Naples Becomes a Lightscape When the Sun Goes Down

Of all the sights worth seeing in Naples, the southern Italian city's Piazza del Plebiscito should be high on anybody's list: For many, the impressive semi-circular colonnade of San Francesco di Paola church and the facade of the Royal Palace opposite are spectacular symbols of the city. The church is reminiscent of a pagan temple, with Ionic columns, side pillars, and triangular tympanum; the square itself is a wonderfully airy, open space, in complete contrast to the noisy chaos in some of the other neighboring areas.

To ensure that these and other well-known monuments (besides some of the most densely populated zones, such as the Spanish Quarters) are shown and seen at their best, the city's authorities recently began an extremely ambitious project to install a new cutting-edge system, integrating architectural and street lighting, audio, and video/data transmission and communications.

The enormous upgrade, which has met with great success from the public and municipal and regional authorities, is being implemented by S.O.L.E. This is a member company of the ENEL Group, led by managing director Giuseppe Nucci, and is responsible for, among other projects, the city's public lighting, and Valerio Maioli, a private company involved in a wide variety of sectors, but with architectural lighting projects to its credit in other Italian towns.

Besides there being problems such as traffic in the square (which up until not so long ago was a car park), the monuments' existing lighting was to say the least inadequate, in some cases downright damaging as far as “urban beautification” was concerned: The statues on top of the church were lit with dazzling amounts of light, as were the porticos, with the result that the columns (unlit from the front) were just dark vertical “things” at night. The solutions found have resulted in perfectly balanced lighting that exploits the entire square's beauty and a couple of spectacular moments in the course of the evening.


“The first ‘happening’ currently takes place as soon as darkness falls, but it seems that we'll run it at midnight soon, by popular request,” says Maioli. “The square's normal lighting is dimmed down and Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony is fed out via two speaker systems near the tympanum, and other small units fitted in the lampposts along the sides of the square. Two Coemar Color Power 1,200W fixtures on the roof of the colonnade light the cross atop the church from both sides.

“Then, with a slightly amber-tinged white chosen after running tests to see what color gave the best results, Coemar Panorama and Mariner instruments light up the main dome, followed by the two smaller domes. Here, a combination of SBP Spider symmetric 500 and 1,000W floodlights, fitted with RGB filters and mixed via DMX using a Maioli Digilux VM3000 controller, eliminate the shadows, which would otherwise have appeared on the main cupola due to the small ones being frontlit.

“The statues on top of the domes and the extremities of the colonnade roof are lit by Reggiani IP55 spots with 50W Osram Decostar IRC dichroic reflector lamps, and 42 Disano fluorescent units, each with one 58W tube, light the entire cornice around the top of the colonnade. Then come the porticos, with 44 SBP Albatross floods fitted with 300W Osram Haloline lamps and 14 of the same asymmetric fixtures under the portico below the tympanum at the church entrance, but in the 500W version. These fixtures are all dimmed to 30% of their total power.

“This is followed by each of the 56 colonnade columns being lit by a recessed Icare fixture by Extérieur Vert. These units, also used to light the two equestrian statues in the square, are fitted with three 50W dichroic lamps (one with a 10° beam angle and two with 24°), as are the niches holding statues of the kings of Naples along the front of the Royal Palace, lit by 14 units. When the light, apparently flowing downwards, reaches the equestrian statues, the same sequence takes place on the Royal Palace and the building is gradually lit from the clock tower down to the niches.”


Maioli's firm also designs, installs, and sometimes manufactures the hardware and software used to control not only the lighting on its projects, but also the audio, data transmission, and communications. “The second ‘effect’ is triggered by the Palace clock,” Maioli explains. “We fitted an adaptor which transforms the bell signal and feeds it via fiber-optic interface to Palazzo San Giacomo, where we have our main control room. From there, control signals are sent via radio to the Certosa and by fiber optics to Piazza Plebiscito, to the lighting inside the lampposts in Via Santa Lucia and all the other locations.”

He continues, “The control network is based on our proprietary computerized Digilux VM3000 setup, and this specific system is very extensive, currently controlling over 400 peripheral units in various parts of the city. There are sometimes hard-wired runs, but copper doesn't guarantee the necessary safety, reliability, and speed, so in Naples for example, the four main branches of control lines are fiber-optic. We installed all the links and manufactured the fiber-optic transducers, which dialog with our system. Although this type of system has already been installed and run successfully in other locations, this is definitely the largest to date, with a maximum distance of 2.5km (1.5 mi.) from the control room to Borgo Orefici, where the local hard-wired branches extend out 250-300 yards (229-274m) from the central node.” Maioli's firm has an 80-plus workforce, which includes six Neapolitan technicians based in its Piazza Matteotti premises, working on the Neapolitan system and projects in other southern Italian towns.

Regarding the second event, a son et lumière spectacle, Maioli explains, “Just before the clock on the Royal Palace strikes, the lighting is dimmed to minimum public security level, then with each chime of the bell, the light from a PAR-64 with a narrow-beam GE 550k candle halogen lamp shoots out from the roof of the church to light up the clock on the other side of the square. When the hours have rung, these are dimmed, and the entire square — the church's domes, and a backdrop of buildings behind it — is flooded with colored light: Yellow at a quarter past the hour, red at half past, green at quarter to, and blue on the hour — blue represents the arrival of something new.”

The color arrives from an impressive array of fixtures installed out of sight atop the church, comprising two Coemar Mariner 2×1200s and four Coemar Panorama 1800s on the domes, four more Panorama 1800s illuminating the background, and eight Coemar Mariner 2×1200 units focused on the Royal Palace. At this point, 10 Coemar CF 1200 instruments, also used to project gobos, color the paving of the square to match the rest.

These Coemar moving-head fixtures are mounted on custom-built trolleys running along a 21' (6.4m) stainless-steel track on the roof at either end of the colonnade. They project gobos on the square's paving and images such as a horse-drawn coach on the facade of the Royal Palace. To avoid problems with fixture operation and control, there are two weather monitors which, in the event of strong winds or rain, send a command which retracts the CF 1200s into their weatherproof housing at the end of the roof track.


At the moment Piazza Plebiscito is colored to breathtaking effect, the new architectural lighting systems on three more monuments change to the same color: Castel dell'Ovo, Castel Sant'Elmo, and the Certosa di San Martino. In Via Santa Lucia, one of the main streets leading down from the city center to the seafront near Castel dell'Ovo, Maioli installed new street lighting with a series of holes slightly over halfway up the poles, inside each of which is a loudspeaker, three stepper motors with three dichroic disks, and a Philips 150W MasterColor lamp. Here, too, the color changes to that in the square, but instead of fading after about 30 seconds, as does the monument lighting in the other locations, the posts' internal lighting remains on the color in question until the bell rings again.

A vast former monastery, Castel dell'Ovo stands on a small island alongside Santa Lucia Harbor. Construction began in 1154 by King Roger II on a pre-existing Roman building, perhaps the villa of patrician Lucullus. Here are nine Coemar 2×1200 Mariner instruments, a bank of which is installed on the nearby breakwater. There are also 19 Panorama Cyc Powers: two on the quay, others on poles, and seven more on the roof of a nearby building. La Certosa di San Martino (immortalized by Degas, among others) and Castel Sant'Elmo are both visible from a considerable distance: San Martino is lit by 14 Coemar Panorama Cyc Powers, and Sant'Elmo, which has its own Digilux controller, by another 33.

In Piazza Plebiscito, more improved lighting has been installed along either side of the square between the church and the Royal Palace. Three triple-armed lampposts have been installed: Each arm has a globe in which three CDM 150W discharge lamps and a central 500W halogen lamp are fitted. The halogen lamps come on slowly first of all, giving the effect of a rising light, then the first discharge lamp is ignited; when it reaches operating level, the second and then the third are ignited. When the third is running normally, the halogen lamps are doused, because when all three CDMs are lit, the effect of the halogens is almost imperceptible. As well as the pleasant gradual effect, by switching on the halogen lamps first, they “absorb” the blue color of the MasterColor lamps when they are struck.


As well as the lighting for these key monuments, Maioli also designed and installed new illumination in Piazza Trieste e Trento and Via Toledo, which adjoin Piazza Plebiscito, and various other areas of the town. He explains, “In Borgo Orefici, as elsewhere, we completely eliminated sodium lamps and yellow lighting — in this area, the new street lighting is via Philips MasterColor lamps. In the Spanish Quarters there are two 70W lamps in each globe. At 1:30am the computer switches off one and the following day the other one is switched off first, so the lamps are consumed more or less at the same rate. In Borgo Orefice, 292 two-globe street lamps were installed and seven iGuzzini Platea Spot 150W CDM instruments used to illuminate the crucifix in the center of the square.

“In Borgo Marinara, curved tubular supports and the recurrent acorn-shaped globes, designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, are fitted with the same 70W lamps operated on the same alternating timed dousing basis. We also installed new street lighting in 72 streets of the Spanish Quarters and, having seen the results of our work, the inhabitants of the neighboring parts of the city want the same treatment. It's absurd to use yellow light with very low CRI to light old parts of town which are full of life, with people window-shopping or just out for a stroll.”

Maioli is now involved in the installation of a hydraulically operated 30'×18' (9×5m) videoscreen that will rise from below ground level in the center of the square to be used for projecting images from the city's famous San Carlo Theatre. Naples is well on its way to becoming a city of lights.

Mike Clark is an Italy-based UK journalist specializing in lighting and entertainment technology, and can be reached at