It is not easy to contain Naples in a title, in a thought, in a definition. It is a city too complex to describe, unique in its kind, a centuries-old sedimentation of cultures that has made this incredible city a meeting place for peoples and traditions. Ancient Bourbon capital, Naples is a city that lives in symbiosis with its history, its traditions, its theater and the great actors who made it great all over the world: Totò, De Filippo, Troisi. A population made of enthusiastic and warm people, which gives the passing tourist the feeling of a life suspended between routine and stage, people with a widespread religiousness that mixes willingly with tradition and folklore, where the invocation of San Gennaro, patron of the city, it is at the same time prayer and linguistic interleaving. It is the city where pizza was born, true national glory exported to every lost corner of the globe. But it is also the city of babas, spaghetti, Pulcinella and the art of getting by. This is why Goethe, in his letter of 1787, had the opportunity to say “See Naples and then die“.
What to see
The visit of Naples, which takes more than a few days, can start from the wide and central Piazza del Plebiscito (photo 1) that its 25 thousand square make one of the largest squares in Italy. It has a characteristic semicircular shape enclosed between the Basilica and the Royal Palace. In this square are held the most important events in the city such as concerts, meetings and events.
The Basilica, dedicated to Saint Francis of Paola, closes the square to the west. It was built starting from the early years of the nineteenth century and takes on great importance in the hierarchy of Catholic churches. It has a classical form, the large dome is similar to the Pantheon in Rome; the internal part (photo 2) takes up the semicircular shape of the square.
On the opposite side of the square stands the majestic Royal Palace (photo 3), an ancient Bourbon residence.
Leaving Piazza del Plebiscito, crossing Piazza Trento and Trieste and passing the historic San Carlo Theatre, the oldest opera house in the world among those still active, we arrive at the historic Gallery Umberto I (photo 4). It is a commercial gallery dating back to the end of the 19th century, which finds similar examples in the gallery of Piazza Duomo in Milan or, more recently, in the “Galleria Sordi” near Piazza Colonna in Rome. The interior of the gallery, once a workplace of the “sciuscià”, the ancient Neapolitan shoeshine, consists of two paved pedestrian paths that intersect perpendicularly, covered by an iron and glass structure.
Not far from the Gallery Umberto it is possible to admire the probably most majestic monument of the city, the Castel Nuovo or Maschio Angioino (photo 5). It is a massive-looking castle that dominates the Town Hall Square, of medieval origin, which today hosts exhibitions and conferences.
From the Maschio, along the central Corso Umberto and entering the narrow streets of the historic center, we reach the true star of Naples, an absolute jewel of the international artistic heritage, the Veiled Christ, the sum of the Neapolitan sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino, placed at the interior of the beautiful Sansevero Chapel.
Unfortunately, there is no way to publish a photo of the Veiled Christ taking into account that taking pictures inside the Chapel is strictly forbidden. However, it is possible to get an idea of the beauty of Christ by looking at one of the many pictures available on the web, for example this.
The Chapel that contains the Christ is imbued with beauty and wonder, mausoleum and place of worship full of mysteries and an obscure symbology well represented by ten statues depicting the Virtues.
The Veiled Christ, located in the center of the Chapel, is to be admired in the most religious silence, turning repeatedly around to observe, enjoy every little detail. You can admire a face of Christ just covered by a transparent veil which hardly hides the crudest details of the dead Christ. It is really difficult to describe in words the emotions that can be experienced around this work of art. It is possible to find long queues to enter the Chapel. Better to book a ticket online (for the official website, click here).
From the Chapel, taking the historic Via dei Tribunali, one enters the true history of Naples. In this area, during the Christmas period, there are the famous Neapolitan nativity scenes (photo 6). San Gregorio Armeno, one of the crossroads of Via dei Tribunali, is the emblem of this ancient tradition.
Along Via dei Tribunali it is possible to cross a crowd of people trying to enter in a place taste a pizza. If you happen to do something like this, it is very likely that you will be in front of the historian pizzeria Sorbillo (photo 7), one of the most renowned in Italy. It is very difficult to find a free space if not at the cost of long and exhausting expectations. You cannot book and may even have to share your table with other patrons. Needless to ask for a menu. The pizzeria offers only marinara and margherita pizza. If you do not have the patience to wait (or if you are too hungry) you can try one of the many pizzerias that are nearby. Let’s remember that we are in Naples and here it is difficult to find pizzas that are not good. An example is the pizzeria Donna Sofia, a few steps from Pizzeria Sorbillo, which is a good alternative (for my full review on Tripadvisor, click here.).
Proceeding along Via dei Tribunali you cross Via Duomo where you can admire the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (photo 8).
The interior is grandiose (photo 9), divided into three naves bounded by eight pillars on each side with ten side chapels.
The Royal Chapel of San Gennaro deserves particular attention (photo 10), in Baroque style, one of the greatest treasures of the city, with frescoes by Domenichino, which can be reached through a monumental gate. The rooms adjacent to the Chapel contain the c.d. “Treasure of San Gennaro” which houses, among others, a valuable collection of silver objects.