Its real name of the building is the Maschio Angioino but for the majority of the tourists who visit the city, it is known as the Castel Nuovo (the new castle). New is a “relative” term meaning the old royal residence (Castel Capuano) was replaced by the “new” one in 1282; thus, the castle is over 700-years old.
A few years ago, one of the more flamboyant of the mafia bosses in Napoli was arrested for extortion. It seems he used wild animals like crocodiles and snakes to intimidate people and extort money from businesses.
This isn’t the first time that crocodiles were used in Napoli by “rulers” to punish victims. There is a long back story that starts with the daughter of Charles III of Naples (not to be confused with the Charles III of Spain who we met in this post): Queen Joanna II. This was during the House of Anjou (French) occupation of Napoli, which started with Charles I (son of Louis VIII of France) and ended with the death of Joanna.
Folklore has it that Queen Joanna had a very long string of young lovers. And, whenever she wanted to rid herself of one of these lovers (a.k.a. witnesses), she would throw them into a pit in the basement of the Castel Nuovo that contained a very large man-eating African crocodile. This folklore earned her the nickname Joana dos cem amantes, the hunter of lovers.
The source for these crocodile tales is likely Italian literature like Storie e leggende napoletane and Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo where Benedetto Croce writes of the fossa del coccodrillo whom he saw eat a man. Even Alexandre Dumas makes mention of a mysterious castle crocodile in Storia dei Borbone di Napoli.
Of Queen Joanna’s known court favourites, lovers and husbands (William the Duke of Austria (husband), Muzio Sforza (favourite), Pandolfelli Alopo (lover), James II the Count of La Marche (husband), Sergianni Caracciolo (lover), John II of Aragon (fiancé), and Louis III of Anjou (favourite)), one was stabbed, another was executed, most were expelled from the kingdom, but none perished by crocodile.
We didn’t get a chance to explore the inside of the castle to verify the presence of a dungeon. However, users on Trip Advisor claim that there are Roman ruins beneath the castle and one passage contains the mummified remains of a cat.