A Diamond in the Rough...In the shadow of Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples wraps around the Italian city of Naples, the dowager capital of the southern region of Campania.
Of Greek 8th century origin, it is now a bustling city of extremes and visitor's perceptions of chaotic traffic congestion, lawlessness, gritty alleyways and slums. Herewith are many of the city's charms through the years with its cultural heritage of art, music, flourishes of baroque architecture and impressive monuments.
While enjoying our morning croissant and caffe kimbo on the breakfast terrace of our Hotel Turchini, my colleague and I gazed southerly to the Royal Palace and then below to the Neptune fountain designed by Giovanni da Nola. Considered the finest in Naples, Neptune stands at the highest level with trident in hand while satyrs, sea monsters and dolphins ridden by putti sprout water into a small basin at the lower level.
From the reception desk of the Open Air Museum of Naples on Via Pietro Colletta we are prepared to explore the Art Trail of the centro storico (old city). Our introduction begins with the Piazza Gesù Nuovo and the monumental obelisk-like Spire of the Immaculate. Beyond is the 16th century Church of Gesù Nuovo with its textured grey façade of diamond shaped pipperno ashlar stone and majestic baroque interior of white marble and gold barrel-vaulted ceiling.
Within a few steps we encounter the 14th century Santa Chiara Church and Clarisse Cloister of white, azure blue and deep Naples yellow majolica ceramic tiles with benches of painted mythological scenes and twisted leafy floral ornamentation on the columns. Worth noting are the 17th century frescos painted under the perimeter arches as one approaches the museum and church interior with its tombs of noble Neopolitan families.
Moving among the grimy buildings of Via San Biago dei Librai, Via Benedito Croce and Via Vecchia Guidecca, collectively known as Spaccanapoli, is the main promenade for tourists and numerous important sights designated by UNESCO as an historical protected area. Amidst the chaos, laundry flaps above like ghostly banners, radios blare and people shout, baskets of food stuffs are hauled from the street level to tenements above, while children play soccer and dodge the scooters. Herewith the famous artisan shops specializing in Christmas crèches and Pulcinellas-the loveable mascot of Naples… an area for all the senses… a moveable feast with the best pizzerias and patisserie shops in Naples. Indulge at Scaturchino for their pastries and decadent baba au rum while admiring the reclining Statue of Nile in the Piazzetta Nilo.
Not to be missed on Via Fora, the National Archaeological Museum contains the Farnese family collection bequeathed to the Bourbons. Famous are the classical antiquities from Pompeii and Herculaneum, the remarkable mosaics including the Battle of Alexander and the collection of statues including the life size statue of Artemius of Ephesus and the gold and silver collection.
Further north we travel by local bus to the Capodiminte National Museum in a wooded parkland setting. The gallery developed initially around the core of the Farnese collection bequeathed to King Charles Bourbon while later additions included the historical apartments, the porcelain room and ceramic collection. The inventory also comprises of the Armory, precious tapestries, masterpieces by Masaccio, Correggio and Lorenzo Lotto and numerous others far too many to document here.
For dinner that evening we chose the Trattoria Ciro by our hotel with its cheerful rustic interior, frescoed walls of panorama views of the Amalfi coast, beamed ceilings and traditional country chairs. A winding staircase with wrought iron balustrade led upstairs where waiters provide dinner service via a wicker basket on a rope to the pizza chef below and then raised upstairs when ready. Menu choices aside from pizzas consisted of handmade pasta with seafood, sautéed eggplant and smoked ricotta, lamb cutlets and vegetarian dishes from €7 to €14 for entrées.
Tying together the city’s geographic layout is the Via Toledo from the north and southerly to the Piazzas of Bovio, Municipo and Trieste with the set piece of the Palazzo Reale, Theatre San Carlo, Galleria Umberto Primo and the Church of San Francesco di Paola in the Piazza Plebiscito. In the Piazza Trieste take time for a café and croissant in the 19th century Café Gambrinus, a popular ‘in’ café with its gilded Art Nouveau interiors patronized in the past by the likes of Oscar Wilde, celebrities and prime ministers.
Before meandering past the upscale shops to the Piazza Vittoria by the bay, take a tour of the San Carlo Theatre (1737-1816).The lavish interior is decorated with red and gilt ornamentation, seven levels of seating for three thousand spectators and an auditorium justly famous for its excellent acoustics. The ceiling is particularly important for its frescoes depicting poets with Minerva while the stage curtain portrays Homer and his muses.
To quote Goethe the 18th century German poet ‘See Naples and Die’. What he meant was, you’ve seen the magnificence of Naples, there’s nothing else to see!’
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