Around Us / Naples
I am leaving. I will forget neither via Toledo, nor any
of the other quarters of Naples: to my eyes it is,
without a doubt, the most beautiful city in the universe.
Naples is a city you should visit at least once in your life. Situated in the heart of Europe and the Mediterranean, the city never fails to enchant inquisitive guests and travelers thanks to its beauty.
The artistic treasure of Naples to visit are, in fact, to many to count: the historical centre, a patrimony under the tutelage of UNESCO; the palaces, churches, catacombs and underground passageways, the Archaeological Museum; the places of medieval and renaissance power amassed around the Castel Nuovo and Royal Palace; the unforgettable waterfront from Castel dell’Ovo to Posillipo; Capodimonte Royal Palace and the Certosa (monastery) of San Martino, museum collections amongst the most important in the world.
The origins of the city are lost in time and tantalising myths. Here are some advice on what you should see in Naples.
The “womb” of Naples is the greco-roman historical centre. It is here that the pulse of the City is best felt: the alleys, the artisan workshops, the innumerable artistic marvels that surprise you in the least expected places, the voices of the “napolitani”. It is also the cultural centre of the City.
One of the most important monument is the austere church of Santa Chiara, built in 1310 by Roberto d’Angiò in a Provencal gothic style and transformed with baroque decorations in the mid 1700’s. After being damaged by the bombings of 1943, it was restored back to its original, more sober, form. Here you will find the sepulchral monuments of the royal Anjou family (14th century), work of sculptors of the Tuscan school. A stroll in the cloister of the Poor Clares is not to be missed: here Naples suddenly becomes silent and perfumed by narcissus and wisteria.
Almost hidden in a tiny alley that intersects with vico San Domenico we find the small but extraordinary Sansevero Chapel. A visit to this spectacular baroque complex is a must. A triumph of a single artwork is to be found in the statue of the Veiled Christ, sculpted by Giuseppe Sammartino: the effect, the virtuosity of the handling of the marble and the play of light make it a true masterpiece.
In piazzetta Nilo stands the hellenistic statue of Nilo, rediscovered in the middle ages, to which the Neapolitans have given the affectionate name of “Body of Naples”. Here the little church of Sant’Angelo a Nilo stands. Constructed in 1385 and altered in the 18th century, it contains the beautiful Renaissance tomb of Cardinal Rinaldo Brancaccio, made from 1426 to 1428 by Donatello and Michelozzo.
Strolling along via San Biagio dei Librai (also known as Spaccanapoli) you can browse in the little shops full of antiques, religious objects and jewelry.
Via San Gregorio Armeno, with its lively bustling scene, is characterised by the belltower of the church with the same name. In the two months before Christmas San Gregorio Armeno become the most vivacious area of the centre, and it fills up with stands that sell little figurines and decorations for nativity scenes.
A trip in the underground of Naples is a tremendously exciting experience that reveals the secrets, history and legends of the city.
The Cathedral, a gothic structure completed by Robert of Anjou in 1313, stands close to the historical centre. Inside, the structure is based on the latin cross with three naves and is richly decorated. On the left of the apse is the entrance to the Baptistry of San Giovanni in fonte, built between the 4th and 5th century, and therefore the oldest bulding of its kind in the western Christian world.
Other than the medieval chapels rich with frescoes and décor, the 17th century Chapel of the Treasure of san Gennaro is a must. For the rich embellishments the most famous of contemporary painters were summoned (Fanzago, Domenichino, Ribera, Lanfranco). The magnificent chapel is highlighted by the precious decorations and large silver reliquery busts. It is here that for the two weeks of celebration of the miracle(the liquifaction of San Gennaro’s blood) the reliquary of San Gennaro’s blood is on exhibit.
Cross via Duomo and on the right on via dei Tribunali is the Pio Monte della Misericordia complex, founded in 1601. The octagonal church has, on its main altar, Caravaggio’s masterpiece depicting the Acts of compassion.
The area between Castel Nuovo and the National Archaeological Museum, going by via Toledo, is the centre of Naples. Considered by the Neapolitans to be the most representative, it contains some of the most symbolic monuments of the City: the Maschio Angioino, the Royal Palace, piazza del Plebiscito, the San Carlo Theatre, the Umberto I Gallery, the National Archaeological Museum.
Castel Nuovo (named so as to distinguish it from the older royal residences - Castel dell’Ovo and Castel Capuano) is also known as Maschio Angioino. The impressive fortress, on which work was begun in 1279 by Charles I of Anjou, but rebuilt under the Aragonese to celebrate the triumphant entry of Alfonso of Aragon into the city in 1443. The triumphal arch is the entrance to the castle and is the castle’s main decoration with its magnificent sculptural reliefs, which are the finest examples of Renaissance sculpture in southern Italy.
Of great interest and fascination is the Teatro San Carlo: it was opened on 4 November 1737 and is the oldest opera house in the world. Exiting the theatre, we find ourselves in the vibrant Piazza Trieste e Trento (formerly Piazza San Ferdinando), where we find the renowned Gambrinus café. Founded in 1860, it was once upon a time the favourite rendezvous of poets and intellectuals.
Once we have crossed Piazza Trieste e Trento, we emerge into the famous Piazza del Plebiscito, the largest of the city’s squares and a spectacular setting for cultural shows and concerts. The predominant feature of the square is the church of San Francesco di Paola with its neoclassical colonnade and its interior inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. In the centre of the square stand the two mounted statues of Charles of Bourbon (by Antonio Canova) and Ferdinand I, looking towards the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace). In order to visit the priceless interior, we must cross the vast courtyard of honour and enter the Museo dell’Appartamento Storico (Royal Apartment) where the palace’s original decor and furniture have been preserved. Another area of the palace houses the Biblioteca Nazionale (National Library) which boasts a collection of more than one and a half million volumes, including priceless medieval codices and the famous Herculaneum papyri.
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale (National Archaeological Museum) is the most important museum in the world for classical archaeology. Charles of Bourbon put the largest art collection in Italy, the Farnese collection inherited by his mother Elisabeth, into this building (the old “Study Palace” or university). Over the years the largest archaeological collection of all time, relics from the city and from the villas buried under the ashes of Vesuvius in 79 BC, was brought here. The most important collection of the museum is that of the mosaics, paintings, jewellery and objects recovered from the buried vesuvian homes. A collection unmatched peer in the world that attracts, needless to say, millions of visitors. In the mosaics section, the pieces from the House of the Faunat Pompeii are the most highly-prized in terms of quality, figurative richness, and the fame that followed their discovery. The most celebrated of them is the mosaic of Alexander, a copy of a famous Hellenistic painting, it is made from tiny tesserae and depicts the battle between Alexander the Great on horseback and Darius III, fleeing on his chariot.
Another highlight is the classical sculpture collection, some roman copies of Greek originals: be sure to see the Farnese Hercules, a colossal copy of the original by Lysippos, and the Farnese Bull, perhaps the largest sculpture to have survived from antiquity.
The cameo and cut gem collection is also very rich. Among the other gems in this collection are the so-called Farnese cup, made from a single piece of agate, and the most famous cameo from antiquity, which belonged to Frederick II of Swabia and Lorenzo the Magnificent.
The Egyptian collection is only second in importance in Italy to that of Turin.
The Secret Cabinet is a part of the museum that houses a 19th century collection of Greek and Roman objects considered “obscene” at the times, reserved only for authorized visitors. It includes now sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, amulets, oil-lamps and graffiti with erotic themes from the digs at Pompeii.
The waterfront between Castel dell’Ovo and Posillipo, with its panoramic view of the entire Gulf, Vesuvius and the islands, is the most famous scene of Naples.
The profile of the coast is dominated by the massive tuff wall of the Castel dell’Ovo, the oldest of the city. The name of Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg) derives from a legend tied to the poet Virgil, to whom the medieval Neapolitans attributed magical powers. One of the wizard’s talismans was said to be hidden in the castle: an egg preserved in a jug and locked in an iron cage. The castle would never crumble as long as the egg remained intact.
Under the walls of the castle is Borgo Marinari, constructed in the 1800’s, it was originally meant to house fishermen, their boats and their families. It now houses nautical clubs, restaurants, bars and trendy night spots.
Walking along the very famous via Caracciolo you can enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery of Naples, all framed by the intense blue of the sea.
On the hill of Naples, one of the most symbolic and most depicted monuments in views of the city: Castel Sant’Elmo, built by order of king Roberto in the 14th century. Next to the Castle is the monumental complex of the Certosa of San Martino, also projected by Robert of Anjou. It was begun by Tino di Camaino in 1325, and later transformed in the 1500’s and the middle 1600’s by the most noted architects of the day (Dosio, Fanzago), thus becoming the most complete example of Neapolitan Baroque and one of the city’s most grandiose monuments.
The origin of the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte and its vast park is linked to king Charles of Bourbon. On the top of the hill, king Charles, a dedicated hunter, wanted to construct a hunting lodge here. After having done so, he had it enlarged to house the precious Farnese collections.
Today, the Royal Palace is home to the National Museum of Capodimonte, one of the most important in the world for painting and the decorative arts. The main nucleus of the Museum is the Farnese Collection, started by Pope Paul III and inherited by Charles’ mother Elisabeth Farnese. The picture gallery has more than 200 masterpieces: Masaccio, Botticelli, Raphael, Ribera, Titian, Mantegna, Correggio, El Greco, Lorenzo Lotto, Parmigianino, Carracci, and Bruegel.
Also exceptional is the gallery of 13th-19th century Neapolitan painting: the Saint Ludovico of Tolosa by Simone Martini, the evocative Flagellation by Caravaggio, and again the works of Colantonio, Ribera, Mattia Preti, Luca Giordano, and Francesco Solimena.
The section dedicated to the 1800’s is rich with the School of Posillipo painters, from Anton Smick Pitloo to Giacinto Gigante.
The contemporary section is also renewed by the presence of artists such as Alberto Burri, Andy Warhol, Carlo Alfano and Mimmo Paladino.
Unusual and surprising is the exploration of the new homes of contemporary art: monumental structures like the PAN, Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, the MADRE, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina (Donnaregina Contemporary Arts Museum), and the unique artistry of the metro stations - “The best contemporary art museum in Italy” - that evidence the creativity of a cultural panorama that is in a state of continual ferment.
Despite the difficulties and contradictions inherent to all great metropolises, deep down Naples remains a reality that is out of the ordinary. It is a reality that has to be lived, admired and tasted with each one of our senses: for its wealth of art and culture and its mild climate; for its theatre and musical events, exhibitions, fairs and religious festivals; for its ‘foodie’.
Napoli is the ideal spot for who searches for new stimuli and emotions.