Largo Baracche, Napoli, Italy


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Largo Baracche is an art workshop and gallery occupying a series of underground tunnels in the heart of Napoli’s Spanish Quarter.  The Spanish Quarter was built in the sixteenth century at the wishes of Don Pedro da Toledo as a dormitory district for the Spanish troops occupying the city.  Baracche means barracks in Italian.

The creation of a gallery constructed from a subterranean shelter is a dramatic transformation of an unused space in the heart of the ancient city into a truly modern place.   The below-ground setting of the gallery – until recently little more than a buried cellar or cave – but also evoking the cultural richness of the Neapolitan catacombs – symbolizes the hidden sources of life that can be reclaimed by a new generation from the city’s past.

The series of underground tunnels that is now the Largo Baracche art space was originally constructed as a bomb shelter during World War Two.  Napoli was the most bombed Italian city in World War Two.  Early in the war Napoli was a target of the British, as Italy’s third largest city and a major naval base.  By 1942 the U.S. had joined the war and was active in the Mediterranean, and the bombing of Napoli increased.  The city was a target because it was a major sea port and transportation hub through which German and Italian troops and supplies were funneled to North Africa.   The worst bombardment occurred on August 4th 1943, when four hundred Allied planes rained fire on the city.  Estimates of the death toll of that single day, difficult to count in a city devastated by years of war, range from 700 to over 3,000.   By late 1943 the Allies had occupied the city, and bombing by German forces began.   By the end of the war Napoli had been bombed nearly two hundred times.  An estimated 23,000 Neapolitan civilians were killed in these aerial bombardments.  For those who want to read them, there is no end to the testimonies of the horror of life under bombardment.

During the years of war, the ancient caverns and tunnels below Napoli served as shelter and protection from the bombing.  Whole families spent weeks below ground, often emerging into daylight to find their homes and entire neighborhoods turned to rubble.  Evidence of DC battery power, showers and crude health and kitchen facilities can still be seen in many of the shelters.

The Largo Baracche project took shape following the rediscovery of the site by the city council of Napoli in 2001, when it was chosen as one of the cornerstones of the European Community’s urban renewal program.  In 2006 the city council granted the site to SABU, the association which now operates this former bomb shelter as a center for urban renewal.  Largo Baracche is a free, dynamic space that employs art as a fundamental means of territorial development.  The energy of a new generation of Neapolitan artists has given the site renewed dignity, and a place long considered dead has become a crucible for talent and creativity.

Paintings by Ernesto Tatafiore exhibited at Largo Baracche

This text draws from the following sources:
Chiamata all’Arte, Largo Baracche exhibition catalog by Giuseppe Ruffo and Pietro Tatafiore
Towards a New Counter Culture, essay by Margaret and Michael Ruskin, published in Chiamate all’Arte
The Urban Planning of the Spanish Quarter, essay by Marco Malfi, published in Chiamate all’Arte
The History of Largo Baracche, by Serena Fusco, published in Chiamate all’Arte
Photographic History of Napoli, edited by Gloria Chianese, published by Intra Moenia
Around Naples Encyclopedia, by Jeff Matthews, published by University of Maryland University College
Naples ’44, by Norman Lewis, published by Pantheon Books

2 Responses to Largo Baracche, Napoli, Italy

  1. The walls must be pregnant with fear, anger, wanting of revenge, desperation, and hopelessness.
    Perhaps the art will cleanse those ghosts, and the worst of the human condition might be transformed into a journey of fantasy, wonder, exploration, and joy. PERHAPS, art will serve to make a needed change: from a dingy shelter fpr a conquering army, to a shelter from a conquering army, to a space where expression, and ideas can dance with the Muse.
    Va Pensiero, Sull’Ali Dorate…..

  2. Butcha says:

    Amazing contribution, Dan O. Thanks for the education.