That Naples is a whole other world of crazy! You’ve just got to laugh…the only other option is to cry…it is soooo intense.
I recently met a guy who described the poverty of this city as beautiful. Even as he said the words, there was a grimace on his face, an awareness that this must be wrong… And it is – the poverty is not beautiful – it is sad and dirty and loud. The scooters zoom up and down alleys, many drivers helmetless; cigarette butts litter the streets, stuck in the cracks between the flagstones in the piazzas; graffiti scrawled across every plaster surface accessible from street level…
But then I look up – at the wrought iron balconies filled with potted plants, the yellowed paint peeling from the walls, the ornate buildings crumbling alongside the setting sun…the colours, the care, the reality… It’s not a conventional beauty but it is elegant, statuesque, proud – it has a history, it knows it has seen better days, richer days, but it never forgets…a reminder of, no, a testament to a glorious past, a hopeful future and most importantly, a living present…
Looking back down, I see, I hear, I feel… the noise is the excited debate of living Neapolitans, their daily lives played out in the arena of each piazza…the traffic, in chaos, is a people getting on with their lives in the best way they know how… the smells of cooking pizza and toralli, the cheers of football fans when Napoli play, tvs set up outside cafés…
What to do:
Wander around the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli
Filled with treasures excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum, this is a necessary stop on any visit to Naples. There are paintings and frescoes rescued from villas, cooking utensils and surgical instruments, glass, pottery and even some papyrus, preserved in a very fragile state. Unfortunately a lot of displays are described in Italian only and many are poorly labelled.
There is also a large section containing sculptures excavated from the Roman Baths of Caracalla including the huge and detailed Farnese Bull and elaborate Farnese Hercules. Free on the first Sunday of the month.
Marvel at the sculptures and history in Capella Sansevero
Built as the family chapel of di Sangro in the 16th century, it was the seventh Prince of Sansevero, Raimondo, that made it what it is today. Highlights are the sculptures of Modesty and Disillusionment with their intricate marble details and the Veiled Christ, stunningly carved from a single block of marble. Quite unusual for a chapel are the Anatomical Machines, the macabre preserved bodies with exposed blood vessels frozen with a mysterious liquid invented by the prince himself – not for everyone… Open 9.30 – 18.30, closed Tuesday. Entrance is €7 which is a bit steep but engaging regardless.
Hope you are lucky enough to see Il Tesoro di San Gennaro in Il Duomo
Two vials of the saint’s blood miraculously liquefy three times a year – the first Saturday in May, September 19 and December 16. The vials are on display for a few days at each of these times and are a site of pilgrimage for Neapolitans. The cathedral also houses San Gennaro’s skull in a silver reliquary from 1305. Open every day but closed at lunchtime (13.30 to 14.30) and Sunday afternoons.
Gawk at the modern art at MADRE
There is sculpture, video, drawing and more. Lots of exhibits and the whole place practically to myself – certainly one of the better contemporary art museums I’ve ever visited. Plus it is free every Monday!
Meander through the streets of Naples
Stop at Piazza del Gèsu, the arcades of Galleria Umberto I, Teatro San Carlo (the largest opera house in Italy), Palazzo Reale (currently being renovated but still open), Castel Nuovo (containing the Museo Civico), Piazza Pleibiscito (modelled after St Peter’s in Rome), Castel dell’Ovo, the shops of Via Toledo..
Stop for a while at the Quartieri Spagnoli, a warren of narrow alleys climbing uphill to Vómero, sunlight blocked by tall buildings, washing drying on balconies and people everywhere.
Climb (or get the funicular) to Piazza Vanvitelli…. and admire the view from the Castel Sant’Elmo.
The Sotterranea catacombs were recommended to me but I did not get a chance to visit.
Get a takeaway pizza on Via dei Tribunale and eat it in one of the squares. I got a pizza marinara from I Decumani for €1.50 and watched the world go by in Piazza Miraglia.
Stay at La Controra Hostel – good atmosphere and lovely garden/courtyard for relaxing on long summer evenings…
Naples is bigger than I expected! Get an all day pass for public transport for €3.10 or spend €1-1.50 (ticketes are cheaper from kiosks or cafes in the station) per metro or funicular ride… worth it!
Ask for reductions in museums/attractions if you are 25 or under.
Avoid being alone once dusk falls – I may be paranoid but I never felt entirely comfortable wandering around after dark…
Like many visitors to Naples I had apprehensions/trepidations… but I loved the city so much – it has a bit of everything for everyone!
Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli
Bay of Naples
Streets of Naples