This is the city of Elena Ferrante, the mysterious signature whose novels are at the top of best-selling lists and has brought Italian literature to the international arena. But even before that Naples is the city of Totò, Enrico Caruso and pizza. It is the symbol of passion—good and bad—and Mount Vesuvius towering over it is the symbol of a volcanic power that is always about to be unleashed. If you’re visiting Italy, a trip to Naples is mandatory. Its name comes from the Greek Neapolis, new city. But before this “second foundation” of the fifth century BC, it was the site of the famous Parthenope. Dominated by the Romans, Byzantines, Normans and Swabians, exposed to Islamic influences, a capital city and the home of one of Europe’s most important universities, Naples gradually became enriched with palaces, villas, streets, and churches.
Nevertheless, earthquakes and the consequences of volcanic eruptions have profoundly marked its history and urban layout. Summarizing its vicissitudes is practically impossible, but when you visit Naples you immediately sense the stratification of cultures, particularly that of the Spanish, who gave this city its layout between 1500 and 1700, and the Bourbon rulers, who in the nineteenth century made it the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
The Baroque in Naples is striking with its decadent majesty, THERE’S A SURPRISE by Laura Taccani Photos Getty Images IN NAPLES with magnificent buildings lining alleys crisscrossed with laundry lines. One of the unique aspects of this city is the fact that while it looks like a postcard, it is completely real. The best way to explore it is starting below the surface. Napoli Sotterranea—Underground Naples—is one of the most intriguing tours of any European city. At Piazza San Gaetano 68, an immense entrance opens up like a mouth to the underground area. You go 130 feet beneath the city, where over 2,000 years ago people excavated the tuff used to build Naples. It is a network of underground passages, wells and enormous rooms that were used as air-raid shelters during World War II, a ninety-minute tour at a temperature that is particularly delightful during summer! Back on the surface, you can venture into Spaccanapoli, the street that goes from the Spanish Quarters to the Forcella district—but watch out for the mopeds zipping by, often with at least three people on them. Buildings, alleys, voices, smells: this is an authentic Naples that you won’t forget. For a peaceful break, head to the Archaeological Museum (with Greek and Roman artifacts, and findings from the excavation work at Pompeii) or the immense Piazza Plebiscito with its long colonnade.
Here you’ll also find the Gran Caffè Gambrinus (Via Chiaia ½), the historical literary café where ordering a “caffè alla nocciola”—hazelnut coffee—is a Isgrò must. Words can’t describe it, so you simply have to try it. Naples is also famous for the Pagan Chapel of San Severo with the statue of the Veiled Christ, the Museum of Capodimonte, and two castles that have become symbols: Castel dell’Ovo, which dominates the gulf with its outline, and the medieval Maschio Angioino, which now also houses a civic museum.
B&B ATMOSFERE DEL CENTRO STORICO
Corso Umberto I
tel. +39 339 3000056
Located in a nineteenth-century building, the apartment has spacious and comfortable rooms. This lovely place boasts period furnishings and offers a rich breakfast.
Via Santa Lucia 169/171
tel. +39 081 7646270
Though it only opened recently, it is already well known, thanks to its unique atmosphere, pieces collected from around the world and excellent cocktails.
Via S. Pietro a Majella 6
tel. +39 081 4550260
An alternative to pizza and traditional cuisine. In the quiet courtyard of an old building, this fun restaurant prepares cheap and tasty organic dishes. Be sure to try the fried vegetables.