February 6, 2015 / Local Interest
Mount Vesuvius, Campania
1939 postcard

From the days when British Ambassador William Hamilton wore through his shoes (and those of his long-suffering servants) upon the hot slopes of Vesuvius, the volcano has been a magnet to visitors. Up until the 1870s the only alternative to trekking up on foot was a horseback ride or a sedan chair. But in 1878 the Hungarian entrepreneur Ernesto Emanuele Oblieght obtained permission to construct and operate a funicular railway up the slopes and in 1880 he and colleagues celebrated the new venture with a champagne reception.

Giacomo Brogi, Contorni di Napoli

That year one of the song entries in the Piedigrotta Festival, Funiculì Funiculà, written by Peppino Turco and Luigi Denza, burst upon the scene, becoming in effect a kind of promotional jingle for Oblieght’s railway.

Il Vesuvio, S. Heidesheimer & Co. postcard ca.1905

It was not all plain sailing, or indeed, railing; from the very beginning local guides were incensed that their livelihood was under threat. Though Oblieght bought them off to some extent, subsequent owners of the line, including Thomas Cook & Son, who took over control in 1888, had to contend with sabotaged rails and carriages.

Naples, Vesuvius funicular

As if this wasn’t enough, eruptions in 1906, 1911 and 1928 wrought enormous damage to the system and the 1944 eruption put an emphatic end to this convenient method of reaching the summit. A pity, since, as the song says, you can see Procida, France and Spain from the top! …Allegedly.


This note is an amuse-bouche for the Napoli Unplugged Guide to Naples, into which Bonnie Alberts, Barbara Zaragoza and Penny have poured their passion for the city. More at and

Dear friends, please join me in congratulating Barbara Zaragoza and Penny Ewles-Bergeron (contributors who have submitted copious high-quality notes over the years to ItalianNotebook on Naples) as well as Bonnie Alberts. Knowing them and their love for Naples, I personally can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. – ed.

8 Responses to “FUNICULÌ, FUNICULÀ!”

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    such a great wealth of information and interesting history…for a Penny’s worth of thought…..Thank you

  2. Antoinette Shapiama

    I never knew the history of the song, although I learned it in school (in English) in Chicago. My Peruvian husband also sang it as a schoolboy in Lima. The Spanish lyrics were a salute to Spring, when the school year began. Catchy tune — it’ll be in my head all day!

  3. Tricia Reynolds

    It takes this dynamic cluster of women to turn a passion for Naples into positive and practical publications, of diverse kinds. Complimenti!

  4. Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Thanks for the lovely comments – I now keep an eye out for any Naples postcards for my growing collection. Not only are they excellent social history, they also provide a window into perceptions of Naples in the past. Thank you GB for your kind note too; it’s been 2 years in the making but we hope everyone will enjoy the guide and use it for frequent trips (!) to one of the most intriguing and beguiling cities on the planet.

  5. Sandra Spector

    Great comment and the new book is fabulous. So glad had my new copy for our visit last week to Naples


Leave a Reply