When you visit the historical heart of Naples, the third-largest city in Italy, you’ll discover one of the most stunning buildings in the country.
I’m not talking about the Royal Palace, the Teatro San Carlo, or even the historic Castel Nuovo. I’m referring to one of the most beautiful shopping arcades in the world.
It was one of the major construction projects in the city in the late 19th century and still baffles every visitor today.
In this article, you’ll discover some of the most interesting facts about the Galleria Umberto I, one of the most impressive feats of architecture in Naples.
1. It’s located just north of the Royal Palace in the heart of Naples
Naples is a major city in southern Italy and has over 3.11 million inhabitants living in its metropolitan area. This makes it the third-largest city in Italy.
Like most other Italian cities, it’s home to a large number of fantastic landmarks, especially in the historical heart.
One of these that really stands out is a major shopping arcade known as the “Galleria Umberto I,” a huge glass-covered structure.
It stands just north of the Royal Palace of Naples, once the residence of the local rulers, and just west of the Castel Nuovo, a famous castle that has a history that goes back to the Middle Ages.
It’s definitely one of the most prominent buildings in this area, and that is quite significant because it’s surrounded by historic buildings.
2. It was the centerpiece of a major renovation project in the late 19th century
The gallery was constructed between 1887 and 1890 and was the centerpiece of a huge redevelopment project in Naples referred to as the “Risanamento.”
This decade-long project was initiated following the Unification of Italy in 1861 and was most notable in Naples and Florence.
Risanimento translates to “Making Healthy Again” which means that it was mainly a beautification project that replaced and modernized the outdated city centers of several major Italian cities.
3. It was named after the King of Italy when it was constructed
The Unification of Italy resulted in the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, a state that existed between 1861 and 1946.
The first King of Italy was Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878) of Sardinia and he held this title between 1861 and his death in 1878.
He was succeeded by his son, Umberto I (1844-1900), a man who had political views that angered a lot of people on the left.
The gallery was named in his honor but he ended up being assassinated by an anarchist named Gaetano Bresci, just 2 years following the suppression of a deadly riot in Milan.
4. It’s a cross-shaped building that features a huge central dome
One thing is certain, Galleria Umbert I is nothing like the small glass-covered passages that can be found in Paris known as the “Passages of pairs.
It’s also not similar to other historic shopping arcades in Europe such as the Burlington Arcade in London or the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries in Brussels.
This is a monumental cross-shaped building that features 5 stories. The central part of topped by an amazing dome that is supported by 16 metal ribs that hold together the glass roof.
The shopping arcade features 4 wings that extend from the central dome and are lined with high-end shops, cafés, and restaurants.
5. The magnificent entrance faces the main opera house in Naples
The western entrance faces the Via Toledo, formerly known as the Via Roma, one of the major thoroughfares and shopping streets in the heart of Naples.
The other 2 minor entrances face two rather small streets known as the Via Giuseppe Verdi (to the east) and the Via Santa Brigida (to the north).
The best place for you to enter the shopping arcade is the entrance that faces the Teatro San Carlo, the opera house that adjoins the Royal Palace to the north.
Lines with sculptures and columns, this monumental curving entrance is quite an amazing landmark by itself.
6. The shopping arcade resembles a similar structure in Italy’s second city
If you have visited the second-largest city in Italy, then you surely came across a building that resembles the Galleria Umberto I in Naples.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Milan and is located right in the heart of the city.
It faces the Piazza del Duomo, the square that faces Milan Cathedral, the building around which the city was established.
As you surely guessed, this shopping arcade was named after King Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of Italy and father of Umberto I.
7. The gallery has been restored to its former glory in the previous decades
The Resanimento happened during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when the Kingdom of Italy was flourishing.
The Fascists came to power in the buildup to World War II and the outcome of one of the most devastating events in human history.
Even though there was a significant economic boom in the 1950s and 1960s following the establishment of the Italian Republic in 1946, this declined significantly in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Galleria Umberto I became a rather dilapidated building during the final decades of the 20th century and many stores closed their doors.
The city has put in a lot of effort to restore the building to its former glory and today, it’s once again one of the favorite places for Neopolitans to hang out.
Can you imagine a better place to do so?
8. It’s one of the buildings that make up the center of Naples UNESCO site
The historic center of Naples has a history that goes back approximately 27 centuries when a settlement was established by Greek settlers known as “Neapolis.”
In 1995, the entire historic center of Naples was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Galleria Umberto I is an integral part of it.