Bourbon Renewal

Any visit to Naples, Italy, is unforgettable. It is a hectic, frenetic city—thrilling, exhausting, vibrant, delicious, and intriguing. It is also full of architectural surprises, among them the Real Albergo dei Poveri, or Royal Almshouse. The Albergo is a building that stands out, firstly, because of its sheer size, and, secondly, because of what it has to say about the ambitions of its creator. It is also a building at a crossroads, seemingly out of sync with the city and in desperate need of a purpose. The building has its proponents, however, who have spent the better part of two decades shoring it up in hopes of finding for it a suitable reuse. It is an extravagant undertaking, not unlike the building of the Albergo itself. Begun in 1752, this behemoth of a building was commissioned by Charles III, the Bourbon King of Naples and Sicily—and later King of Spain—one of the eighteenth century’s more enlightened despots. Charles was an ambitious man and Naples at that time was an affluent and important city, much larger and more prosperous than Paris or Rome. It was also home to an estimated 8,000 destitute citizens.

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