Afternoon sunlight illuminates a panoramic view of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, and the Gulf of Naples. Photo by Boris Stroujko panoramic view of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, and the Gulf of Naples. Photo by Boris Stroujko
By Mary Avery, Albert Cea, Chas Lobdell, Yazmin Navarro, Heidi Schellenger, Karen Schinnerer, and Ana Servent
Nestled in the Bay of Naples, the city of Naples was founded circa 400 B.C. when Greek colonists established a settlement named Parthenope, which then became known as Neapolis, meaning “new city” in Greek. From ancient times—through centuries of foreign rule—to today, the spectacular presence of nearby Mount Vesuvius continues to preside over the rich and thriving metropolis. Naples is the unofficial capital of the Mezzogiorno, the southern portion of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. Renowned as the birthplace of the famous margherita pizza and gateway to Capri and the Amalfi coast, Naples is home to ancient Greek and Roman archeological sites, world-class museums, and the oldest opera house in Europe. Naples also has a lot to offer as Neapolitans look to the future, proud of their city as one of Italy’s technological and innovation hubs, a leader in high-tech startups, and an important player in the growing aerospace industry.
The U.S. diplomatic presence in Naples dates to 1796; the U.S. Consulate General in Naples is the oldest consulate still operating in Italy and the third oldest in Europe. The consulate general ceased operations only twice in its long history: briefly in November 1860 during the struggle to unify Italy, and from 1941 to 1944, when it was the first diplomatic mission to reopen after World War II.
The Naples consular district is the largest geographic district in Italy, and includes the regions of Campania, Basilicata, Molise, Puglia, Calabria, and the semi-autonomous island of Sicily. The consulate general oversees a Consular Agency in Palermo. The district includes 150,000 U.S. citizen residents—a larger percentage of long-term residents than any other part of Italy. Prior to the pandemic, an estimated four million tourists passed through the consular district annually. The great majority of the more than 20 million Italian-Americans claim roots in southern Italy.
“I am always amazed by how much of what we in the U.S. consider ‘Italian’—from cuisine to language to family life—comes from southern Italian culture,” said Consul General Mary Avery.
In addition to tourists and long-term residents, there are approximately 14,000 U.S. sailors and family members deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella (NASSIG) in Sicily and at three bases in the Naples area: two Naval Support Activity (NSA) sites and the Joint Forces Command NATO base in Lago Patria. The consulate general team provides key consular support to American servicemembers and their families and works closely with U.S. Navy commanders to address local issues, such as pandemic-related operating restrictions.
The principal officer oversees nine Foreign Service direct hires and nearly 50 locally employed staff engaging in a full range of U.S. government activities and services, including the only full-service consular section in Mission Italy. ConGen Naples also hosts a Marine Security Guard detachment and supports the Port of Naples-based Customs and Border Protection Container Security Initiative office. With eligible family members and contractors, ConGen Naples’ community numbers over 100.
ConGen Naples occupies an iconic location anchoring the western end of the city’s seaside promenade. Built in 1953, the seaside location commands unparalleled views encompassing Castel dell’Ovo, Mt. Vesuvius, the Sorrentine peninsula, and the isle of Capri. Neapolitans love invitations to the terrace with its mozzafiato (breathtaking) views of their beloved city. Located near the site of intense fighting during the “Four days of Naples” uprising against the German occupation in 1943 following the Allied landings at Salerno, ConGen Naples is also a testament to the American liberation of Italy during WWII.
Covering all of Sicily, the Palermo Consular Agency is the largest of the three agencies in Italy and one of the busiest world-wide. The agency, staffed by a consular agent and one consular assistant, provides routine and emergency American citizens services to American tourists, residents, and students as well as to the approximately 4,000 military personnel located at NASSIG.
In 2021, ConGen Naples celebrated its 225th anniversary, highlighting the deep and historical ties between the United States and Naples—which are not only institutional, but also cultural, familial, and economic. As part of the celebrations, the public affairs section kicked off a six-month social media campaign in collaboration with a Neapolitan photographic archive and supported an art exhibit featuring six U.S. artists. The social media campaign shared 62 historic photos emblematic of the United States and southern Italy’s shared history and enduring partnership. Popular photos included the 1953 arrival of the first female U.S. ambassador, Clare Boothe Luce, on the transatlantic ship Andrea Doria and President John F. Kennedy’s visit in July 1963. The photo of American sailors gazing at Vesuvius from the seashore in 1947 also was among the most popular, reaching 108,000 people with more than 16,000 engagements.
ConGen Naples is deeply involved in advancing U.S. interests in Italy, especially in the areas of promoting mutual prosperity and an inclusive global economy, enhancing the security partnership, and strengthening the shared values that both nations hold dear. Italy assumed the presidency of the 20 leading global economies (Group of 20 or G20) in 2021 and ConGen Naples supported multiple G20 ministers’ meetings in its consular district—the first in-person ministerials since the start of the pandemic—which served to highlight the political, economic, and cultural importance of southern Italy.
In June 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken led the U.S. delegation to the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in the ancient city of Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is featured prominently in the most recent James Bond movie, “No Time to Die.” ConGen Naples hosted three important delegations in July for the G20 Environment Ministerial and Energy and Climate Joint Ministerial meetings at the Royal Palace of Naples, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk. The three delegates used the multilateral forum to advance the Biden administration’s commitment to confront the climate crisis and restore U.S. leadership on the global stage. Regan visited a Naples neighborhood that is home to the first community-based energy foundation in Italy. Solar panels on the roof of the foundation’s building produce clean energy for families in the low-income neighborhood. “The New York Times” highlighted the neighborhood’s actions as one of the reasons to visit Naples in its recent article on “52 Places for a Changed World in 2022.” An added highlight of G20 season was the visit by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to Naples to tour one of the U.S. naval support sites, where she spoke warmly to students about her Italian grandparents and her family’s southern Italian (Sicily) roots.
In August 2021, Operation Allies Refuge required Mission Italy, in cooperation with the Department of Defense, to establish a ‘lilypad’ transit hub to receive evacuees from Afghanistan at Naval Air Station Sigonella. Within 48 hours, the first planes carrying more than 600 Afghans arrived, and eventually 4,300 were hosted by the base before transiting to the United States. Building on strong interagency and host nation relationships, ConGen Naples provided much of the essential management and consular staff for the more than 70-person interagency team that worked day and night to identify, vet, and provide essential support services to evacuees prior to their move to their new lives in America.
“It was an amazing operation that, in a short span of time, saw the creation in crisis conditions of a strong interagency team,” said Naples Management Officer Heidi Schellenger, who was one of the first Mission Italy representatives on the ground.
“Working around the clock together with our Department of Defense, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other USG partners to help these desperate people was the most moving and meaningful experience of my career to date,” said Consular Chief Albert Cea.
ConGen Naples engages with the local community, celebrating shared values and expressing gratitude for the city’s ongoing hospitality. Recently, ConGen staff participated in city-sponsored programs focused on families such as Il Giocattolo Sospeso (meaning “Suspended Toy”), an annual campaign to provide toys and books to children who are in need during the holiday season. This initiative was born from the Neapolitan pay-it-forward tradition of the ‘suspended coffee,’ when a customer enjoying good fortune pays for two coffees, one for themselves and one for another who is in need. Pre-pandemic activities included serving Thanksgiving dinners at soup kitchens and park cleanups. Clothing and school supply drives, Toys for Tots, and other activities continued under pandemic restrictions.
“What makes Naples so special is its energy, chaos, delicious food, and its “Old Europe” feel,” said Office Management Specialist Ana Servent.
Naples’ new mayor, Gaetano Manfredi, plans to internationalize tourism to transform Naples into more than the jumping-off point to the famous archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the bucket-list destinations of Capri and Positano. A harbinger of Manfredi’s vision, perhaps, is Italian American actor Stanley Tucci’s 2021 award-winning series “Searching for Italy,” which featured Naples in the first episode. American viewers swooned and planned their return to the capital of southern Italy.
Mary Avery is the consul general; Albert Cea is the consular chief; Chas Lobdell isthe political and economic section chief; Yazmin Navarro is the community liaison officer; Heidi Schellenger is the management officer; Karen Schinnerer is the public affairs officer; and Ana Servent is an office management specialist at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples.