The Beautiful Siren, Parthenope

Naples is a city with many surprising historical and archaeological layers.

Little remains today of “Parthenope”: a city of Greek origin, the traces of which can be seen, for example, in the Greek walls that pass through Via Mezzocannone. The city’s Roman ruins, on the other hand, are much more abundant. One of these is the archaeological site of San Lorenzo Maggiore, situated in the centre of Naples, which houses part of the 5th century BC Greek Agora and many Roman relics dating from the era in which the city was already a ‘metropolis’.
Naples is an ancient city. Tombs found in the Materdei neighbourhood and dating back to the Neolithic period prove that small settlements were already present during prehistoric times. Nevertheless, the birth of the city cannot be dated with absolute certainty. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why numerous legends exist which attempt to explain its origins. Numerous, yet all with a single common character: the beautiful siren, Parthenope. According to one of these legends, the siren, rejected by Homer’s hero, Ulysses, washed up on the islet of Megaride, where the Castel dell’Ovo is located. It was here that the city was born. However, historical records indicate that it was between the islet of Megaride and Mt. Echia that several Cuman colonies were first established, creating a small agglomeration which they called Parthenope (7th century BC). In 475 BC the Cumans, due to frequent conflicts with the Etruscans, decided to found another city a bit more inland, corresponding to today’s historic centre. This city was renamed Neapolis (new city) to distinguish it from Parthenope which, in the meantime, had acquired the name Palepolis (old city).