According to some ancient sources, during the 9th century BC, the navigators of Rhodes founded a commercial colony on the islet of Megaride (now Castel dell ‘Ovo) and on the hill of Pizzofalcone located behind, this one was named Partenope. Successively, towards the end of the 7th century BC, this first settlement was occupied by Greek settlers from Cumae during their expansion in Campania.
The Cumae ones were probably forced to abandon it following the advance in the region in the 6th century BC of their opponents, the Etruscans; they then re-created the city around 470 BC, when they defeated their enemies with the help of the Syracusans. They founded, east of the site of Partenope (which then took the name of Palepoli “old city”), Neapolis (“New City”).
The city rose on a slope descending south towards the sea and protected on its sides by valleys. In this zone, corresponding to what is defined as the Historical Center of the city, where the occupation was permanent there for more than two thousand years.
Very many traces of the ancient city have remained, although it has always involved a lot of destruction and transformation. Today they appear in a fragmented way, and are often difficult to see.
The archaeological evidence that best contributes to highlight the physiognomy of the ancient city are the walls and the urban settlement. The plan of the fortifications, which were built in blocks of local tufa (with the recent unveiling under the cemetery of Santa Maria di Pianto of one of the quarries of extraction of these materials), was reconstituted thanks to the discovery of numerous portions.
The circuit of the wall extended from the hill of Sant’Aniello to Caponapoli, passing through Settembrini and until Castel Capuano and Forcella, continued on the Corso Umberto until the Piazza Bovio, going up on the west side towards the Bellini Square and Costantinopolis.
The walled city was formed by two hills, united by transverse walls. Two phases of construction were determined: the first, in granular tuff blocks, from the fifth century BC, in connection with the founding of the city, and the second, in compact tufa, corresponds to a redevelopment of the defensive structure , dated from the fourth century BC, when the city found itself in a difficult political and military situation.
The first period is clearly visible in the structures of Sant’Aniello in Caponapoli, where excavations have also highlighted a portion of the Angevin fortifications, superimposed on the Greek walls. On the other hand, the remains of walls on Cavour Square, under the Maria Longo ramp and on Bellini Square date back to the 4th century BC.
The power of the enclosure was sufficient for Annibal to give up the assault on the city, then allied to the Romans.
Inside the enclosure one can still recognize the urban structure in certain places and roads of the modern city. It was organized around three main and parallel axes (decumanus), respectively corresponding to the current Sapienza-Pisanelli-Anticaglia-SantApostoli (upper decumanus), Tribunali (middle decumanus), and San Biagio-Vicaria-Forca (lower decumanus) pathways. They were cut perpendicularly by narrower axes.
Such a conception corresponds fully to the usual organization of Greek town planning of the fifth century BC, generally referred to as “Ippodamo de Mileto” (literally “Damier of Miletus”).
The plan of the city did not change under the Romans. The civil center of the Greek city, the agora, maintaining its role. It is located in the area of the current San Gaetano Square.
To the north of this last one was the theater and the Odeon area, where in the center stood on a podium the temple dedicated to the Dioscuri, deity of Neapolis.
From the temple, completely rebuilt at the time of Tiberius, there remain only two of the six columns of the pronaos, incorporated in the facade of the church of San Paolo Maggiore.
In the first century of the empire, with the institution since the year 2 of the “Italikà Romaia Sebastà Isolympia” (five-year competition that included equestrian, musical and drama), and following the damage that the buildings suffered because of the earthquake in 62 and the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, Naples experienced an intense construction of public buildings. It is indeed from this period that date all the monumental buildings of which remains are preserved: the theaters (in the area of the Anticaglia), the temple of the Dioscures, the macellum (whose remains extend under the church and the convent of San Lorenzo Maggiore).
However, constructive fervor did not lead to a revival of the once flourishing Neapolis commercial activities. The city became a destination for wealthy landowners, scholars and artists, attracted by the jocularity of the place and the Hellenism of its manners and traditions.
The rich villas, which rose above the coastline, testify to the residential and tourist character taken by Neapolis from the end of the first century. Condition that under the economic crisis has continued for a long time, more and more evident during the last centuries of the empire.