|15th June - 17th June 2012
We didn’t know what to expect in Naples. It contrasts in many ways from the cities like Milan and Florence. It doesn’t have the structure and order like the other cities but within the chaos there is something unique about the way of life in Naples.
With a map in hand we strolled along the streets of the old city centre. The densely populated area was bustling with locals going through their daily routine. The streets were lined with small stalls and shops selling goods at very reasonable prices. We felt very comfortable walking through the small lanes and mingling with the crowds.
I had read about Naples’ signature sweet pastry, called the sfogliatelle, and just had to try one. It looks like a Maltese Pastizzi. Light layers of flaky pastry dough on the outside and a dense filling of sweetened ricotta cheese on the inside. There are two varieties called riccia and frolla. They’re often eaten for breakfast, but I enjoyed the flaky one as a snack with my pizza. Boy was it yummy! They’re sweet enough to satisfy a dessert like craving, but not so sweet as to make you ill.
As well as visiting a few different churches and museums, my favourite and most fascinating tour was the Napoli Sotterranea , the underground city underneath the San Lorenzo Maggiore medieval church. Our tour guide, a very comical Italian guy who loved to put on a Scottish accent brought the place to life. It was a maze of tunnels that cross each other for several kilometers below the streets and the buildings of the old town. The tour was quite challenging and at times a bit claustrophobic. We had to pass through 10m high and 0.5m wide openings in the rock holding candles for our lighting. It was a bit touch and go, but I managed to make it through even with the few kilos I have gained so far this holiday. Ha! Ha! Just joking. It was a great tour
From Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, we walk along Via San Biago. This street is known as Spaccanapoli (the name means “Naples Splitter”). It splits the old center of Naples in half. The original Greek city of Neapolis was here and the area still retains the same with its narrow streets from the Greek times.
As we were walking through the streets we were stopped by a priest in front of the Church of Sant'Angelo a Nilo. He asked if we would like to join in on a tour of the church. The tour was done by volunteer young people who were being trained and were studying the history of Naples. What the heck, let’s do another free tour! We saw the tomb of Cardinal Brancacci by Donatello and Michelozzo and paintings by Marco Pino. The interior marble work in this church and some of the others in the area is unique. Different coloured marbles from all parts of the world were used to create intricate patterns which were repeated all over the church interior. Sorry, no photos allowed!
Our last planned visit was to the Sansevero Chapel and the Veiled Christ .The Veiled Christ is a fascinating and mysterious statue. It shows the body of Christ, who is lying on a soft pillow under an incredibly realistic veil.
We also wanted to visit the elegant part of the city, so we walked around the wonderful lungomare, the Riviera di Chiaia. Here we could see a different side of Naples. The sea front was lined with large 5 star hotels, and upmarket cafes & restaurants. This was a clean area where people walked the streets, enjoying the sea views and away from the hustle and bustle of the noisy traders
On the shore we visited the Castelnuovo which is a huge medieval castle which houses the main city museum featuring various collections, but most importantly an art gallery, with focus on 19th Century Italian paintings.
The information centre had told us about Sant Elmo Castle perched on San Martino Hill. We had to catch the trains and then the funicular (a train that is used to climb the mountain side) then continued on foot to the top of the hill until we reached the castle. This star-shaped military fortress is more impresive viewed from outside rather than inside. But the view of the city and the Gulf of Napoli from its terrace was breathtaking.
We now had seen both sides of Naples, and both had their own charm and beauty.