The history of Naples is long and tortured, or at least for centuries that was how its history has been told. Inhabited almost continuously from the Neolithic era to the present, Naples was founded by the Greeks and conquered by the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Naples passed between various foreign rulers for its entire history prior to Italian unification. Starting in 1040, when the Norman French invaders conquered Campania, Naples was ruled in a dizzying succession by Germans, then French, then Spanish, then Austrians, then Spanish, then French, and then Spanish.
Nonetheless, Naples does not enjoy an excellent reputation, within the context of Italy or of Europe. High rates of petty crime, a decaying urban fabric and the infamous presence of the mafia (known in Naples as the Camorra) all combine to ensure fewer tourists venture to explore Naples, and many Italians (civilians and politicians alike) consider it the ultimate “problem city.” Nonetheless, it bears keeping in mind the words of one of Naples’ foremost historians, John Marino, who noted, “Naples, like each of Italy’s cities, [is] unique, but far less different than is generally believed.” The Neapolitan mafia is famous for its pervasive nature, which is due to the fact that it is organized in a horizontal, decentralized way. This means there is not one single “boss” who dictates policy and can be more strategic in how and when violence is deployed. Unlike other mafias, in the Camorra there has been no long-term reigning family, nor extensive coordination between families to form an alliance and function as a unified mafia for their shared benefit.
La Camorra: The Notorious History and Legacy of the Neapolitan Mafia examines how one of the world’s most famous mobs formed, its inner workings, and the events that made it feared around Italy.