The Statue of the Nile God: a glimpse of Egypt at the heart of Naples
Placed at the very entrance of Spaccanapoli, heart of the city, the Statue of the Nile God is an imposing sculpture dating back to the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. The large community of Alexandrian merchants and sailors, whom the city had welcomed with kindness, erected it in homage to the sacred river it represents. Today, it is a symbol of Naples’s centuries of multicultural history, hospitality and acceptance.
The unknown author of the statue portrayed the Nile as a man with a long beard, representing wisdom. In his right hand, the god holds a cornucopia, symbol of prosperity, while at his feet lies a crocodile, a reference to Egypt. Unfortunately, only parts of the original statue are still visible today – the bust, legs, left arm embracing a sphinx and the waves under the god – because the sculptural group endured a number of “adventures” over the years. Long forgotten, it was lost and found without its head in the 12th century; it was mistakenly believed to represent the city of Naples as it breastfed its children, which is where the “cuorpo ‘e Napule” (“Corpo di Napoli”, “Body of Naples”) nickname comes from. The misinterpretation lasted long enough that the same name was given to the square where the statues is located now.
Over the centuries, the statue was restored and stolen a number of times. After the Second World War, two of the three putti and the head of the sphinx were purloined; the latter was found in Austria in 2013. Throughout 2014, the Statue of the Nile God was extensively restored, bringing it back to its original splendor, at the heart of the city that welcomed it centuries ago.