Few people are as passionate about a place as Bonnie Alberts from Napoli Unplugged is about her adopted city Napoli.
She shares an extensive guest post about the deep heart of Naples wandering off the beaten tourist paths into the soul of the city and walks us through it’s history, it’s culture and into the Neapolitan daily life.
A Few of My Favorite Napoli Things
Bonnie Alberts, Napoli Unplugged
Although I know they are all the rage these days and do seem to serve a purpose, I'm not a huge fan of top ten lists. They are like soundbites that if not used carefully, can quickly create stereotypes about a place.
Think about the top 10 for Napoli. At the top, and I do mean the very top of every Napoli top 10 list you will find "eat pizza in the city in which it was born." Neapolitan pizza is a national treasure to be sure and an experience not to be missed, but Naples offers the curious traveler much, much more. There is the food and the wine, the caffè and dolce, world-class museums and ancient monuments, Greek and Roman ruins, churches and castles, parks and gardens, strolls along the water and deep into the quartieri, oh, and what about the views.
And that's just for starters.
A good guide-book (or peek at our website or the Saturday Strolls on our blog) will give you the main attractions. Things like strolling through Centro Storico and Naples famed Christmas Alley, Via San Gregorio Armeno to see another Neapolitan treasure, the hand crafted presepe. Visits to the Archaeological, Capodimonte and MADRE Museums, the Royal Palace and the Veiled Christ and tours of Naples Underground.
But if you've done all that and are looking for more, here is just a small sampling of some of my favorite Napoli things.
Sometimes people forget what an absolutely breathtaking this city is and the very best time to experience this beauty is early in the morning.
It might seem obvious but you'd be surprised how many people either don't realize the sun rises behind the Vesuvius or don't want to get up to see it. One of the best locations to watch the sunrise from or better yet, catch an award-winning shot of it (I'm still working on that) is at the Fontana dell'Immacolata on Via Partenope. From there, stroll down Via Partenope towards Mergellina along Naples seaside promenade, Lungomare. With the sun at your back, the views of Mergellina and Posillipo are spectacular.
If you don't want to get up at the crack of dawn but still want an award-winning shot, head to Sant'Antonio a Posillipo Church. One of the most iconic views of Naples, the setting sun behind you lights up Vesuvius and the city in a way that belies words.
Take the Mergellina Funiculare (another fav of mine) one stop up to Sant'Antonio a Posillipo. Head left out of the station onto Via Orazio and walk up the hill (also gorgeous views) to Via Minucio Felice. Follow the road down until you find the overlook. After you've captured your award-winning shot, continue down until you reach Piazza Sannazzaro. Great views all the way down! At Piazza Sannazzaro, pay homage to the Mother of Naples, the fountain of the Siren Partenope in the center of the Piazza.
The Intellectual Heart of the City
Not far from Naples famed Archaeological Museum is Piazza Dante. Big, bustling, and bursting with activity, it is dedicated to the poet of the same name, Dante Alighieri of The Divine Comedy fame and whose bigger than life statue towers over the Piazza.
On the north side of the Piazza you'll find Via Port'Alba, a narrow alley where local bookshops large and small spill out into the street. Wander along Via Port'Alba to Port'Alba, one of two gates installed during the Spanish expansion of Naples.
From there head to Piazza Bellini and you'll find yourself in the intellectual heart of the city and surrounded by important institutions such as the Fine Arts Academy (Accademia di Belle Arti), the San Pietro a Majella Music Conservatory and several University Buildings. The statue at the center of the piazza is of course in honor of Bellini - Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini that is, a 19th century Italian composer. On the south side of the Piazza you'll find Greco-Roman remains from the city’s 4th century western wall.
The Two Parks of Virgil
One of the most important and influential writers in history, the man who gave the world the “Aeneid” and whose words guided and inspired Dante, Ovid, and countless other poets, Virgil's footprints are all over this city. And to commemorate this legend Naples has not one, but two parks dedicated to him.
One sits at the foot of Posillipo hill and the other sits at the top of Posillipo hill, Capo Posillipo, one of the most picturesque districts in Naples. So beautiful is this district, and to be sure, much more beautiful in Virgil's day, that it takes its name from the Greek Pausylipon which means “respite from pain.”
Perhaps the more important of the two parks is Parco Virgiliano a Piedigrotta at the foot of Posillipo hill where legend has it you will find Virgil's tomb. While you will definitely find a Roman era funerary monument there, that it is actually Virgil's tomb is pretty doubtful. Nevertheless, it has attracted visitors for centuries. Nestled behind the Santa Maria di Piedigrotta Church and next to the Mergellina train station this quaint little park is a quiet haven away from the bustle of the city.
While you are there you can also pay homage to another important writer, the 19th century poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi. And don't forget to peek into the Crypta Neapolitana, a 700 meter long tunnel ascribed to Virgil's sorcery although it is more likely the work of the Roman engineer Lucius Cocceus Auctus.
At the top of Posillipo hill you will find breathtaking views of the Bay of Naples from Vesuvius to Nisida, Bagnoli and beyond at Parco Virgiliano a Posillipo. Although fairly well-known, I rarely run across tourists here. Follow the park's circular path to take in the views and you just may catch a wedding party using this picturesque location as a natural backdrop. And don't forget to look for one of the most recent additions to the park, a bust of Gandhi erected in 2008.
If you visit on a Thursday morning you can catch the chicest market in Naples, the Posillipo Market that runs along the tree-lined entrance to the park.
John Turturro's Passione
A celebration of the Neapolitan spirit that emanates from Neapolitan music, John Turturro's movie the Passione was primarily shot in Naples poorer neighborhoods, among which is Rione Sanita.
An extremely important area of Naples that once sat just outside the city gate Porta San Gennaro, it was the city's burial center for centuries. Among its most important treasures are the Catacombs of Naples - San Gennaro, San Gaudioso and San Severo, the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, and the renowned Palazzo dello Spagnolo that was the backdrop for Comme Facette Mammeta - How Your Mama Made You in Turturro's Passione.
The characteristic double staircase known as Ali di Falco (Wings of the Hawk) was the design of Neapolitan architect Ferdinando Sanfelice whose design you can also see in Palazzo Sanfelice just up the street. Other locales in Turturro's film include the San Martino Charterhouse, Castel dell'Ovo, Chiaia's Bluestone Club, the remains of Ristorante Lido Pola in Bagnoli, and the streets of Rione Sanita which were the setting for Pietra Montecorvino and Max Casella's Dove Sta Zazà.
Wine Your Way Through the City
The Campanian countryside is well-known for its wines and abundance of vineyards and local wineries, but you don't have to leave the city to experience great wine. Dozens of wine bars have popped up in Naples recently, especially in the chic Chiaia district along Vico Belledonne a Chiaia, Via Bisignano and Via Giuseppe Ferrigini. Our favorite is Enoteca Belledonne on Vico Belledonne a Chiaia.
Another great wine venue is Città del Gusto in Naples western district of Bagnoli. In addition to its restaurant and the Gambero Rosso cooking school, it hosts wine tastings and wine related events throughout the year.
If you happen to be here in May, a week-long celebration of wine starts with an event called Wine and the City. For four days local businesses host events pairing wine with their products, think Wine and Art or Wine and Fashion. This year Wine and the City runs from 18 – 21 May and is followed by one of the greatest wine shows in Italy and the only one dedicated to wines made entirely from indigenous Italian Varietals. Held in the Medieval halls of Castel dell'Ovo, Vitigno Italia runs from May 22 – 24 this year.
Still thirsty for more? Passionate wine enthusiasts can keep up with all Naples and Campania wine events and even earn Italian Sommelier certification through the Naples Chapter of the Italian Sommeliers Association, Associazione Italiana Sommeliers AIS – delegazione di Napoli.
Shop with the locals
Naples boasts some sixty local markets, from the nearly 600 stall shoe market at Poggioreale to tiny street markets of just ten or fifteen vendors.
In fact, for many Neapolitans, shopping daily at the market is still a way of life.
Naples is life lived on the street and there is no better place to experience that than at a local market. One of the very best markets in the city is Naples foremost seafood market, Porta Nolana. Tucked behind the ancient Porta Nolana gate from which the market takes its name, it runs parallel to Corso Garibaldi near the Circumvesuviana station along Via Cesare Carmignano. While the seafood is in abundance there, live clams - le vongole veraci, eel - il capitone and the salted cod - il baccalà, you can also find fresh vegetables, poultry, meat and more. At Christmas time, the market springs to life as shoppers find overflowing tubs filled with the staples of the Neapolitan Christmas dinner, il baccalà and il capitone.
A Secret Villa on Capodimonte Hill
Just up the hill from the Real Albergo dei Poveri, the Bourbon Hospital and Almshouse for the poor at Piazza Carlo III and nestled in the ancient piazza Sant'Eframo Vecchio is the 18th century hunting lodge Villa di Donato.
Carefully restored by its owners, magnolias and palm trees in the gardens in front of the Villa create a dramatic entrance to this historic property. One of only a handful of “house museums” in Naples, the ground floors have become a spectacular backdrop for concerts, art exhibitions and cultural events, while upstairs, well-preserved frescoed hunting scenes on the walls and ceilings are a testament to the pictorial style prevalent during the Bourbon Dynasty. Privately owned, the Villa is only open during events and by special request.
There are many, many more treasures hidden in Naples just waiting to be found.
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