The southern Italian city of Naples (Napoli in Italian) is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world and the third-largest metropolis in Italy, after Rome and Milan. Its city center is the largest in Europe covering 4,200 acres and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Naples is home to numerous culturally and historically significant sites, including the Palace of Caserta and the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The port of Naples receives the world’s second highest level of passenger flow following Hong Kong, with 1.5 million passengers annually. Cruise ships dock at Stazione Marittima, a large terminal located right in the city center, near Piazza Municipio. The cruise terminal has 7 docks and 7 moving walkways. You will be surprised by how easily you can get around Naples on foot. Points of interest are almost on every corner and distances are short allowing one to reach a particular spot in a matter of minutes. The city is also notable for originating pizza, the culinary delight known and loved throughout the world. “Vera Pizza Napoletana” (True Neapolitan Pizza) is the original pizza margherita, with tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella.
Spend even a brief period in Naples, and you’ll inevitably hear the words, “mozzarella di bufala.” Mozzarella was first made near Naples from the rich milk of water buffalos. To this day it is widely known that the best and most highly prized artisanal produced buffalo mozzarella is still found south of Naples near Battipaglia and Caserta where small factories continue centuries-old traditions making buffalo mozzarella fresh daily for their local customers, who line up at the factories to buy this delicacy.
During World War II, Naples was the most bombed city in Italy. There were about 200 air strikes between 1940 to 1944 by Allied forces, with 180 raids on the city in 1943. Many of its 20th-century buildings were constructed under Mussolini’s government and during reconstruction efforts after WWII. The city is a hotchpotch of architectural styles, with elegant 18th-century palazzos rubbing shoulders with 1970’s-Soviet-style concrete blocks.
The Gulf of Naples (Golfo di Napoli in Italian) stretches 9 miles and opens to the west into the Mediterranean Sea. East of the Gulf, you will find Mount Vesuvius, whose eruption in AD 79 led to the complete obliteration of Pompeii and Herculaneum. These towns were excavated and made accessible to the public in the mid-18th century. The impressive remains provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world. Vesuvius has erupted many times since and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years.
On January 10, 1970, twenty nuclear torpedo sea mines were alleged to have been laid by a Soviet attack submarine in the Gulf of Naples in an effort to destroy or deny access to the US Seventh Fleet. It is believed that the sea mines are still on the seabed.
Located on the former island of Megaride on the Gulf of Naples is the Castel dell’Ovo ( Egg Castle in Italian). The castle’s name derives from a legend involving the Roman poet, Virgil. In the legend, Virgil put a magical egg into the foundation to support the fortifications. If by chance the egg had been broken, the castle would be destroyed and a series of disastrous events would have befallen the city of Naples. Castel dell’Ovo first served as the seat of the conquering Norman ruler in 1140 but its significance began to decline over the years. Today, the castle is connected by a causeway that is a popular place for newlyweds to have their wedding photos taken.
Thirteen minutes away from the Castel you will find Santa Chiara, a religious complex that includes the Church of Santa Chiara, a monastery, tombs and an archeological museum. The complex was built in 1313-1340 by Queen Sancha of Majorca and her husband King Robert of Naples. The grand “Majolica Cloister” of the Clarissans is famous for its majolica tiles. There are two large internal walkways that meet in the center and substantial garden areas. With the themes and bright colors of the decorations one wonders if this cloister in its time was more of a garden of delights than simply place of prayer.
By all aspects, Naples is a lively and vibrant city, full of wonderful historical and artistic treasures making it worth at least a few days visit.
Photo Credits: Mika Panzaroni