Many people choose to skip Naples in favour of spending time further down the Amalfi Coast, joining the cruise ship crowds at Pompeii, Positano and Capri but this would be a mistake. If you can get past the rather shabby exterior that the city of Naples presents, then you will discover a hidden wealth of history, art and culture.
Not far from the central Piazza del Plebiscito is Pizzeria Brandi where Raffaele Esposito was commissioned to provide Queen Margherita with a pizza. Legend says that she favoured a pizza of tomato, mozzarella and basil (emulating the red, white and green colours of the Italian flag). Esposito named the pizza margherita in honour of the Queen and she seemingly repaid him by sending a thank you note and allowing him to use the royal seal on his pizzeria. However, recent research by the Umbra Institute in Perugia suggests that the royal letter displayed in the restaurant is a fake.
But was pizza really invented by the Italians. History suggests that many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean people were eating a variation of it long before the Italians and it was originally conceived as a meal for the poor.
Regardless of history, pizza is popular all over the world but you won’t find better pizza than the ones in Naples. Most pizzerias cook them in traditional wood-burning, brick ovens and although you can choose a seemingly infinite variety of toppings it’s best to stick to the basics and order a pizza margherita.
Museums / Art
Naples is widely known for its wealth of historical museums. The National Archaeological Museum contains extensive collections of Roman artefacts, including many items discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum. One of the best exhibits is the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. The giant classical marble statues and the Egyptian collection are also worth visiting, while the Secret Cabinet collection is strictly for adults only!
The Museo di Capodimonte, a former Bourbon palace offers a glimpse of 18th century royal apartments and a gallery featuring paintings by some major Italian artists such as Titian and Carravagio. There is also a contemporary art exhibition that includes a painting of Vesuvius by Andy Warhol. If it’s a nice day then make sure you appreciate the beautiful gardens that surround the palace.
Galleria Umberto I is a huge, ornate shopping arcade in Naples, designed by Emanuele Rocco and Francesco Paolo Boubèe and completed in 1890. When you enter, you can’t help but gaze up at the 184ft-high, arched glass roof which on a sunny day allows the light to flood into the arcade. The marble indoor streets host many designer shops and galleries, as well as the luxury Hotel Art Resort.
Nearby, Via Toledo is a prosperous, pedestrian shopping street that runs from Piazza Plebiscito to the Archaeological Museum. Wealthy Italians come here to find a little black Gucci dress or Armani suit, while tourists may briefly stop in McDonalds before rushing on to the next site in their lonely planet guidebook.
If you are a football fan then you will probably know that Argentinean football coach Diego Maradona used to play for SSC Napoli in the 1980s. He helped to lead the club to victory in 1987 and 1990, and there is a shrine dedicated to him in the heart of Spaccanapoli. The shrine contains a photograph of a young, handsome looking Maradona, as well as a lock of hair from his head.
These days he is more well known for his battle with cocaine and the famous ‘Hand of God’ handball incident, which knocked England out of the 1986 World Cup.
Unfortunately Naples has a reputation for crime and not just the petty pickpocketing kind. In 2004/2005 almost 50 people died during a turf war between Camorra gangs in the city. The Camorra is the Neapolitan equivalent of the Mafia. But you are unlikely to witness such a crime during a brief stay in Naples.
As a traveller or tourist you are more likely to fall victim to the pickpockets who ride the public transport systems or the knife wielding scooter thieves who snatch your bag while you walk down the narrow streets. Other scams include distraction techniques. A friend of mine was robbed of his wallet while being assisted in buying a ticket for the underground.
The best way to avoid a visit to the police station is to keep you money and passport in a money belt safely tucked inside your trousers and your wallet/purse at the bottom of a well closed, thick daysac worn with both straps. If you need to consult your map or guidebook, then do so inside a shop where you are less conspicuous, and when sitting outside in a café or restaurant put the chair leg through the strap of your bag to prevent someone walking off with it. Finally leave your expensive Rolex watch and gold jewellery at home so that you can have a crime free and stress free trip.