“Vedi Napoli e poi muori” (“See Naples and Die”) … I’m pretty sure that you have already heard that saying about Naples. And there is no doubt it is true. Being on that that topic, I would share with you the three legends I know about the origin of this quintessence. The first one is related to the beauty of the city with its historic monuments and rich history, the sea and sun, cuisine and music. Napoli (in Italian) is so awesome so that it must be visited even once in a lifetime. The second legend tells about the plague that was widely spread out in the city of the past and it was incurable. So, those who visited Naples were destined to die.
N A P O L I (N A P L E S)
The third one is also a tragic one. Neapolis (its Greek name) was an extremely important port where ships anchored. Sailors went to the houses of love and amusement first, after they stepped on the firm ground after a long voyage. There weren’t medicines against venereal diseases at that time as well. So, they lost their lives after having visited the town. Of course, you yourselves will agree with the first saying, having in mind the tremendous heritage the city possesses. And in order to convince you, I will start our one-day travel in Naples (believe me one day isn’t enough at all for such a splendid city). Well, actually, I will do my best to make you fall in love with it like I did when I visited it.
There are two legends that tell the story of the city. Of course, they are connected with the mythology – the Greek and Roman one. According to the ancient Greeks, siren Parthenope (Παρθενόπη) inhabited the shores of Sorrento where she lived with the other sirens. She fell in love with Odysseus and followed him to Naples (by the way, it was said that sirens could live in their own waters only and once they left them, they died). Unfortunately, her love was unrequited and she decided to die by jumping into the sea. The sea waters pushed out her body on the Island of Megaride. Thus the town was established where il Castel dell’Ovo is situated nowadays and it was named after its first founder – Parthenope. Later sailors from the Island of Rhodes named the town Neapolis and they turned it into one of the most important commercial ports of Magna Graecia.
The Roman legend says that a centaur named Vesuvius was in love with Parthenope. Zeus got furious and in his jealousy he turned the poor creatures in love into a volcano and a city – Vesuvius and Naples, respectively. Vesuvius’s anger was often seen in the form of volcano eruptions, one of which totally destroyed and buried Pompeii and Herculaneum and damaged severely the surrounding villages and villas around the Bay of Naples.
Today’s ancient Greek city of Neapolis is the 3rd biggest city in Italy in terms of the number of inhabitants (2 000 000 residents, 1 000 000 residing in the historic centre of the city) and it is situated in one of the most beautiful regions of il Bel Paese and on Earth – Campania. If you ask people from Rome where Southern Italy starts from, they would answer: “To the South of Caput Mundi”. The residents of Florence would tell you that Southern Italy starts to the South of the Cradle of the Renaissance. Actually, it starts from Campania Felix.
The region is blessed by God. Coincidentally, the ancient Romans called it Campania Felix (or the Fertile Countryside). The Tyrrhenian Sea and i Monti Lattari, stretching into it, are “guilty” for the formation of the pretty cities with breathtaking views as well as for the development of the numerous branches of light industry, craftsmanship, artisan and hand-made products. Unlike Italy to the North, the southern parts of the country don’t have any heavy industry. Campania relies mainly on tourism (almost every place there is worth visiting), dairy products, wine industry and production of lemon based liquors, goldsmithing, red corals and cameo carving and so on, and so forth.
Nowadays the major and the biggest city of Campania is one of the beautiful pearls of the region. At the same time it’s the most important economic city with its industries like goldsmithing, aeronautics, coffee industry, etc. The latter has got traditions in the city since the 17th century when Naples was part of then Spain and the Spaniards brought coffee to the city. By the way, Neapolitan coffee is only 2-3 sips but it’s too strong and can kill you as, it’s the extract. Apart from all this the city attracts millions of tourists annually with its amazing architecture, historic places and beauty, the beauty of Siren Parthenope.
Almost every tour starts from the place where the city was established, namely from the Castel dell’Ova. Then it continues along il Borgo Santa Lucia which houses lots of modern 5-star hotels and clubs. One of them is the Vesuvius Hotel in which Caruso died. La Piazza del Plebescito is another emblematic site in Napoli. It was named after the plebiscite that occurred on October 2, 1860 and thus the city became part of the Kingdom of Italy (the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, ruling all of southern Italy, was annexed to the Savoy). In the following year, 1861, the unification of Italy was declared on the Square and that’s why it posses such a great historic value.
There is a lot to see on the Square, starting from La Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola. We might compare the Church to the Pantheon in Città Eterna and some say it’s the Roman Pantheon’s “twin”. The portico fronts the façade and it rests on two huge Ionic pillars and 6 columns. As to the dome, its height is 53 metres. Impressive, isn’t it?
On the other hand, two grand statues of galloping horsemen (Charles III of Spain and Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies) “guard” la Piazza that houses other sites that are worth seeing. I will open a bracket here. There is, lets us call it, one custom in Naples, according to which nobody can walk between the two statues when they are blindfolded and escorted by someone. So, if you happen to visit la Piazza, you ought to play that local game known as “passare bendati tra i due cavalli di Piazza Plebiscito” and believe me you will lose it. 😉 Bracket closed. Other amazing buildings are these of Il Palazzo della Perfettura and la Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III (the National Library), and the nearby Palazzo Reale Napoli (the Royal Palace of Naples).
And when you reach the northern part of the Square, it spills into la Piazza Trieste e Trento where the heartbeat of the city is. What do I mean? There are three emblematic cafés where you can indulge in the splendid treats and sweet delights of Naples and Campania as a whole like babbà (rum based or with limoncello), sfogliatella and ricotta e pere as well as in one short but strong hazelnut-flavoured coffee with the soft and tender aroma of the South. So, where can you feel in paradise? The first option is il Vero Bar del Professore. Then the legendary Gran Gambrinus Caffé comes which evokes the specific and thrilling spirit of the Belle Epoque. Like its counterparts in Padua, Lisbon, London, the 1860 historic café of Napoli was a gathering and preferable place for intellectuals and artists.
Last but not least it is the Opera Café in the foyer of il Reale Teatro di San Carlo (the Royal Theatre of Saint Charles). The 1737 Opera is the oldest opera-house and actually, this is the birthplace of opera in Europe. Nowadays its premises also house the above-mentioned café where you will just fall in love with the hand-made dolci in the famous historic bakery and confectionary Scaturchio. Here you should try the medallions filled with rum-based and hazelnut-flavoured cream that won the heart of a capricious chanteuse or Chocolate Vesuvius (a “volcano cake with chocolate lava”)
After this “delicious” break you might continue your walk full of energy and enthusiasm. And your next stop is Maschio Angioino (or ll Castel Nuovo) and Il Palazzo Giacomo (which is a Neoclassical building that houses the City Hall).
Turn back a little bit into Via Toledo and dive into the heart of the city. The street is one of the major streets of Naples. Actually, the street bore the name Via Roma in honour of the new capital of the Kingdom of Italy from October 18, 1870 till 1980. Nowadays via Toledo is one of the city’s important, commercial, pedestrian places where you can do the shopping, have lunch, visit Il Museo Archeologico Nazionale (the Naples National Archeological Museum) or enter la Galleria Umberto I. The latter was constructed in 1887–1891 and it was modelled after la Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II in Milan. The main idea was to link and gather social life (cafés, shops, etc.) and private flats at the same place.
Do you know what the similarity between the Beautiful Lily of Europe and Napoli is? You will definitely go up and down the hills in both cities and your journey from the past times to the present will be easier and faster using the city’s urban elevators, funiculars and tunnels. An urban elevator is a genial means of “public transport” which really accommodates greatly the movement from the hills to the sea and is widely used, indeed. As for the city’s tunnels, there are plenty, one of them being la Galleria della Vittoria (the Victory Tunnel). I will open another bracket. Not to omit is the underground of Naples (la Metropolitana di Napoli). It is one of the most artistic subways in the world, especially its Line 1 art stations like “Università” and “Toledo” where the creative genius of the residents of Naples have reached its peak. So, I can assure you that Naples Underground could offer you a “creative” 2-hour trip under the ground. The proof is here, Sotterranea bellezza. La metro di Napoli (RAI storia). The bracket is now being closed.
Now let us get back to the other convenient means of transport of the city – the funicular. Being in Via Toledo, you should turn to the left. Sì, a sinistra, per favore (Yes, to the left, please). You won’t regret it because one of the 4 four cable lines will fetch you to the Vomero Hill where il Castel Sant’Elmo is situated. The castle was built in the form of a star (that’s why sometimes it’s called “the Star Castle”) and its main purpose was to be a fortification from which there was a 360-dgree visibility to the city. Nowadays, the castle is one of the 7 city’s fortifications and it offers a balcony for awe-inspiring views to Naples, the Vesuvius, the unresting blue sea and to the beauty of the city.
Did you get hungry already? Yes?! Okay … No worries. After having returned to Via Toledo you have plenty of choices in terms of le trattorie and pizzerie in the tiny and hilly side streets. By the way, shame on you if you don’t choose a pizza or its variant – pizza fritta (Neapolitan street food). The glorious history of this focaccia (or I’d beter say, of the modern pizza) started in Naples in 1899. And here is the story. Queen Margherita (or la regina Margherita di Savoia) insisted on trying the pizzas prepared by the famous pizzaiolo (pizza maker) from Naples whose name was Raffaele Esposito. He did his best and made a special pizza in her honour. It bore the colours of the Italian flag, i.e. green (basilico), white (mozzarella) and red (pomodori, i.e. tomatoes). Of course, this pizza was named after the Queen,i.e. Margherita, and since then it’s been supposed to be among the most traditional pizzas. So, if you want to munch on an authentic Neapolitan pizza, be faster and do it before 2pm local time because residents close down and go to have lunch, too. (They are human beings as well…or I’d better say, they are Italians 😉 )
How are you feeling now? Refreshed? Va bene 🙂 If so, head for the last sightseeings for today’s trip in Naples. You might continue with Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II (the University of Naples Federico II) which was founded in 1224 and is among the oldest academic institutions. It is also the first state university where even the poor could study. Then have a walk along il Corso Umberto I with its numerous fashion shops. There is no way not to stumble upon the statue of Umberto I in whose basis siren Parthenope could be seen. If you want to say “Hi” to fish species, Naples will offer you one very pretty place – la Stazione zoologica Anton Dohrn which is one of the largest aquariums in Europe and the second oldest after that in Berlin (it was constructed by Carlo Vanvitelli).
In the end, discover the soul of Naples that lives underground. The Catacomb of San Gennaro are paleo-Christian burial site on Capodimonte in Napoli. The most interesting fact is that these paleo-Christian cemeteries and even a church are 15m under the ground. And if you stay at one of the nearby hotels you will witness the resonance when cars and public transport pass by. The reason is that, actually, the space under the ground is hollow. What else? Of course, a must visit is the Bourbon Tunnel commissioned by Ferdinand II of Bourbon in 1853. The route constructed had an aim to link the Royal Palace with Victoria Square, passing through Mount Echia. Thus the Bourbon army has a rapid road to defend the palace.
Well, I hope you enjoyed that short trip in Naples. For sure, more than one day is needed to get to know the city better. It’s certain that after the first visit you will get assured that the saying “Vedi Napoli e poi muori” is absolutely true. Surely, you won’t die but you will long for to come back more and more to Parthenope’s city. 🙂
Amo Napoli 🙂