Artspace Profile: Largo Baracche in Naples Italy
Originally published in Glasschord Arts & Culture Magazine, glasschord.com
This profile was assembled from contemporary and historical sources listed below
Largo Baracche is an art workshop and gallery occupying a series of underground tunnels in the heart of Naples’ Spanish Quarter. The Spanish Quarter was built in the sixteenth century at the wishes of Viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo as a dormitory district for the Spanish troops occupying the city. Baracche means barracks in Italian.
The creation of a gallery in a subterranean shelter is a dramatic transformation of an unused space in the heart of the ancient city. The below-ground setting of the gallery evokes the cultural richness of the Neapolitan catacombs and 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. Naples was the most bombed Italian city in World War Two. Early in the war Naples, Italy’s third largest city and a major naval base, was a target of bombing by the British. By 1942 the U.S. had joined the war and was active in the Mediterranean, and the bombing of Naples 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 Naples 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 Naples served as shelter and protection from the bombing. Entire 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 Naples 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.
This text was assembled 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