The Sundays of July 1770 saw, on the stretch of sea which separates Capo Posillipo from the Ponte della Maddalena, what must have seemed a miracle: a smart carriage, with many horses and a coachman, careering across the waves. This was the last time the Prince of Sansevero was to amaze the Neapolitans and visitors. Shortly afterwards, on 22 March 1771, he died in his palace in Largo San Domenico Maggiore.
In reality, the horses of the carriage – as Pietro d’Onofrj explains in his Extemporised Eulogy to King Charles (1789) – were made of cork, and the unusual craft went fast thanks to a cunning system of paddlewheels, designed by Raimondo di Sangro. In d’Onofrj’s book, the drawing of the sea-going carriage by Francesco Celebrano is engraved in copper by Giuseppe Aloja in a splendid folding illustration. It was Celebrano who, carrying out the Prince’s project, built the carriage, of which di Sangro also kept a model in his apartment.
Here are a number of news reports about these “sea rides” from the «Gazzetta di Napoli» of 24 July 1770: “The Prince of Sansevero having invented, and had built under his direction […] a boat to represent a carriage capable of holding twelve people, which with the simple movement of its four wheels” advanced “more than if it had oars or sails”, offered “to the eyes of the spectators a pleasant composition and a surprising view”. After testing it at Capo Posillipo, “he has wished over the past Sundays to make this public spectators, crossing in it from the said Capo […] as far as the Ponte della Maddalena, so that all could admire […] the steady unvarying movement, and the high speed, with which the device pushed ahead made its way”.