Once an important Greek trading post in Fifth Century BC, Naples became part of the Roman Empire two centuries later. The city once had a reputation for crime up until the 1990’s when there was a campaign to rid the corruption.
Gradually, Naples is being spruced up visually to make it more attractive for tourists. It’s not a pretty town by Italian standards, with sooty buildings, smog and during my three day visit a lot of construction sites for new Metro stations.
Upon my arrival, I walked across Piazza Garibaldi from the central train station and wandered along the main street Corso Umberto 1 window-shopping amongst the mix of tourists and local hipsters. Halfway down, I came across the amusingly pun-named clothing store ‘Pizzeria Jeanseria’.
The pizza was invented in Naples in the late 1800’s as food for the poor and named after the then-monarch Queen Margherita. Ordering a pizza in Naples, you quickly realise there is no such thing as a small size and they come with ingenious toppings, besides the locally-grown tasty tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
My first pizza was in a cafe called ‘Nadones’ (via Nardones 10). The menu listed ‘Wurstel e Patatine’; a pizza topped with sausage, French fries and mozzarella. I gave that one a miss and instead devoured a delicious Capricciosa. Afterwards, I was relieved I hadn’t ordered the enticing side-dish ‘Zucchini Scapce’ (fried zucchini, garlic, vinegar and peppermint) as I wouldn’t have been able to fit it in.
Stumbling full-bellied back out onto the street, I saw some remarkable architecture surrounding me. The impressive glass-roofed 24-hour shopping Galleria Umberto 1 looks similar to the famous Galleria in Milan Galleria and elegantly demands you to take a photo of it.
Across the road is Piazza del Plebiscito. A large square with the Church of San Francesco di Paola, which reminded me of a mini Vatican with the curved columns. At the other end of the Piazza is the Royal Palace which was once home to the French Bourbon dynasty who ruled Naples in the 18th Century.
The medieval sandstone Castel Nuovo (New Castle) was built in 1279 and is well preserved considering Naples was bombed during World War II. Surrounded by tourists and touts, the castle is the main stop for the ‘Hop-On, Hop-Off’ bus which is a lazy but comprehensive way to explore Naples attractions.
Naples is an excellent base for daytrips such as to Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius and Mediterranean islands. The ferry terminal next to the castle has regular trips to the islands Ischia, Capri and nearby Procida. There are also links providing easy access to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
Venturing back into Naples old city centre and street shopping, sights are spread out and walkable. No country seems to build religious buildings as stunning as the Italians and Naples has class examples.
The weird and unique façade at Church of Gesù Nuovo was a highlight of mine. The façade was originally built as a Palace in 1470, before Jesuits took over ownership and converted it into a church.
The Duomo of Naples is worth a look in the late afternoon. If visited in the afternoon, the side chapels are open and they were well worth seeing for the interior designs.
The National Archaeological Museum houses artefacts found under the volcanic ash and lava at the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. This museum enhances your visit to those ruins and is Naples most popular attraction.
For an evening meal, many restaurants claim to serve the best pizza in the world to suck in tourists. One pizzeria I found near my accommodation called ‘Pellone’ (via Nazionale 93) looked busy and did not disappoint. The buffalo mozzarella margherita was the freshest and tastiest pizza I’ve tasted.
If pizza started out as food for the poor people, then they ate well and Naples pizza-makers have refined it to a work of art.