Among the steep slopes of Vesuvius and the beautiful Isle of Capri, a stone’s throw from Pompeii and the marvellous Amalfi Coast, the city’s bustling alleys hide ancient palazzos, Baroque churches and numerous lively piazzas.
Naples is brimming with monuments of great artistic and architectural value such as the Church of San Francesco di Paola located in Piazza del Plebiscito, built in 1816 and inspired by the Roman Pantheon. Also worth visiting is the magnificent 18th-century Palazzo Salerno.
For a city so utterly Italian, it’ hard to believe that Naples only became part of Italy in 1860. Ruled in succession by the Greeks, Romans, Spanish, French and Austrians, the Neapolitan people have nevertheless retained their strong Italic language. The evidence can be seen and heard in the streets of Naples, where southerners of all ages, shapes and sizes greet distant neighbours like family and shout at each other at the top of their lungs.
The first thing visitors notice is that Naples is a living, breathing metropolis, not just a showcase for tourists. In the city’s cathedral courtyards, medieval castle grounds and historic parks and piazzas, Neapolitans live out their lives in the same way that their ancestors did before them. On any given Saturday in front of Santa Chiara, a Gothic church celebrated for its 14th century Majolica-tiled cloister, children spend the afternoon singing and clapping their hands. Adolescents play football. And young men lounge in a patch of shade, waiting for pretty girls to pass by.
Naples is about people as much as places. A trip to the Museo Archiologico, where the best preserved antiquities of Pompeii and Herculaneum are housed, is as equally educational and cultural as Saturday’s fish- and produce market at Piazza Nolana. Not only do grinning Neapolitans push their way past each other to find the best bargain of clams or the freshest parmigianno, they also shop from four flights up. It is not uncommon to see a basket drop out of the sky and dangle above the sidewalk, and an Italian grandmother on a fourth floor shouts down to a baker to exchange the coins in her basket for fresh bread.
After losing yourself in the city for a day, the best way to get an overview of what you’ve seen is to take the funicular up to St Elmo’s Castle. From there, a panorama of Naples unfolds, revealing a view of the entire Campania province. Pick out the city’s famous sites, such as the Duomo, Porto Capuana, Teatro San Carlo and Maschio Angionio, and revel in the magnitude of Mt Vesuvius. Then watch the sun set over Capri and Ischia before heading back home.