'Around the city'
June 2018/November 2019
Napoli is a big city. One needs several days to walk around its center. There are so many places to visit in the city and you will feel soon overwhelmed.
My advice is to stick only to the most important attractions of the city, otherwise you will end up stressed not being able to visit everything and exhausted.
Remember: the best attraction of a city is its people, its aromas and its colors, not the palazzi, the churches and the museums.
I will describe here the places I visited, devided into three walks.
Walk 1 : The south part of the city (coastal/central Napoli)
Walk 2 : Medieval Napoli
Walk 3 : Vomero area
Walk No 1
Via Chiaia and Pallonetto
I was lucky (or should I say clever?) to book a room in Via Chiaia both times I visited the city recently. Via Chiaia is one of the two central pedestrianized commercial streets in central Napoli.
The other one is Via Toledo. Walking around these two, always full of cheerful people streets, is a pleasure. There are so many shops, cafés and restaurants here.
The two streets meet at piazza Trieste e Trento around which stand the “must-see”: Teatro San Carlo (the Opera House of Napoli); Galleria Umberto I (elegant, glass-and-iron covered gallery built in the late 19th century, housing shops & cafes); and Piazza del Plebiscito (pedestrianized landmark square with equestrian statues), home to the neo-classical Palazzo Reale di Napoli (a 17th century palace with period furnishings, a home theatre & lavish ballroom) and Basilica Reale Pontificia San Francesco da Paola (a Pantheon-style church).
👍 We start our walk around the city from the beginning of Via Chiaia, where stands the famous Gran Caffè Gambrinus. The street continues under the Ponte di Chiaia (an overhead roadway arch), then to Parrocchia Santa Maria Della Mercede to Pallazo Cellamare (located on the curve of the street) and ends at a small tree canopy, that casts thick shade on street cafés and gelaterie (ice cream shops).
North of Via Chiaia starts the area called Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarters). In this neighbourhood the Neapolitan language is stronger than anywhere else. The area consists of a grid of around eighteen streets by twelve, including a population of some 14,000 inhabitants. While Via Chiaia is the southern border of the area, Via Toledo is the eastern border. To the north and west the neighbourhood is limited by the hills.
The Quartieri were created in the 16th century to house Spanish garrisons, hence the name, whose role was to quench revolts from the Neapolitan population. The area has always been one of the poorest/working class areas of the city. Today, besides being still a poor residential area, the neighborhood has been evolved in the culinary and night life heart of the city.
👍 At Ponte di Chiaia there is a public (free) elevator that brings you up to Pizzofalcone Hill. The elevator is rather hided away if you do not know its existence. It is located just under the arch on your left hand coming from Piazza del Plebiscito. This is the easiest and fastest way to visit the neighborhood on the hill called Pallonetto, which is the oldest part of Napoli (actually it existed before Napoli itself). There are of course stairs and steep roads going up from several points around the hill, but it is not that easy, especially for older residents.
In 2009 started the construction of (another) passenger elevator that will connect via Santa Lucia (at sea level) with the top of Mt. Echia. The idea of actually connecting the sea-level sections of Santa Lucia with the top of the hill so residents could get up and down easily instead of walking the long way around was not a bad one. All it would take is a single elevator shaft and a bit of time. But, alas! This is Napoli. Ten years after the begging of works, one can see only the two neglected construction sites, standing there like two huge wounds on the hill’s fragile body. The project seems to have stopped.
Pizzofalcone (also called Monte Echia and Monte di Dio) does not particularly stand out today in Napoli. If you do notice it, it appears as a bulge north of the Castel dell' Ovo.
Today, Pizzofalcone's prominence is obscured by the modern square blocks of tall buildings added to the city during the Risanamento (urban renewal) in 1900 between Mt. Echia and the sea, as well as the very large buildings now built on the hill, itself.
The Nunziatella military academy, a huge red/pink building seems to stand out the most. Another, also red building, Caserma Nino Bixio stands at the very southern tip of Monte Echia, where a "zig zag" road leads to the foothills.
Yet, before there was Castel dell' Ovo, and even before there were Romans in Napoli, this place supported a prehistoric population and was the hill upon which the Greeks later built their city, Parthenope, which then merged with the late-comer, Neapolis (Napoli).
In Roman times, Monte Echia encompassed the famous villa of Lucius Licinius Lucullus, who added the expression "Lucullan splendor" to our vocabularies. His villa and gardens extended down the side of the hill to the waters in front of the isle of Megaride, where the Castel dell' Ovo would later stand.
The rock that Mt. Echia is made of is the classic yellow Neapolitan tuff, the most widely used of all building materials in Naples. The inside of the hill is honeycombed with quarries, caves, aqueducts and tunnels both old and new. These underground spaces include everything from the Greek cavern and Temple of Mithra to the modern Vittoria Tunnel (1929).
👍 At the tip of the hill there is a twisting road that takes from the top to the foothills, just opposite the Castel dell' Ovo. On this road the visitor can see a number of cave houses dug into the ocher colored volcanic rock.
👍 Use the elevator to come back to Via Chiaia. Leave Via Chiaia back and walk towards Piazza dei Martiri.
If you have time, it is worthwhile to turn right (instead of going ahead) to Via Gaetano Filangieri and then Via dei Mille and Piazza Amedeo, where the lower station of one of the three funiculars going up to Vomero is.
The area around these streets and all the way down to Riviera di Chiaia (at the north of the large seaside park known as the Villa Comunale) is an upscale and posh neighborhood. There are galleries, upscale restaurants and expensive boutique shops and designers’ shops.
During the night the area is a bar/cafe/restaurant paradise.
Monumento ai Martiri Napoletani in the center of Piazza dei Martiri was built around a column already standing since the Bourbon period, when the square was called Piazza della Pace. The column was repurposed, and atop now stands a bronze statue depicting the Virtue of the Martyrs. Four lions stand at the corners of the square base, each represent Neapolitan patriots who died during specific anti-Bourbon revolutions:
a) Lion dying - to fallen defending the short lived Parthenopean Republic in 1799. b) Lion pierced by a sword- to fallen during Carbonari revolution of 1820. c) Lion lying down - to fallen during revolution of 1848, with 1848 statutes under paw. d) Lion striding on foot - to fallen during successful Garibaldini Revolt of 1860.
Behind this last lion is a tablet that states: « Alla gloriosa memoria dei cittadini napoletani che caduti nelle pugne o sul patibolo rivendicarono al popolo la libertà di proclamare con patto solenne ed eterno il plebiscito del XXI ottobre MDCCCLX. Il Municipio Consacra».
👍 Exit the triangular square to Via Calabritto, do some window-shopping at Armani, Ferragamo and Valentino and continue to the seafront, passing thru Piazza Vittoria.
On your right starts the long Villa Comunale park, which stretches for more than a kilometer along the shore. This is a great place for walking and jogging.
👍 Instead of going right, turn left on Via Partenope and enjoy the best views of Castel Dell’ Ovo and Capri island (weather permitting). On this seaside avenue were built all the big and luxurious hotels at the turn of the 20th century.
At the end of Via Partenope and opposite Fontana del Gigante, stands Hotel Excelsior built at the beginning of the 20th century.
At this hotel lodge Katherine and Alex Joyce (played by Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) in Rossellini’s 1954 masterpiece “Viaggio in Italia” (Journey to Italy). The film is a tribute to 50’s Napoli.
👍 Before reaching Fontana del Gigante (a monumental white stone fountain designed in the 17th century by Pietro Bernini) there’s no way to miss the entrance to one of the two seaside castles of central Napoli, Castel dell’ Ovo.
The impressive Castel dell'Ovo is located on the former island of Megaride (now an artificially made peninsula).
The entrance to the castle is free of charge and certainly it worth the visit. It is very well preserved and the views from it over the city and the Gulf of Napoli are beautiful.
The castle's name comes from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil, who had a reputation in the Middle Ages as a great sorcerer and predictor of the future.
In the legend, Virgil put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. Had this egg been broken, the castle would have been destroyed and a series of disastrous events for Napoli would have followed. Oh well, the castle still stands strong!
The Castel dell' Ovo is the oldest standing fortification in Napoli. The island of Megaride was where Greek colonists from Cumae founded the original nucleus of the city in the 6th century BC.
Its location affords it an excellent view of the Napoli waterfront and the surrounding area. In the 1st century BC the Roman patrician Lucius Licinius Lucullus built the magnificent villa Castellum Lucullanum on the site. Fortified by Valentinian III in the mid-5th century, it was the site to which the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was exiled in 476. Eugippius founded a monastery on the site after 492.
The remains of the Roman-era structures and later fortifications were demolished by local residents in the 9th century to prevent their use by Saracen raiders. The first castle on the site was built by the Normans in the 12th century. Roger (Roggero) the Norman, conquering Naples in 1140, made Castel dell' Ovo his seat.
The importance of the castle began to decline when king Charles I of Anjou built a new castle, Castel Nuovo, and moved his court there. Castel dell' Ovo became the seat of the Royal Chamber and of the State Treasury. It also served as a prison. Some famous prisoners were: Empress Constance of Holy Roman Empire (1191), who became Queen of Sicily one year later; King Conradin (1268) was imprisoned here before his trial and execution; and Queen Joanna I of Napoli (1381) was also imprisoned here before her final assassination.
The current appearance dates from the Aragonese domination (15th century). It was struck by French and Spanish artillery during the Italian Wars; in the Neapolitan Republic of 1799 its guns were used by rebels to deter the philo-Bourbon population of the city.
Caro Signor Kostas, Grazie mille for your beautiful and informative excursions in Bella Napoli, my favorite city in Italy. I cannot wait to read more! :D