Naples travel guide

Naples in Italy

Naples (Napoli in Italian) is the capital of the region of Campania, in southwest Italy. Naples is the third largest city in Italy (after Rome and Milan) in terms of population, which reaches approximately one million inhabitants only in the metropolitan area. Naples is located in a very "naturalistic" spot, close to the volcano Vesuvius, the Campi Flegrei area and in a wonderful gulf. In 1995 the historic centre of Naples was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


History

It seems that the origin of this city is linked with several legends surrounding the Siren (Sirens are female creatures of the Greek Mythology that lured sailors with their enchanting voice) Parthenope. According to the most popular legend, she committed suicide because Ulysses was not enchanted by the Sirens' song. Her body reached the small isle of Megaride, where Naples firstly raised. However, from the historical sources, we know that Naples was a Greek colony; in fact, Greek traders first settled on the island of Ischia (ninth century BC), then moved to Cuma and, only in the sixth century BC, they founded the city called Partenope on the isle Megaride. This was mostly a commercial stopover for the traders to keep contact with Greece, but later on expanded and become a village.

In 470 BC, the Greeks inhabiting Cuma decided to found a new city, situated east of the old village Partenope and they decided to call it Neapolis (Greek: “Νεάπολις”, which translates to “new city”), which soon became one of the most important Greek colonies in Italy together with Taranto and Cuma. The new city faced two enemies: the bellicose Samnites and the powerful Romans. In particular, the initially friendly relationship with Rome was soon replaced by hostility under the pressure of the other Greek colonies, and Neapolis found itself fighting against the Romans, who won in the final battle in 326 BC. Neapolis was, then, included among the allies of Rome and could keep its institutions and habits. After all, Neapolis was an important transmission vehicle of Greek culture and civilisation that soon became the residence of many important and noble Romans, such as the emperors Tiberius, Nero and Claudius or the poets Cicero, Horace, Virgil and Pliny the Elder, who also moved there to learn the Greek language.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, many vicissitudes happened. In AD 536 emperor Giustinian sent General Belisarius to conquer the city which became Byzantine. In 542 Neapolis was invaded by the Goths, who defeated the Byzantines. In 553, the latter took again control of the city. In 661, after the repel of Vandals and Lombards, the Byzantines allowed the city to have its own government and its own duke, Basilius. The duchy of Naples lasted until 1137.

In order to deal with its enemies, Naples was helped by several allies, such as the Normans, who helped the city against the expansion of another city, called Benevento, and they were given the feud of Aversa as a reward. They started their own expansion in the south of Italy and, through an agreement with the current duke of Naples, they imposed their power on the city in 1137, still allowing it to keep high autonomy. The city spent a period of peace under the Normans until 1191 when, with Tancred of Hauteville's death, the German king Henry VI took control of the whole south of Italy.

After the death of Henry VII, Frederick II ascended. In the beginning, his relationship with the city was hostile until his visit in 1220–1222, when he approved of the restoration of the city with the reorganisation of the public administration, justice, army and trade. He loved being surrounded by poets, scholars and philosophers and created the University of Naples. In 1266, Charles of Anjou, brother of the King of France, defeated Manfred, the last Swabian king, at Benevento and gained the crown of the Swabian reign appointing Naples as the capital of the reign. He faced several riots during his reign, as well as the loss of Sicily after the Sicilian Vespers in 1282. In 1309 Robert ascended and Joanna II closed the dynasty in Italy.

In 1442 the King of Sicily, Alfonso V of Aragon sieged and conquered the city. He was succeeded by his son Ferrante who had to fight a war against Florence, defend himself from the new claims of the d'Anjou family and the plots of the Barons of the reign. When King Ferrantino died, the reign was ruled by viceroys for more than two centuries. These viceroys were appointed from Madrid and caused a strong discontent that led to riots and uprisings, such as the revolt of Masaniello in 1647. During the War of the Spanish Succession, Austria took Naples in 1707, but Spain regained it in 1734, when Charles III was appointed King of Spain. As he was recalled in Madrid, Charles III left his son, Ferdinand, to reign in Naples, but the revolutionary spirit of France soon arrived in Naples too. Liberal ideas started to spread among the intellectuals, while the king tried to repress them. In 1799 the French general Championnet entered the city obliging Ferdinand to escape to Palermo, where a British fleet was waiting to protect him. The Neapolitan Jacobins proclaimed the Parthenopaean Republic supported by the French but the counter-revolutionary religious army defeated the French and made them leave. In 1805 Napoleon took control of the city putting to the throne his brother Joseph Bonaparte. In 1808 Joachim Murat was appointed king by Napoleon and for his personality he was widely accepted and loved by Neapolitans. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily merged into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with Naples as capital. In 1861 the city was included to the Kingdom of Italy.


Attractions

  • Spaccanapoli: Spaccanapoli is the street starting from the Quartieri Spagnoli and leading to Forcella, which divides Naples in two. The origin of this street is very ancient, in fact, it is one of the three decumani in which the Romans organised the city. On this street one can find old palaces and churches but also legendary places.
  • The Royal Palace: At the end of the year 1500, the visit to Naples of the King of Spain Philip III created some disorder, since in the city there was no proper place to host the most powerful man of the world. Thus, the current viceroy ordered the construction of the Royal Palace, which was built in only two years (1600–1602). Important places to visit here are the Royal Chambers, the Royal Chapel, the gardens and the theatre. 
  • The Archeological Museum: the Archeological museum was inaugurated in 1816 and nowadays is one of the most important in the world for the quality and quantity of the works hosted. King Ferdinand IV wanted to build in Naples a massive centre for arts and this is the reason why the museum was created. Together with the findings in Pompeii, the museum hosts Greco-Roman remnants, Etruscan and Egyptian antiquities and ancient coins belonging to private collections. The museum also hosts a section dedicated to romantic frescoes and sculptures.
  • Sansevero Chapel and the Veiled Christ: The Veiled Christ is one of the most mysterious and interesting works one can find in Naples. The legend tells that the marble veil covering Christ's body was, in reality, a tissue transformed in rock by a powerful alchemic liquid invented by the Prince of San Severo. Others says that the similarity to a real veil is due to the artist Giuseppe Sanmartino, who realised the work. The finding of a secret chamber and macabre works, in the chapel, added to the mysterious aura of the place.
  • Subterranean Naples: the city we see nowadays was build with the volcanic tuff taken from the bowels of Naples, and many passages, tunnels and burrows, used for many purposes were created. In the subterranean city people led a completely different life, particularly during the bombing of WWII. It is also the place, where ghosts and legends live, such as the "munaciello", the mischievous being that is believed to steal things from the people whom it does not like.
  • Castel Nuovo: Castel Nuovo (in English New Castle), also known as Maschio Angioino, was started to be built in 1279, when the capital of the Kingdom of Naples was moved from Palermo to Naples under the reign of Charles I of Anjou. The castle represented the symbol of the city and it was a site of important events. The castle has a trapezoidal plant with five towers. In the yard there is a portico with lowered arches, typical of the Spanish palaces. Nowadays it hosts the Civic Museum.
  • Capodimonte Museum and Park: The old Bourbons Royal Residence hosting the Museum of Capodimonte is one of the nicest green areas of the city. The museum collects works of some of the greatest painters, such as Botticelli, Goya, Tiziano and Caravaggio. Along the 110 chambers and the three floors of the museum, one can really breath the history. The path inside the palace starts from the Farnese Gallery and the Royal Chambers to the second floor with the Neapolitan Gallery to the eighteenth century collection and the Contemporary Art exhibition. Some collections concerning numismatics and precious ceramics are very interesting.


Around Naples

Naples and Campania boast a variety of attractions and places to see. Thus, if one would like to visit something outside of the city, one can go for example to the Amalfi Coast, which is very well known for its beauty, or the islands in the Gulf of Naples, such as Capri, Procida and Ischia and even the city of Sorrento. Caserta and its famous Royal Residence is also very interesting to visit. For the archaeology lovers, Peastum with its temples and painted tombs, and Pompeii and Herculaneum are also worth the visit. The two latter cities were destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in AD 79 and after many years of excavations they have been brought again to the light. Finally, one can also visit the Vesuvius volcano itself and the area of the Phlegraean Fields, a 13-kilometre caldera including 24 craters and volcanic edifices, which was said to be the mythological place of the god Vulcan.


Shopping

Naples is still one of the cheapest cities in Italy. One can buy here everything depending on his/her budget. One can find here the international brands' shops located in Via di Mille, via Chiaia, Via Poerio and Via Calabritto or the cheaper brands situated in Via Roma and Corso Umberto I. In Naples one can also find many open markets.
As a tourist one can also be involved in improvised transactions. Be a little bit careful of this, as it has happened to more than one person to believe that he/she had just bought e.g. a mobile phone, but in fact he/she went back home with just an empty box. Shop using the traditional ways!


Gastronomy

Everybody likes pizza, but not everyone knows that pizza was invented in Naples by Raffaele Esposito, who first created the pizza Margherita in honour of the homonymous Queen. Neapolitan pizza dough is made with water, flour, yeast and salt and it has high and savoury borders.

Neapolitan gastronomy is very wide and differentiated; if one names an Italian dish, then most probably this dish was invented or enhanced in Naples, such as ragù alla Napoletana, braciola (thin slices of meat rolled as a roulade with cheese and bread crumbs and fried), soffritto (a preparation similar to the French mirepoix, made with olive oil, garlic, shallot, leek and herbs), salty pies and sweets like babà (small yeast cake saturated in hard liquor and filled with whipped cream or pastry cream), struffoli (deep fried balls of dough crunchy outside and light inside and mixed with honey and other sweet ingredients), sfogliatelle (are shell shaped filled pastries) and pastiera pastiera (cake made with ricotta cheese and typical of Easter time).

Map of Naples with hotels

The blue pins with the letter H indicate the location of various hotels in Naples. Click on the blue pin for more information about a specific hotel.