The historic centre of Naples is among the largest in Europe, and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. The true origins of the city are lost to history: Partenope, its ancient name, was founded by the Cumans in the VIII B.C. on Pizzofalcone Hill.
The old city centre, which is made up of the tiny winding streets around Garibaldi Station all the way down to the Waterfront of Mergellina and including part of the Hill of the Vomero neighbourhood, contains centuries of history, tradition and culture that make Naples the Mediterranean’s multicultural champion. However, all it takes is a quick stroll to discover just what a lively city Naples truly is! Just take the Linea 1 of the metro and pass through its “obligatory museum”, part of the project Stazioni dell’Arte, created over recent years thanks to the works of contemporary artists from all over the world.
Stazione della metro Vanvitelli, Napoli
Down the Via dei Musei - Naples’ Museum Row
In the beating heart of a city full of vitality, stands the Duomo di Napoli, Naples Grand Cathedral with the Museo di San Gennaro right next door, which contains some of the world’s greatest treasures, including precious stones and rare and historical objects. Every year, on September 19, the city celebrates its Patron Saint, with the ritual of San Gennaro held in the Duomo - the ritual culminates in the liquefaction of the Saint’s ages-old dried blood and is a symbol of good fortune for the city and its inhabitants. Along the street, also known as the Via dei Musei, a treasure trove of art and culture, with precious collections of ancient and contemporary art, such as the Museo Madre which boasts, among other works in its permanent collection, Untitled-Cavallo and Il Mare non Bagna Napoli, by Italian artists Mimmo Paladino and Bianco-Valente, respectively, installed on the terrace of the building. Nearby is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale which hosts the masterpieces of the Pompei and Farnese Collections, including one of the most important works of antiquity, the Blue Vase, which was found intact during the excavations of ancient Pompei and the Farnese Bull, a work carved out of the largest single piece of marble in the world. Greeting visitors at the entrance of the museum is one of the city’s symbols - the Testa Carafa sculpted by Donatello. Recently, the museum has expanded with the inauguration of two new sections - Egyptology and Epigraphy.
Woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called "Sappho"), National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Roman fresco of about 50, From Pompeii (VI, Insula Occidentalis) - Discovered in 1760
Misery and Nobility in the Sanità Quarter
Heading over to the Quartiere Sanità, it is possible to admire one of the most fascinating places of the city - the Cimitero delle Fontanelle
, the ancient ossuary that gave birth to the cult of the “anime pezzentelle” - roughly translated: “paupers’ souls”. This ancient custom called for the adoption of a skull (capuzzella
) of an abandoned soul (pezzentella)
in exchange for protection. Just a short walk away is another fascinating site - Acquaquiglia del Pozzaro
, a site from the 1600s where salted and dried codfish was processed in a maze of tubs and culverts. Just as stunning is Napoli Sotteranea, Subterranean Naples, in Piazza San Gaetano, in the heart of the historic centre, next to the Museo Cappella Sansevero
, host to Cristo Velato
by Giuseppe Sanmartino, the only work in the world with a transparent shroud sculpted out of a single piece of marble, covering Christ’s body. Also nearby, towards Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, is Chiesa Sant’Angelo a Nilo
with the sepulchre sculpted by Donatello. Heading down Via Benedetto Croce, there are the Chiesa di Santa Chiara
with the magnificent ceramic cloister and the baroque-style Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo
The Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino, 1753 | Photo: Liberonapoli (Own work), via Wikimedia Creative Commons
The Big Finish on the Gulf of Naples
Among the more common traditions, is surely the art of creating handmade Nativity scenes. To see, up close, how these are produced, visit Via San Gregorio Armeno and the Shops of Ferrigno e Di Virgilio, one of the city’s best-known. There are a multitude of handmade pieces in terracotta in every possible form, true gems that are requested year-round and from every corner of the globe. On the tiny streets of the historic centre, one breathes in the very soul of this city made great by the Bourbon Dynasty, made up of ancient traditions, above all, culinary traditions! One of its most famous is that of pizza cooked in wood-burning ovens (the trade of “pizzaiolo” or pizza-maker became a UNESCO World Heritage
in 2017) and the first pizza was made here! Among the recommended pizzerias, not far from each other on Via dei Tribunali: Gino Sorbillo, Dal Presidente and Di Matteo, as well as Concettina ai Tre Santi in the Quartiere Sanità and Da Michele in the Quartiere Forcella.
The famous pizza by Pizzeria Sorbillo | Courtesy of Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo
After having tasted a phenomenal pizza and a cup of espresso with a babà rum
at the historic Gran Caffè Gambrinus in Piazza Trieste e Trento, in the nearby Galleria Umberto I, near Piazza del Plebiscito are the Palazzo Reale
and Teatro San Carlo
, two major achievements of 1700s Naples to be visited along with the older Castel Nuovo, also known as Maschio Angioino
. This brief spin can do no better than end on the sea, the seaside promenade of Mergellina where, from the terraces of the Castel dell’Ovo
you can admire a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Naples, Vesuvius and the Islands of Ischia, Procida and Capri.
Castel dell'Ovo | Photo: Giuliamar, via Pixabay
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