The phrase “See Naples and die” has been attributed to the writer Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe of Faust fame, meaning that once you had seen Naples there was nothing left to achieve! Naples is certainly a city of great contrasts. The city has a stunning location, lying on the northern coast of the Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius as an impressive backdrop.
Naples is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. Bronze Age relics have been found in the area dating back to 2 centuries BC and the city played an important role in the Greek and later Roman empires. Naples suffered the most bombing of any Italian city during the 2nd World War, since when a great deal of regeneration has taken place, albeit not always of very attractive nature. The city centre combines grimy back streets and crumbling facades with baroque ballrooms and chic nightclubs. Stepping onto Piazza Garibaldi from the Central Station, your main impression will be of wild traffic, shabby street stalls and smooth-talking African salesmen. Wander a little to the south and southwest and you will reach the market quarter with its rough-and-ready markets, multiculturalism and poverty.
If that sounds less than inviting, what can Naples offer the city break visitor? The answer would seem to be ….plenty. The historic city centre is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is well worth just spending a few hours wandering amongst the narrow lanes of the historic central area, fast and frantic with little shops which have changed little over the last few centuries.
The city’s NationalArchaeologicalMuseum houses one of the most remarkable collections of Roman art and artifacts anywhere, including massive frescoes and mosaic panels as well as sculpture taken from Pompeii and Herculaneum. For a contrast to the hectic streets of the city centre visit the Santa Chiara Monastery which has a very attractive and peaceful cloister, a garden, and beautiful 17th century frescoes under the arches of the walkways.
Naples is the main transportation hub for southern Italy with several major train lines. Ferries and hydrofoils run from Molo Beverello to the islands of Capri, Ischia, Procida, and Sardinia. For visitors to Naples a day trip to Capri is a “must”. The Blue Grotto, Capri’s famous sea cave, is famous for the intense azure blue of its waters. No short break to Naples would be complete without a trip out to Mount Vesuvius and to the Roman ruins at either Pompeii or Herculaneum. Herculaneum probably beats Pompeii for the completeness of its preservation, though it attracts fewer tourists. Smaller in size than Pompeii, the site reveals just one corner of the former town, destroyed in the earthquake of 79AD. Unlike Pompeii, its burial was deep enough to ensure the upper storeys of buildings remained intact, and the hotter ash preserved wooden household objects such as beds and doors and even food. The Circumvesuviana suburban railway makes travel from Naples to the archaeological sites extremely simple although visiting them both in one day would be quite a marathon. To make the most of the sites it is best to allow a whole day in Pompeii, and make a separate trip to Herculaneum.