When it comes to the beauty of southern Italy and all that golden sunshine I could happily get lost in it all and wander round for evermore. At this rate we armchair travelers may never get out of Italy but then who cares. There is so much to do and see and delight in.
Naples is Italy’s third largest city as well as one of its oldest and most artistic. There are many lovely churches and cathedrals, museums to enjoy and the shining Mediterranean Sea. Don’t worry if you see some sites that look a bit dirty and worn it is what is to be expected in any big city but looking beyond that there are many treasures to uncover.
Step into The National Archaeological Museum of Naples and enjoy seeing one of the world’s finest collections of Greco-Roman artifacts. At one time this building was a cavalry barracks and later on the city university’s seat. The museum was established by the Bourbon King Charles VII in the late 18th century. He needed a place to store the antiquities that he inherited from his mother and a place to put the treasures that were taken from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Some of the highlights are the popular Toro Farnese or Farnese Bull sculpture and a series of impressive mosaics from Pompeii’s Casa del Fauno. You can purchase a museum guide to the collection and audio guides in English.
In the basement you’ll find the Borgia collection of Egyptian relics and epigraphs, on the ground floor is the Farnese collection of colossal Greek and Roman sculptures featuring the Toro Farnese and muscular Ercole or Hercules. Both of these sculptures are to be admired. The bull sculpture was sculpted in the early 3rd century A.D. It was carved from a single block of marble and discovered in 1545 near the Baths of Caracella in Rome. The sculpture was then restored by Michelangelo and then shipped to Naples in 1787. Hercules fared far worth than the bull. This sculpture was found in the same Roman excavations as the bull however it was missing its legs and there were later discovered and the Bourbons had them attached. On the mezzanine floor you can delight in a wonderful collection of mosaics mostly from Pompeii. In the Gaminetto Segreto or Secret Chamber you can see a small collection of ancient erotica.
On the first floor you’ll find the huge Sala Meridiana or Great Hall of the Sundial and the Farnese Atlante – a statue of Atlas with a globe on his shoulders. There are also various paintings from the Farnese collection. Looking straight up you’ll be delighted by the very colorful 1781 fresco the art work of Pietro Bardellino. In the painting the Triumph of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon and Marie Caroline of Austria is depicted. On display are also many other discoveries from various archaeological sites as well as wall frescoes, sculptures, ceramics, glassware, engraved coppers and Greek funerary vases.
Certosa e Museo di San Martino
This museum has found its home in a Neapolitan Baroque charterhouse that was founded as a Carthusian monastery in the 14th century. In the church and the rooms you can see many different frescoes and paintings the art work of the best Italian artists of the 17th century such as Francesco Solimena, Massimo Stanzione, Giuseppe de Ribera and Battista Caracciolo. In the nave you’ll find the inlaid marble work of Cosimo Fanzago.
The smaller cloister the Chiostro dei Procuratori has a grand corridor that leads to the larger cloister Chiostro Grande. It was designed by Dosio in the late 16th century and later added onto by Fanzago. There are Tuscan-Doric porticoes, a lovely garden and marble statues. The sinister skulls that can be seen mounted on the balustrade were a reminder to the monks of their mortality.
Nearby is the small Sezione Navale that documents Bourbon naval history from 1734 to 1860 and has a small collection of royal barges. The Sezone Presepiale has a rare collection of nativity scenes dating from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the colossal Cuciniello creation covering one wall of the former monastery kitchen. In the Quarto del Priore you can see a large picture collection and one of the museum’s most famous displays Madonna and Child with the Infant John the Baptist by Pietro Bernini.
Of particular interest is the display of Images and Memories of Naples and here you’ll find portraits of historic characters, antique maps and there are rooms that have been dedicated to major historical events like the Revolt of the Masaniello (Room 36) and the plague (Room 37). The lovely Tavola Strozzi or Strozzi Table can be found in Room 32.
Take the time to visit the impressive Naples Cathedral initiated by Charles I of Anjou in 1272 and consecrated in 1315. There was a lot of damage done to the cathedral in an earthquake in 1436. A neo-Gothic facade was added in the late 19th century. Inside you’ll see the gilded coffered ceiling in the central nave studded with late-Mannerist art. The high sections of the nave and the transept are the art work of Baroque artist Luca Giordano.
To the left is the Cappella di San Gennaro or Chapel of the Treasury from the 17th century designed by Giovanni Cola di Franco. The most celebrated artists of this period worked on the chapel. In a strongbox behind the altar tucked away is a 14th century silver bust holding the skull of San Gennaro and two phials of his blood.
In the next chapel is an urn that holds the saint’s bones and more bones are in a cupboard and more remains can be found in the Renaissance chapel. Off of the north aisle is one of Naple’s oldest basilicas dating back to the 4th century. There is also an archaeological zone with the remains of Greek and Roman buildings and roads. Here you’ll also find the oldest baptistry in Western Europe with amazing 4th century mosaics.
In the Latin epic poem Aeneid by Virgil it is written that Aeneas descended into the underworld from Lago d’Averno. Knowing this you would expect this to be some kind of horrid place. Instead here you’ll see a tranquil place with old vineyards and citrus groves that line this ancient crater. The lake now has a walking track going round it. The name of the lake derives from a Greek word that means “without birds” and legend has it that birds who flew over the lake would fall out of the sky. It is thought that once the lake released poisonous volcanic gases. This lake was useful to Roman General Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa as he was able to link the lake to nearby Lago Lucrino and the sea and wound up turning this into a strategic naval dockyard in 37 B.C. Today you can see the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and it had an impressive domed roof but today only four of the great arched windows have survived.
On hot and sultry Italian summer evenings Neapolitans head for the Piazza Dante. Here you can see families in the square eating, playing cards, children running and so on. On the east side of the square is the huge facade of the Convitto Nazionale. Dominating over all is the large marble statue of Dante. The Dante metro station has become like an art gallery. Going down the escalator you can see Queste Cose Visibili or These Visible Things by Joseph Kosuth and a huge and neon bright quote from Dante’s II Convivio. At the bottom of the escalator is the art work of Jannis Kounellis – renegade train tracks running over abandoned shoes. Then above the second set of escalators is the art work of Michaelangelo Pistoletto – Intermediterraneo – a giant mirror map of the Mediterranean Sea.
To enjoy the view of the sea and boats on the water head on over to Borgo Marino. Here you can dine on seafood and enjoy cocktails under starry skies. Legend has it that this is the place where the heartbroken siren Partenope apparently washed ashore when she failed to seduce Ulysses with her song. Here the Greeks first settled the city in the 7th century naming the island Megaris.
Here you can see the large Castel dell’Ovo that according to legend this castle owes its name to Roman poet Virgil, who supposedly buried an egg on this site and warned everyone that when the egg breaks then both the castle and Naples will fall. The Normans built this castle and it is the oldest in the city. Today there are regular art exhibitions in the castle and it is worth a climb to the castle for spectacular views of the sea.
These are just some of the highlights there are still so many more things to see and do in the city. While you are trying to decide what you like the best about Naples or Napoli listen to this fun song about the city sung by Dean Martin.