The southern Italian city of Naples, in the region of Campania, has the largest historical center in Europe and is a concentration of monuments ranging from Roman times to the Bourbon Empire. The old town of Naples is a mixture of history, art, culture and traditions. A city that should not be understood, but lived. Lose yourself in the noisy and colorful streets, discover the typical stores and let yourself be enveloped by the unique atmosphere of the historic center, which since 1995 has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site part of the city since 1995.
The visit to Naples can start directly in the historic center: a maze of colorful and lively alleys, but also rich in history and tradition. Here are some of the most famous and popular streets of the city, such as Via dei Tribunali, which is one of the main arteries of the city center and is full of pastry stores, restaurants and local craft stores, or Via San Gregorio Armeno, better known as the “Via dei Presepi”, where all year round. Christmas cribs and figurines of popular culture, real small works of art, are sold.
Via Toledo is one of the main streets of the city, a street teeming with people at all times of the day and night. Full of stores, cafes, magnificent noble palaces and beautiful squares. A walk here is a must when visiting Naples, especially if you want to go shopping. But it is also an opportunity to visit one of the most famous metro stations in the world. In fact, the Toledo metro station was designed by Spanish architect Óscar Tusquets and inaugurated in 2012. According to the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph and CNN, it is the most beautiful metro station in Europe. Along the escalators you will be enchanted by an impressive play of lights and unexpected shapes.
Spaccanapoli, on the other hand, is the area that cuts Naples in two. It is very close to the historical center and in this area there are amazing squares, monuments and old churches
Among the most important monuments to visit in Naples is certainly the Cathedral of “San Gennaro”. It is a true masterpiece. Inside are the Basilica of Santa Restituta, the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, the Chapel and the Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro. A very important date for Neapolitans is September 19, when San Gennaro, the patron saint of the city, is celebrated. Tradition says that on September 19 the blood of the patron saint liquefies. If the blood melts quickly, it is a good omen for the city, otherwise it means that it will be a difficult year.
The metro station Toledo in the center of Napoli.Italy. (photo © Papanikos / Shutterstock.com)
The narrow street “Spaccanapoli” and the colorful old buildings in the historic center of Naples, Italy, Napoli. (photo © / poludziber / Shutterstock.com)
The monumental complex of Santa Chiara, also known as “The Cloisters of Santa Chiara”, is a stop not to be missed when touring Naples. The complex is a true oasis of calm, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, where you can breathe a relaxed atmosphere. To admire the charming garden with colorful majolica columns and porticoes with frescoes from the seventeenth century. Built in 1310 at the behest of King Robert of Anjou, the complex also houses a church with a plain facade in which an ancient rose window is set.
In the area of “Spaccanapoli”, just in front of the monumental complex of Santa Chiara, in Piazza del Gesù, stands one of the most elegant churches in Naples: the Church of Gesù Nuovo, built at the end of the XVI century. Besides the magnificent church, in Piazza del Gesù there are also beautiful noble palaces, such as Palazzo Pignatelli di Monteleone, built in the XVII century, and Palazzo Pandola. However, in the center of the square stands the majestic obelisk of the Immaculate Conception. Both the square and the church are always very popular with Neapolitans and tourists.
Another monument not to be missed is Sant’Elmo Castle, which is the highest expression of XVI century military architecture built to defend Naples. From its large terrace you have a wonderful view of Naples, Vesuvius and the Gulf. Inside the castle you can visit the Museum of the Neapolitan Novecento and a small church dedicated to Sant’Erasmo.
The National Museum of Capodimonte is housed in the palace of the same name. The museum houses a contemporary art gallery, an ancient art gallery and a royal apartment and is spread over three floors. Inside there are some works by important artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Bellini and Caravaggio.
On the top floor is the Modern Art Gallery with a pop version of Vesuvius in eruption created by Andy Warhol. The building is surrounded by a large park.
Naples Cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta or Cathedral of San Gennaro in Naples, Campania, Italy. (photo © Mitzo / Shutterstock.com)
View of Piazza del Plebiscito, Napoli, Italy. (photo © Shutterstock.com)
However, one cannot say that one has visited Naples without seeing the majestic Plebiscito Square, one of the symbols of the city. Located at the end of Via Toledo, it is a very large square, so much so that it is considered one of the largest squares in Italy. Framed by an imposing colonnade, here you overlook the Palazzo della Prefettura, the Palazzo Salerno, the Palazzo Reale and the beautiful Basilica of San Francesco di Paola. The latter is considered one of the most important examples of Italian neoclassical architecture and was built in the XIX century at the behest of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. Today this important square is a meeting place for citizens and tourists and a venue for events, concerts and political demonstrations.
Not to be missed is a visit to the Chapel of San Severo to admire the wonderful masterpiece “Il Cristo Velato” (The Veiled Christ). Created in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino, the work of art is carved from a single block of marble and is considered one of the greatest sculptural masterpieces in the world. The life-size statue represents the lifeless body of Jesus covered with a veil. Sanmartino made the statue with an obsessive attention to detail, such as the nail holes on the hands and feet, so everything looks very realistic.
Continue your visit to Naples by walking to the seafront to enjoy a beautiful sunset with the view of Mount Vesuvius in the background. From here you can continue to the castle “Castello Dell’Ovo”, located on a small island overlooking the Gulf of Naples. It is the oldest castle in the city.
Still staying on the seafront, you enter the “Chiaia” neighborhood, the most elegant area of Naples, full of high fashion stores, luxury hotels and prestigious offices. Chiaia overlooks the sea and is a perfect neighborhood to admire the panoramic view of Capri, Vesuvius and the hill Posillipo.
There is also an underground Naples (Napoli Sotteranea), made of tufa caves, Roman galleries, dark and humid tunnels, an aqueduct and many secrets. Through guided tours of about 2 hours, it is possible to enter a little known Naples and discover great monuments, now brought to light and restored thanks to the work of the Association Naples Underground. An evocative path, rich in history and linked to the rediscovery of a unique cultural heritage of its kind.
Another place worth visiting underground in Naples is the Fontanelle Cemetery, a former ossuary located in large tufa caves that cover more than three thousand square meters. Inside are the remains of an undetermined number of people (it is estimated to be over 40,000). The origin of the Fontanelle Cemetery dates back to the 16th century and is also famous because the Rite of the Soul took place here, that is, the adoption and care of a particular skull of an abandoned soul by a Neapolitan in exchange for protection. The atmosphere here is surreal, almost magical.