'Around the city'
Napoli is a big city. One needs several days to walk around it's 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.
Besides, the best attraction of a city is its people, its aromas and its colors, not the palazzi, the churches and the museums.
Via Chiaia and Pallonetto
I was lucky (or should I say clever?) to book a room in Via Chiaia. Via Chiaia is one of the two central pedestrianized commercial streets in central Napoli.
The other one is Via Toledo. Walking around these two streets is a pleasure itself. There are so many shops, cafés and restaurants here and always full of cheerful people.
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); 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 filled with sculpture & paintings); and Castel Nuovo, medieval fortress with 5 towers & a Renaissance triumphal arch, plus civic art museum & chapel.
We’ll start our walk from Via Chiaia, the famous street that starts at Piazza del Plebiscito (where the famous Gran Caffè Gambrinus is), continues under the Ponte di Chiaia (the 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 geleterie.
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.
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.
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 end of Via Chiaia, under the shady canopy, we had our first coffee in Napoli at Sugar Queen.
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 till Piazza Amedeo, where one of the three funiculars going up to Vomero neighborhood has its lower station. 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.
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, thru Piazza Vittoria.
On your right starts the long Villa Comunale park, that 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 one of the two seaside castles of central Napoli, Castel dell’ Ovo.
Castel dell'Ovo is an impressive seaside castle located on the former island of Megaride (now an artificially made peninsula).
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.
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 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.
In the 19th century a small fishing village called Borgo Marinaro, which is still extant, developed around the castle's eastern wall.
After a long period of decay, the site got its current appearance during an extensive renovation project started in 1975.
It is now known for its marina, fish restaurants and bars.
Continue on Via Nazario Sauro and enjoy the stanning view of Vesuvius and the Gulf of Napoli. When you reach Statue d'Umberto I turn sharply left and after a couple of blocks you are in Via Santa Lucia.
Turn on the left and on a small alley, perpendicular to Via Santa Lucia (Via Vincenzo de Giovanni di Santa Severina) and opposite Conad City supermarket, you see a small trattoria called “A’ Tiella e patrizia e Ninona”. If it is to have only one full lunch in Napoli, this is the place. A genius traditional Sicilian trattoria with excellent food at low prices. Choose the fixed price Menu and for 15€ you have primo, secondo and coffee. The restaurant is really tiny, no more than 25 seats inside. Locals come here during their lunch break and families enjoy their dinner in an atmosphere where the room with tables and the kitchen are practically all one not by choice, but out of necessity. The only drawback, is the bad ventilation in the restaurant and expect you to smell like fried squid afterwards. When the weather is good try to get one of the 5-6 tables they have on a patio by the street, as we did during our visit. Staff is sufficiently courteous and friendly. We promised to come back, but alas we did not have time. Next time we are in Napoli for sure.
Continue on via Santa Lucia towards the east and the Giardini del Molosiglio. On your right hand you’ll see the Basilica of Santa Lucia a Mare.
The church is so called because it was once a few steps from the beach. The legent says that it was founded by a nephew of the emperor Constantine. It belonged to the Basilian monks (monks who follow the rule of Saint Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea) who had a convent on the nearby islet of Megaride, where today is Castel dell' Ovo and later the church passed to the nuns of Santa Patrizia, a female branch of the same order. It was largely restored and modified in 1588 by the will of the abbess Eusebia Minadoa.
In 1845, the reorganization of the urban area and the landfills caused the burial of the original structure, on which the present temple was built. The new church bombed in 1943 during the Second World War and rebuilt soon after.
Saint Lucia is the protector of the eyes, of the blind, eye doctors, electricians and masons.
There is also a common popular exclamation in Italy, "Oh Santa Lucia!" when you have been long looking for something which is actually under your nose and you finally find it.
So, it is not much of a surprise that in 1957 the church was visited by a famous pilgrim: Totò, afflicted by a serious visual disturbance that prevented him from working; after a few months of treatment, his eyes improved so much that he allowed the actor to go back to acting in front of the camera.
Piazza del Plebiscito
This impressive square did not look anything like what it looks today. In 1994 they decided to converted it from a gigantic parking lot into a grand square for people to walk around in. The public reaction to that change was favorable, even from those who had to find somewhere else to park their cars. Since that time the square has served as a playground, a parade ground, a venue for all kinds of celebrations and music events.
The Palazzo Reale
Teatro San Carlo
Teatro San Carlo, the most ancient opera house in the world, is part of the royal palace complex and its main entrance on Via San Carlo is just across Galleria Umberto I.
“Do you wish to know whether a spark of this devouring flame inspires you? then run, fly to Naples and listen to the masterpieces of Leo, Durante Jommelli and Pergolesi”. (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dictionnaire de Musique).
“The first impression is that you have been transported to the palace of an oriental emperor. Your eyes are dazzled, your soul enraptured...” (Stehdhal, Rome, Naples et Florence, 1817).
Piazza Municipio & Castel Nuovo
Palazzo San Giacomo (Municipio) & Fontana del Nettuno
There are very few pieces of sculpture that have traveled as much as this one. This fountain was built in 1601 by the Arsenal. It was built on the order of Enrico de Guzman, the Spanish viceroy at the time and was situated so that it faced his residence.
In 1629, it was transported to Largo di Palazzo (now Piazza del Plebiscito), but since it hindered the festivals held in the plaza there, the fountain was again moved to Borgo Santa Lucia, near Castel dell' Ovo.
In 1638, it was again moved, this time to Largo delle Corregge, today Via Medina. During the revolt of Masaniello in 1647, the statue was damaged. Further damage occurred during the sacking of Napoli in 1672 by the Viceroy Pedro Antonio de Aragón.
In 1675, it underwent restoration and was moved to the Molo Grande.
This migratory fountain has continued to move through Naples: in 1886, it was dismantled, to reappear in 1889 in Piazza Plaza della Borsa (now Plaza Giovanni Bovio), where it stood till 2000, when she was returned to Via Medina to allow for work on the Napoli Metro. Indeed, they finished the station at Piazza Borsa in 2011, but instead of returning Neptune to that site, they put in its place a large statue of king Victor Emanuele II.
So, the decided to move it finally to Piazza Municipio after works for the metro station Municipio finish. Indeed in 2015, Napoli’s most travelled fountain is now in front of the city hall and Neptune stares down across the entire length of the still unfinished metro construction site to the main passenger terminal of the port of Naples. It's probably a better location since it's a pedestrian zone and you can now walk completely around the fountain and see it from all angles.