Profile: the Rione Sanità and the Totò Museum
Antonio De Curtis – who went by the stage name Totò – was Italy's answer to Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy, all rolled into one. He is a legendary figure not only in Naples but also across the whole of Italy and throughout Italian-speaking communities around the world. During his long film career, he encapsulated the most fascinating elements of his hometown. Totò never forgot that he came from a part of Naples that is exceptionally rich in history and humanity: the Rione Sanità.
The district was always very close to his heart; so much so, in fact, that he often made his way back there, leaving money at the doors of the most deprived families. The house where the so-called “Prince of Laughter” was born and lived until the age of 24 is located in Via Santa Maria Antesaecula.
As he himself put it: "I was born in the Rione Sanità, the most famous neighbourhood of Naples. That quarter is actually called "Stella", and is situated around the Station, but thanks to its healthy air, everyone calls it "Sanità" [meaning 'health' in Italian]. On Sunday afternoons, Neapolitan families would meet up in each others' houses, and someone would play the guitar while others sang and recited poetry. They were respectable meetings, with nothing untoward. The young men would watch the girls, they would hold hands and fall in love. There was never a hint of any inappropriate behaviour. And so, a wonderful time was had by all. I would perform skits, just for fun. And that is how I started out. Until I fell head over heels for the chanteuse and I threw myself into it."
The Rione Sanità is the “place of the heart” that constitutes the launch pad for the effort to keep the memory of the great Neapolitan actor very much alive in the hearts of his fellow citizens. In the context of the valuable, survey-based initiative entitled “ITALIAN PLACES I LOVE”, FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano (the Italian National Trust) intends to promote the enhancement of the image of Totò, starting from his birthplace, the Rione Sanità itself, which served as his springboard to greater things. The objective is not simply to restore the architecture of a historic place, but also – through the survey campaign – to raise the awareness of the citizens of Naples and encourage them to keep alive the memory of such a magnificent comic actor, with a view to generating, in the process, a greater sense of belonging to, and a greater respect for, their own part of the world.
At present, the entire historical and artistic heritage of the Rione Sanità is subject to a major enhancement drive. The first step was the re-opening of the Catacombs of San Gennaro, which was entrusted to a co-operative of young local guides. This gave rise to the tour entitled “Il Miglio Sacro” ('The Sacred Mile'), which highlights the treasures of the quarter and will also encompass the sites dedicated to Totò. These treasures are considered essential to the historical, cultural and artistic memory of the area.