società di Storia Patria, as well as well-known museum destinations such as Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino), the San Carlo Theater and the Museum of the Royal Palace are within walking distance. A concentration that has allowed a constant dialogue made up of projects, research, and initiatives over the years. Moving the Library to a peripheral location, according to critics, would impoverish its cultural centrality and would also end up harming the Museum itself or other neighboring institutions.

Then there are also logistical issues. The current location is easily accessible: the Toledo and Municipio stops on Metro Line 1, Chiaia-Monte di Dio (scheduled for June 2022) on Line 6, numerous bus lines and the Maritime Station-Molo Beverello are nearby. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the new location in Piazza Carlo III suffers from atavistic poor public transportation coverage. Still, there are numerous houses between the Spanish Quarter and the Historic Center in which many of the students who attend the Library reside. The area is also full of hotels and B&Bs used by scholars who come from outside. Tourists who visit the Library benefit from a close cultural itinerary, of which the Institute is one of the stops among several facilities in the vicinity. If it were relocated, the Naples National Library would inevitably lose much of this user base, and it is ridiculous to claim otherwise. Finally, the historical reasons. The location of the Royal Palace mirrors the history that the library’s holdings tell. After extensive public debate, it was decided in 1922 to move the ancient Library, established in the 18th century, from the Palazzo degli Studi to the interior of the Royal Palace, thanks in part to the intervention of Benedetto Croce. The numerous frescoed rooms, the large study room formerly the court ballroom, and the “Pompeian” rooms on the upper floor embellished and enhanced the library’s holdings.

Opponents of the move then criticize the motives of supporters. Beginning with the fact that the Royal Palace Museum already has ample exhibition space and, according to critics, the new areas would probably serve more as “locations” in concession to private individuals. By the way, the Library continuously organizes exhibitions (free and free) of its treasures that attract thousands of visitors each year, as well as weekly presentations and meetings. Then, again according to the critics, the comparison with modern libraries such as the European Library (Beic) to be built in Milan is not sustainable: the National Library in Naples is essentially a conservation library and the growth of its modern material is left to direct purchases or to the deposit of the few publishing houses left in Campania (due to the legal deposit law). Finally, as for the revitalization of the area, according to critics, a municipal and public reading library, perhaps with open shelves, would be more needed than a library like the National, which does not have much modern material and cannot have “open shelves,” so its treasures would poorly meet the real needs of the neighborhood, which is in need of didactics, open spaces, laboratories, training courses, university departments, student halls of residence.

Naples, opposition to National Library relocation grows. Here's why
Naples, opposition to National Library relocation grows. Here's why

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.