The Crocodile Hunted

Every hulking castle needs a legend. While the Castel dell'Ovo has its hidden egg (p83), the Castel Nuovo (p83) had a very peckish crocodile. Philosopher and writer Benedetto Croce recounts the tale in his 1919 publication 5fom e Leg-gende Napoletane (Neapolitan Stories and Legends). The story takes us down into the dark, dank dungeon beneath the Angevin-built fortress. In here, the king would accommodate his imprisoned enemies, who included the conspirators in the infamous Baron's Plot of 1486. A seemingly impenetrable structure, bewilderment ensued when prisoners started disappearing Houdini-style. When security was beefed up, guards made a shocking discovery. Through a discreet hole entered a crocodile that would snap up prisoners and drag them out to sea. It's assumed that the sneaky beast made it to Naples on a ship from Egypt. Efficient, clean and cruel, the hungry croc fell in favour with the king for a while. Alas, its own days were numbered: lured into the pit with a slab of horse meat, the snappy Egyptian was impaled, stuffed and hung above the castle's second entrance door. According to Croce, it remained there until the mid 19th-century. Where it went afterthat, and just how reliable the legend is, remains an urban mystery.

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