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Naples in Italy, an ancient port on the Mediterranean sea, is the third most populous municipality and centre of the second most populous metropolitan area in Italy. Founded more than 2,800 years ago (8th century BC) as Neapolis ("New City") by the Greeks, it is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The UNESCO evaluation committee described Naples' centre as being "of exceptional value", and went on to say that Naples' setting on the Bay of Naples "gives it an outstanding universal value which has had a profound influence". But Italians have known these things for centuries: The view of Naples from the sea is so beautiful that a traditional Italian saying states that once you've seen it, you can die. Born as a Greek colony of Cuma and virtually positioned in the geographical center of the Mediterranean basin, it has an unmatched heritage as a place of exchange between cultures. This is reflected in the city's structure and monuments, a mixture of Greek, Roman, Norman, Angevin, Swedish, Spanish and French architecture. The Neapolitan language - notoriously unintelligible to many speakers of standard Tuscan Italian - also bears witness to the town's diverse cultural origins, being composed of French, Spanish and Arab words, inserted into a Greek, Oscan and Latin structure. As a testimony to its extraordinary history, the Naples region hosts an unparalleled concentration of UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Center of Naples itself; the Roman archeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae; the Royal Palace of Caserta; the royal site of San Leucio and the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli. It is close to Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the European continent and itself a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Paestum's Greek temples and the Amalfi Coast, also UNESCO's World Heritage sites, are possible day trips, as are the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida in the Bay of Naples. Naples is currently (2013) the World Capital of Cultures, since it is hosting the Universal Forum of Cultures (UFC) from April 10 to July 21, 2013. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Naples
Urban center of Naples
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the center of Naples hosts a huge number of architectural landmarks. A non-comprehensive list of the most notable monuments and sites includes:
- Albergo dei Poveri (Bourbon Hospice for the Poor) is a former public hospital/almshouse. It was designed by the architect Ferdinando Fuga, and construction was started in 1751. It is five storeys tall and about 300 m long. It was popularly known as "Palazzo Fuga". King Charles III of the House of Bourbon meant the facility to house the destitute and ill, as well as to provide a self-sufficient community where the poor would live and work. The building was originally designed with five courtyards and a church in the centre, but only the three innermost courtyards were built, and plans to complete the building according to the original design were finally abandoned in 1819. It is no longer a hospital, and has suffered much from neglect and earthquakes. The centre behind the entrance is used for exhibitions, conferences, and concerts. Recently (2006) the façade has undergone restoration as part of a plan to incorporate the facility into the working infrastructure of public buildings in Naples.
- San Francesco di Paola is one of the main churches in Naples, located at the west side of Piazza del Plebiscito, the city's main square. The place was originally planned by King Joachim Murat of Naples (Napoleon's brother-in-law) as a tribute to the emperor. When Napoleon was dispatched, Ferdinand I of Bourbon continued the construction but converted the final product into the church one sees today. The church is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. The façade is fronted by a portico resting on six columns and two Ionic pillars. Inside, the church is circular with two side chapels. The dome is 53 metres high.
- Cappella Sansevero. Built on 1590, it contains works of art by some of the leading Italian artists of the 18th century, like the extraordinary Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino. It also has a high scientific interest because it hosts the anatomical machines, a still mysterious experiment by Raimondo Di Sangro, a prominent Renaissance scientist.
- Castel dell'Ovo (Egg Castle) is a castle located on the former island of Megaride, now a peninsula, on the Gulf of Naples. The castle's name comes from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil, who had a reputation in medieval times as a great sorcerer, that he put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. The island of Megaride was where Greek colonists from Cumae founded the original nucleus of the city in the 6th century BC. In the 1st century BC the Roman patrician Lucius Licinius Lucullus built the magnificent villa Castellum Lucullanum on the site. The first castle on the site was built by the Normans in the 12th century.
- Castel Nuovo, ("New Castle"), often called Maschio Angioino, is a medieval castle and the main symbol of the architecture of the city. It was first begun in 1279 by Charles I of Anjou and completed three years later. Castel Nuovo soon became the nucleus of the historical center of the city, and was often the site of famous events. For example, on December 13, 1294, Pope Celestine V resigned as pope in a hall of the castle. The event was famously depicted by Dante Alighieri in his masterpiece la Divina Commedia, in the verse Colui che per viltade fece il gran rifiuto.
- Certosa di San Martino, a former monastery complex, now a museum. It is the most visible landmark of the city, perched atop the Vomero hill that commands the gulf. A Carthusian monastery, it was finished and inaugurated under the rule of Queen Joan I in 1368. In 1623, it was further expanded and became, under the direction of architect Cosimo Fanzago, essentially the structure one sees today. In the early 19th century, under French rule the monastery was closed and was abandoned by the religious order. Today, the buildings house a museum with a display of Spanish and Bourbon era artifacts, as well as displays of the presepe—Nativity scene—considered to be among the finest in the world.
- Gesù Nuovo The Church of Gesù Nuovo (New Jesus) was originally a palace built in 1470 for Roberto Sanseverino, Prince of Salerno. The Jesuits had already built a church in Naples, now called Gesú Vecchio. Political intrigues caused the property to be confiscated, and eventually sold in the 1580s to the Jesuits to construct a church (1584–1601) under architect Giuseppe Valeriano. The unusual façade, unusually plain for a Baroque style church, is of rusticated ashlar and is the original façade of the palace. The church contains masterpieces of some of the most notables Neapolitan artists, namely Belisario Corenzio, Paolo de Matteis, Francesco Solimena, Giovanni Lanfranco and Massimo Stanzione.
- Palazzo Reale is one of the four residences used by the Bourbon Kings of Naples during their rule of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (1730-1860). The Royal Palace is on the site of an earlier building meant to host King Philip III of Spain, who however never made the trip. The architect chosen for that palace was Domenico Fontana. The building was put up on the site of an even older Spanish viceroyal residence from the early 16th century. The 17th-century palace visible today is the result of numerous additions and changes, including some by Luigi Vanvitelli in the mid-18th century and then by Gaetano Genovese.
- Posillipo, a district of Naples placed on the northwestern part of the town. The Greeks first named this place Pausílypon, meaning "respite from worry" for the enchanted calm of the shore. There are Roman ruins at waters edge, remains of the residence of Vedius Pollio. The area contains some notable historical buildings and landmarks. Among these is the Palazzo Donn'Anna and Villa Rosebery, the Italian President's residence during his stays in Naples.
- San Domenico Maggiore is one of the most prominent churches of Naples. This Gothic church (est. 1283) incorporates a smaller, original church built on this site in the 10th century, San Michele Arcangelo a Morfisa. The monastery annexed to the church has been the home of prominent names in the history of religion and philosophy. It was the original seat of the University of Naples, where Thomas Aquinas, a former monk at San Domenico Maggiore, returned to teach theology in 1272. As well, the philosopher monk, Giordano Bruno, lived here. The sacristy houses a series of 45 sepulchres of members of the royal Aragonese family, including that of King Ferdinand I.
- Santa Chiara a religious complex, that includes the Church of Santa Chiara, a monastery, tombs and an archeological museum. The double monastic complex was built in 1313-1340 by Queen Sancha of Majorca and her husband King Robert of Naples. The original church was in traditional Provençal-Gothic style, but was decorated in the 1744 century in Baroque style by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro. Santa Chiara was the largest Clarissan church ever built and it was the first Clarissan church built where the nuns in their choir would have been able to view the performance of Mass. The bell tower, separated from the main edifice, was begun in 1328 but was completed only in Renaissance times. The simple interior houses the tomb of King Robert and, in the side chapels, those of the Bourbon king of Naples, Francis II and his consort Maria Sophie of Bavaria, as well as of Queen Maria Christina of Savoy and of the national hero Salvo d'Acquisto (a carabiniere who sacrificed his own life to save the lives of 22 civilian hostages at the time of the Nazi occupation). Famous is the cloister of the Clarisses, transformed in 1742 by Vaccaro with the addition of precious majolica tiles in Rococò style. The Nuns' Choir houses fragments of frescoes by Giotto.
- Teatro San Carlo, founded on 1737, it is the oldest continuously active opera house in Europe. In XVIII century, Naples was the capital of European music and even foreign composers like Hasse, Haydn, Johann Christian Bach and Gluck considered the performance of their compositions at the San Carlo theatre as the goal of their career. Two main Italian opera composers, Gioacchino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti were artistic directors of the San Carlo for many years. Other prominent opera composers, like Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni and Leoncavallo staged here the very first representations of their works (like for example the famous Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti).
- Galleria Umberto Iis a public shopping gallery, located directly across from the San Carlo opera house. It was designed by Emanuele Rocco, who employed modern architectural elements reminiscent of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The Galleria was meant to combine businesses, shops, cafes and social life — public space — with private space in the apartments on the third floor.
- Naples Cathedral, built in XIII century, is the main church of Naples. It is widely known as the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, in honour of Saint Januarius, the city's patron saint. It was built on the foundations of two palaeo-Christian basilicas, whose traces can still be clearly seen. Underneath the building excavations have revealed Greek and Roman artifacts.
- Naples National Archeological Museum, Piazza Museo, 19, ☎ +39 81 442 2149. 9AM-7:30PM. It is the most important Italian archaeological museum, and it contains a large collection of Roman artifacts from Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. The collection includes works of the highest quality produced in Greek, Roman and Renaissance times. €8.
- National Museum of Capodimonte, Via Miano, 2, ☎ +39 81 749 9111. 8:30AM-7:30PM. It hosts paintings from the 13th to the 18th centuries including major works by Simone Martini, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Masaccio, Sandro Botticelli, Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Bellini, Giorgio Vasari, El Greco, Jacob Philipp Hackert. It is also the place where are hosted the works of the most important Neapolitan painters, like Jusepe de Ribera, Luca Giordano, the Neapolitan Caravaggisti. €7.50, €6.50 after 2PM.
- The Tomb of Virgil, Parco Vergiliano (near Mergellina station). One of the greatest Latin poets, author of the Aeneid.
Naples is often used as a base to visit the ancient ruins and excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii near the city.
- Herculaneum (13 km). A world-famous archeological site, part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. It was an ancient Roman town destroyed, together with Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae, by volcanic pyroclastic flows of Vesuvius, AD 79. It is famous as the source of the first Roman skeletal and physical remains available for study that were located by science, for the Romans almost universally cremated their dead. While smaller than Pompeii, it's just as cool and usually less busy.
- Pompeii (25 km, 40 minutes via the Circumvesuviana train (Sorrento line)). The world-famous city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman urban center, and one of the best examples of Roman architecture in the world. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning two days in the year AD 79. The eruption buried Pompeii under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice, and it was lost for nearly 1700 years before its accidental rediscovery in 1749. Since then, its excavation has provided an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Italy, with approximately 2,500,000 visitors every year. Visiting the city is a unique experience—you get to walk in and out of most of the ruins, and really get a feel for how the city must've looked in its era.
- Mount Vesuvius. From Pompeii, take a bus to Mount Vesuvius and hike to the summit. Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the mainland of Europe and is best known for its eruption in AD 79 that led to the burying and destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Both Naples and the locally Italian Napoli are acceptable names for the city, and derivatives of the original Greek name of Neapolis.
The most widely spoken language in Naples is Italian or a mixture of Italian and Napulitano (Neapolitan). Neapolitan is sometimes described as an Italian dialect, but it is officially acknowledged by UNESCO as a distinct language, with well-defined roots and rules, and there is a great heritage of literature and songs ('O sole mio and Torna a Surriento are some iconic examples) in Napulitano. Neapolitan is still thriving in Campania and adjacent parts of Lazio, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Molise and Calabria. This said, the official language of Naples (as of all of Italy) is Italian and everyone can speak it when prompted, though often with a strong local accent.
Neapolitan has strong Spanish and French influences originating from periods of Spanish and French rule. Therefore, more Spanish and French words are understood by the locals than in other parts of Italy.
English is the most commonly spoken foreign language, although the average knowledge of English is far from excellent.
- Centro Sub Campi Flegrei, firstname.lastname@example.org. A 5*IDC diving centre offering diving and snorkelling in the Gulf of Naples, around the Phlegraean islands and within the underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae (the so-called submerged Pompeii!). Open all year.
- accordi @ DISACCORDI Open Air Cinema Festival (email@example.com), Viale del Poggio di Capodimonte, ☎ +39 0815491838. 09:10 pm. If you are in Naples during summertime don't miss the chance to experience the cinema beneath the stars on warm nights in an amphiteatre equipped with one of the widest projection screens in Italy which rises having an artificial lake all around. These events really make people revive the movies each night of the festival! €4 per day.
- Urban Routes (firstname.lastname@example.org), ☎ +393468471141. Bike sightseeing along old towm, Posillipo coast and Vomero panoramic quarter
Neapolitan cuisine in general features much seafood, befitting its status as an ancient and still functioning port. You will find many sauces based on garlic sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and local red wines. Some of the sauces are arrabbiata ("angry") or fra diavolo ("brother Devil"), which means they will contain hot pepper. It's a great cuisine. Enjoy!
Mozzarella is also typical of the region, you should not miss the opportunity to taste the fresh real one!
Pizza comes from Naples. Look for pizza margherita, the original one, with tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella toppings. In Naples every pizzeria makes a decent pizza, far and above the standards of anywhere in the world, and eating one in Milan, Rome or Florence is simply not the real experience.
Some places display the label "Vera Pizza Napoletana" ("True Neapolitan Pizza" there is a Pulcinella mask baking a pizza in a stylized Vesuvio) which indicates that the pizzeria follows the standards of The Naples Pizza Association . If you want to try some pizza, go to Pizzeria Brandi, where the "pizza margherita" was allegedly born; but today the best choices would be: Da Michele or Trianon da Ciro. These pizzerias make the most authentic pizza, but be careful because they are located near Forcella which is not the safest part of Naples, although generally OK during the day.
- Pizzeria Brandi, Salita Sant'Anna di Palazzo, 1-2 (Chiaia Str. closer to Plebiscito Square). +39 081 416928. A stone is exposed outside the restaurant explaining the history of the first pizza.
- Da Michele, Via Cesare Sersale, 1-3, ☎ +39 081 553-9204. 11AM-10:30PM. In particular, Michele has a unique feature: they only do pizza Margherita or Marinara (just tomato, garlic and oregano, and a splash of oil, of course!). They say that these two kinds are the original pizza, if you add too much toppings you'll lose the real taste of the pizza, that is very simple, made only of a good, thin base, good tomato, and fresh mozzarella (if this is the case). Note that there is usually a queue - get a numbered ticket from the waiter on the door when you arrive. The pizzas are cooked quickly, and they expect you to vacate seats just as quick.
- Trianon da Ciro, Via Pietro Colletta, 44/46 (it's just in front of Michele). The pizzas are less soupy with crispier crusts.
- Pizzeria Starita, Via Materdei 27, ☎ +39 081 557-3682. 12PM–3AM. Close to de-crowning Da Michele as the best pizzas in Naples.
Some other places that are very popular among the Neapolitans are almost all the pizzerias in Via dei Tribunali, in particular:
- Di Matteo, Via dei Tribunali 94, ☎ +39 081 455262. 9AM-12AM. Il presidente, Sorbillo, and his sister, a few doors away (informally known as "la vecchia", the old lady, from the owner of the pizzeria, a very small place with only 4 or 5 tables, that looks like a pizzeria of 50 years ago - very hard to find, but it's worth it!) You can get pizzas to eat on the go. €1.
The city and region are also famous for their pasticceria (pastries), (Babà, Zeppole, Sfogliatella, and more; this latter is often filled with ricotta cheese or cream with citrus flavor) among the best are:
- Pasticceria Scaturchio (Piazza San Domenico Maggiore adjoining to Piazza del Gesu).
- Gran Bar Riviera, Riviera di Chiaia 181. Very good sweets, from 'zeppole' to 'sfogliatelle' passing through 'babà'. +39 081 665026.
Struffoli and Roccocò are typical Christmas sweets. Pastiera is the sweet of Easter: anyway you can find it all year long. It is made basically of ricotta cheese melted with steamed corn and sugar, and then baked.
Naples is becoming increasingly popular with a younger generation of both Italians and foreigners who flood into the city and lend renewed vitality to its nightlife. The hippest scene is around the bars and cafes on Piazza Bellini, Piazza Santa Maria la Nova and Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, becoming busy after about 11PM. Also Piazza San Pasquale and Mergellina are typical places for the local movida. If you want to venture to the outskirts of the city, there are many bars and clubs near the port and boardwalk (the 'Lungomare') of Pozzuoli. It is worth noticing that while Neapolitans (and Vigili Urbani, the town's local police) are largely tolerant to youngsters drinking, having fun and making noise, even at late hours, getting drunk and causing damages or littering is not tolerated.
You can sustain shops and businesses that fight against racket (also called "pizzo") going shopping there.
Naples has vibrant markets and many small shops that sell everything from clothes to household appliances at prices much lower than in most of Western Europe. Especially to be seen is the Porta Nolana, Pignasecca and the Vasto markets, which also give a grasp of popular Neapolitan life. Not to be lost is the impromptu fish market which happens especially on Sunday morning at Rotonda Diaz, the central square of Via Caracciolo. Small fishing boats come ashore, and directly sell fresh and often alive fish and octopuses, a very characteristic and joyful scene of Naples' life.
Refrain to buy any evidently fake items sold in the street, especially big fashion firms' products like purses, foulards, sunglasses and so on. Neapolitan police is constantly exerting a strong effort toward this kind of commerce, which is illegal and damages town's image by transforming streets into open-air markets. Furthermore, many of these products are either stolen or fake versions of the originals, produced in laboratories managed by local criminality. Therefore, when buying such a product, you are helping criminals to thrive and morally involved in complicity with them.
Be also very aware of the fact that there is a huge number of police patrols raiding the streets without wearing uniforms: according to Italian laws, if you are catched buying one of these products, you risk to be arrested and pay huge fines to be released.
Also refrain to buy electronic products like iPhones, iPads, photo cameras, directly sold in the streets. Normally, the ones which try to sell are scammers with illusionist abilities, which will sell you a fake one after having shown a good one to you. In this respect, never presume to be apter or enough attentive to avoid the substitution, simply you are not.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Naples on Wikivoyage.