One of the grandest medieval churches of the Decumano Maggiore, San Lorenzo features a very unmedieval facade of 18th-century splendor. Due to the effects and threats of earthquakes, the church was reinforced and reshaped along Baroque lines in the 17th and 18th centuries. Begun by Robert d'Anjou in 1265 on the site of a previous 6th-century church, the church has a single, barnlike nave that reflects the Franciscans' desire for simple spaces with enough room to preach to large crowds. A grandiose triumphal arch announces the transept, and the main altar (1530) is the sculptor Giovanni da Nola's masterpiece; notice the fascinating historical views of Naples in the reliefs.
The apse, designed by an unknown French architect of great caliber, is pure French Angevin in style, complete with an ambulatory of nine side chapels that is covered by a magnificent web of cross arches. The church's most important monument is found here: the tomb of Catherine of Austria (circa 1323), by Tino
da Camaino, among the first sculptors to introduce the Gothic style into Italy. The left transept contains the 14th-century funerary monument of Carlo di Durazzo and yet another Cosimo Fanzago masterpiece, the Cappellone di Sant'Antonio. Outside the 17th-century cloister is the entrance to the Greek and Roman scavi, or excavations, under San Lorenzo. Near the area of the forum, these digs have revealed streets, markets, and workshops of another age.
Next door to the church is the Museo dell'Opera di San Lorenzo, installed in the 16th-century palazzo around the torre campanaria (bell tower). In Room 1 ancient remains from the Greek agora beneath combine with modern maps to provide a fascinating impression of import and export trends in the 4th century BC. The museum also contains ceramics dug up from the Svevian period, many pieces from the early Middle Ages, large tracts of mosaics from the 6th-century basilica, and helpful models of how the ancient Roman forum and nearby buildings must have looked. A multimedia facility has recently been added to do justice to a place that exists in several historical dimensions.