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One of the most forgotten yet sensual and rich, absorbing, thriving, vibrant and fascinating cities left in Europe, Naples repels, confuses, distracts and deafens but wears its very big and generous heart so openly that you can’t help but fall in love with it.
Not always given a fair press, the city is far more hospitable than the scaremongers have made out and is chock full of architectural, cultural and gastronomic delights.
Being sensible in Naples as you would in any modern city will give you a few days of absolute delight in this city which is off the beaten track now but has all the history and beauty of its rich and engaging past.
Gastronomy Make a little investment of time in this field and you will be richly rewarded indeed. Naples is now classified as a fairly poor city and yet its inhabitants are obsessed by food, the freshness of ingredients and exactly the right way to cook that sauce.
The mozzarella here is rich and milky coming from water oxen or buffale rather than cow-milk. Together with a few tomatoes and a sprig or two of basil it forms a simple but formidable combination of tastes and textures.
The parmigiana di melanzane is another typical dish worth trying, an original kind of vegetable lasagne made from aubergine or eggplant layered alternately with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella.
Neopolitan pastries are also justly famous, far richer and guilt-making than up north but ultimately well worth the worry. Wines from Campania have developed massively in the last few years with Greco di Tufo (White) now extremely popular throughout the peninsula even if it has made few inroads overseas. Another typical tipple from the area is the enigmatically named Lachryma Christi (Red and White) grown on the slopes of Vesuvius for an earthy flavour.
History The Ancient Greeks’ proud new colony, Neapolis, has passed down to us with one of those kinds of history that very cities can claim to have. Layer after layer of culture, history, art and geology deposited over time and re-opened in exciting ways, waiting to be exposed.
Back before the unification of Italy in 1861, Naples was the third largest city in Europe and quite probably the richest. Its Spanish patrons ruling over it as part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the city had an enormous power and influence over the whole of the “Italian” peninsula and though it is now poorer its days as the wealthiest and most industrialized city in southern Europe have left its mark with Caravaggio’s popping up in the Capodimonte museum, the most beautiful sculptures and frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum removed from the sites themselves and kept safely in the National Archeological Museum including the interesting erotic collections for which booking is required.
Culture The Spanish Kings left their mark in many ways and something in the exuberance of the people, those onion-ish domes of the churches and the dialect still recall the Iberian influence.
Naples really is a world apart from the rest of Italy though unlike Venice, its uniqueness has not been diluted by so much contamination from the outside world. Walking through the maze of streets in the Spanish quarter or the alleys of Spaccanapoli it seems as though you really are far back in a more authentic, more genuine time.
Go and have a pizza in the restaurant where the Margherita was invented for the Queen of Savoy, back in 1889 in Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo, 1-2 or visit the Cathedral to see the blood of the patron saint, San Gennaro which miraculously liquefies twice each year as it is paraded through the street.
This last example is indicative of the traditions that still live on in a Naples that retains its roots in the customs of the past.
Thousands of believers flock to the Cathedral on the 19th of September and the first Sunday in May to begin the incantations in dialect. Successfully liquefied, the blood is held aloft and paraded through the streets whilst a 21 gun salute is performed from the cannon in the castle.
Tradition has it that if the Saint’s blood remains dry, bad times are in stall for the city. Activities The National Archaeological Museum is housed in a fine building that was once a barracks for the army of the Bourbons.
Located in Piazza Museo the museum is worth at least a morning to visit. It is not large but the quality of the exhibits rank it amongst one of the most important museums in the world even if not always displayed in the most edifying manner. Roman copies of Greek sculpture and wonderfully preserved frescoes; some of the very best “décor” from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Closed Tuesday.
Another great setting for a museum, this ex-Bourbon palace is now the Capodimonte Museum Titian, Caravaggio and others amongst its collection. Well worth a visit also for the views over the city and the Bay of Naples itself. Closed Wednesday. Hop on one of the fast boat transfers to Procida (where parts of Il Postino were filmed) or Ischia.
The former retains its traditional fishing port and coves and provides an economical way of seeing what Capri was like a century ago. Ischia is more developed and well known for its thermal centres but still very beautiful.
The Circumvesuviana train runs from Naples all the way round the Bay to Sorrento making convenient stops at Pompeii and Herculaneum for visits there. The nearby town of Pozzuoli has a famous daughter (Sophia Loren) and a slightly less well known geological activity – Bradyseism. This is essentially a continual shifting of the ground level due to seismological activity in the earth’s crust.
The Mediterranean has little tide to worry boatmen here and the problem is indeed not so much the changing levels of the sea but the harbour floor itself creating interesting effects that can be visited fairly easily from Naples itself.
Our selection of hotels in Naples has been done with care to let you get the very best of this city. Naples is spectacular and, in our opinion, one of the few remaining cities in Europe with such an intense and vibrant culture that hasn’t yet sold its past to be sterilized, cured and pasteurized.
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