For the better part of seven centuries, the Italian metropolis of Naples was the centre of a powerful Mediterranean kingdom that encompassed the whole of southern Italy and Sicily. The city traced its history to the 8th century BCE Greek colony of Neapolis and became on the Italian peninsula’s most prosperous cities until the 79 AD eruption of nearby Mt Vesuvius destroyed the nearby Roman resort town of Pompeii.

What was left of Naples endured centuries of neglect until the Byzantines, and later the Normans and Spanish, returned the city to its place of prominence as one of the main urban and cultural centres of Medieval and Rennaissance Europe, which later attracted artists that included the likes of Caravaggio, José de Ribera, and Salvatore Rosa. 

Following Italian unification in 1861 and the dissolution of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, of which Naples was the royal capital, the rapidly crumbling city became better known as huge, filthy, mafia-ridden, and overcrowded with scores of poor villagers who had come to Naples in the hope of immigrating to the New World in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Naples’ mayor Antonio Bassolino did much to improve the city’s image while in office from 1993-2000 by cleaning up the historic centre’s streets, restoring scores of neglected churches, museums, and palaces, while at the same time advertising Naples as a major attraction for tourists alongside Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan.

Though the Neapolitan mafia – the Camorra – continue to wield significant power over all aspects of daily life, the last 10 years have seen Naples burst with creative activity as filmmakers, artists, and stars from Italy’s culinary scene are helping to transform the city.

Brussels has taken notice of Naples’ continued transformation and the European Commission has opted to handsomely award the city with a total of €868 million for the preservation of its cultural heritage and the further development of its infrastructure.

At least €72 million will be used for the renovation and upkeep of Naples’ historic city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is both the birthplace of pizza and legendary opera singer, Enrico Caruso.

“Naples is truly a European jewel and I’m glad that EU funds can help highlight its beauty, stimulate its economy and improve quality of life for its inhabitants,” said the European Commission’s Regional Policy head Corina Crețu.

The Commission and the City of Naples’ municipal authorities plan to create free wifi zones as well as bicycle paths and modern video surveillance systems in and around the ancient historical core in an effort to protect and boost turnover local small businesses located in the UNESCO designated area, which specialise in traditional crafts, including papermaking, and the manufacturing of musical instruments

Naples’ port, one of the largest in Italy, will also benefit from the funds given by Brussels. A total of €111 million Cohesion Policy funds into a major overhaul of the port’s sewage network, rail and road access links, and the cleaning of the seabed in the Bay of Naples.

By improving access to and from the port, EU-funded works will allow more goods to be transported to and from ships by rail, which will reduce air pollution in the area.

Italy is the second recipient of the European Structural Investment Funds, including Cohesion Policy funds, with €44.7 billion earmarked for 2014-2020. The country is also the second beneficiary of the Investment Plan for Europe – also known as “the Juncker Plan” – in absolute terms, with already over €50 billion mobilised in additional investment and over 215,000 small and medium businesses set to benefit from improved access to finance.