|Cunard Queen Victoria 2018
Mediterranean Cruise part 5 - Naples
Naples is Italy‘s third largest city and is one of its oldest and most artistic. It is situated on the bay of Naples opposite the imposing Mount Vesuvius. Naples is also the perfect gateway to visit the fascinating ruins of Pompeii or Herculaneum and the enchanting Isle of Capri. The surrounding Amalfi coastline has charming towns teetering on the edges of cliffs or nestled into deep gorges.
Naples was founded by the Greeks more than two and a half thousand years ago, retaining a decidedly Greek character even after the Roman occupation. The city later suffered during wars with the Goths and didn't achieve full independence until the 8th century. After four hundred years of independence it was incorporated into the greater Kingdom of Naples. The city's position as the sect of this kingdom continued until the middle of the 19th century and it was ruled in succession by Europe's most powerful dynasties the Hohenstaufens, the Angevins, the kings of Aragon, Spain and Austria, and the emperor Napoleon. Finally, under Garibaldi the liberator of Italy it become part of the kingdom of Sardinia. Naples suffered greatly under bombardment during World War II and was not systematically rebuilt. Indeed, throughout its history as an industrial city development has always been patchy. The newest industries (now computers and electronics) have sprung up alongside the existing (motor vehicles and steel) which themselves have never completely replaced the old (wool, linen, silk, wine, perfume, porcelain, jewellery and olive oil). Today, evidence of all these industries mixes with relics from the Greeks and Romans and a wealth of architecture from the Renaissance onwards
Naples is known as one of the most beautifully situated cities in Europe. It is also one of the liveliest and most colourful, with a character all its own. It rises from the sea and spreads to fill a magnificent natural amphitheatre, its mazy, crazy streets disclose historic treasures around every corner and there are a great many corners. Naples, they say, never goes to bed, and the spirit of this great, vibrant place is hard to resist. It also has a reputation for pickpockets and mugging tourists who wear fancy watches or carry expensive cameras. One can meander from castle to castle, from cathedral to palace through bustling streets some narrow and paved with lava whilst other streets are wide, modern and lined with the smartest shops and you’re bound to be caught up in the exuberant atmosphere.
Naples’ centro storio (historic centre) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its archaeological treasures are among the world’s most impressive, and its collection of Palaces, Castles and Churches make Rome look positively provincial. And then there’s the food. Naples is blessed with rich volcanic soils, a bountiful sea, and centuries of culinary know how making the region one of Italy’s epicurean centres, serving up the country’s best pizza, pasta and coffee, and many of its most celebrated seafood dishes, street snacks and sweet treats. As written in our Cunard guide to Naples : "Naples’ urban sprawl can seem anarchic, tattered and unloved at a first glance but look beyond and you will uncover a city of breathtaking frescoes, sculptures and panoramas, of unexpected elegance, of spontaneous conversations and profound humanity" making it one of Italy’s most-unlikely masterpiece.
Despite all the historic interest in Naples we have never properly explored the town during previous visits instead chosing to go to Pompeii, Herculaneum or Capri so it was time to address this shortfall by spending one day visiting the city. Two possibilities attracted us although they were in opposite parts of town. Firstly we had seen a large number of Belem, Spanish nativity scenes, during our Christmas cruises and, to our surprise, we had learnt that the majority of the figures were manufactured in the historic centre of Naples. The shops are along the Via San Gregorio Armeno which is only a few minutes walk from the Cathedral of San Gennaro. San Gennaro was beheaded and martyred in 305 and his preserved congealed blood liquifies miraculously three times each year. There is plenty to see in the historic centre. However the area along the waterfront also contained many interesting public buildings and we had read about a tour of the Borbon underground tunnels which was part of a guided walking tour of the area. It sounded more fun and did not involve travelling on the buses or underground.
Since our previous visit the approaches to the cruise terminal from the Castel Nuovo are being rebuilt and there was a temporary pedestrian route and bridge. The Castel Nuovo is a solid substantial fortification and was built by Charles I of Naples in 1279. It has magnificent Renaissance sculptures in the arch over its western entrance. The priority in the early morning was to reserve tickets for the first guided tour underground at 10.00 at the Galleria Borbonica so we rushed onwards, passing the Teatro di San Carlo and the Galleria Umberto I to reach the Piazza Trieste e Trento and then the Piazza del Plebiscito. We planned to visit the Teatro later. There seemed to be an unusual number of military moving around, and we never discovered the reason. The entrance to the Galleria Borbonica is off the Via Gennaro Serra, a narrow road on the northern side of the large square. Having paid our 10 euros each for the tour tickets there was plenty of time to wander in the area.
The Piazza del Plebiscito has two important buildings. The first is the church of San Francesco di Paola which was designed by Pietro Bianchi in 1817. Its design was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and has a large cupola with radiating chapels. It dominates the piazza. Inside the dome appears even largere, and there are two chapels, one each side of the entrance. The one chapel has a cloth which shows the marks of Christ after crucifiction. Outside on either side are colonnades and the overall impression is of an area very similar to St Peter's in Rome. The two equestrian statues are of Charles III and Ferdinand I. On the opposite side of the piazza is the Royal Palace which we visited later. There is also the historic Gran Caffe Gambrinus on the ground floor of the palazzo on the north side which dates from 1860 and after being neglected for many years its lavish belle epoque interior has been restored. To use up our remaining time we strolled along the V. Cesario Console aiming to reach the waterfront promenade and the statue of Caesar after whom the street is named. Here there were again a number of military and we watched the placing of a wreath on a memorial part way down the road.
Retracing our steps to the Galleria Borbonica it was clear that the site had opened earlier as we watched a large tour group disappear down the steps underground at 09.45. Visits are only possible on Friday, Saturday and Sunday so we were very lucky. The tour starts from Vico del Grottone 4, where it was first necessary to descend to the tunnel level using a 18th century steep stone staircase. Starting from the 16th century the area was used as a quarry for digging out the tufa stone needed for building the Royal Palace. The tunnels were then dug out in 1853 for King Ferdinand II of Bourbon as a military route to connect the Royal Palace and the barracks on the waterfront after the 1848 revolution. During WWII the tunnel and several cisterns of the ancient underground aqueduct were used as air-raid shelters. There are rows of basic toilets, rooms with cooking facilities and other large spaces where children used to play with their toys. Afterwards and until the 1970s the tunnels were used for rubbush and as a place for storage of impounded cars, and there are many old-fashioned cars and motorcycles.
As described in the brochure, the tour ended in the entrance to the Quick Park Morelli car parking, which was a poor area with homeless people in doorways. We would never have found the place if we had decided to start our visit from this end of the Borbon tunnel. To then make sure we went in the correct direction towards the Castel dell'Ovo we asked a police man who directed us away from the nearby road tunnel of the Galleria Vittoria and towards the Piazza Vittoria at the oceanfront. This prosperous area was completely different and only a few yards away. The wide road led along the coast towards a park and there were people on the beach below. Turning back towards the Castel dell'Ovo there were many tall buildings and pavement cafes, including an icecream shop. The Castel dell'Ovo is the oldest castle in Naples and the oldest part dates from the 9th century. The present structure dates from the rebuilding after 1503, although it was left to deteriorate until1871, and then restoration began again in 1975. Is there really a "magic egg" hidden inside as described by legend ? The Castel dell'Ovo is free to visit and the first exhibition was of pictures by Anne de Carbuccia titled "One Planet One Future". The interesting staged and thought-provoking images are of rubbish and its effect on the environment. The site is a popular place to visit for the views back of the area from the ramparts.
Continuing our stroll along the promenade there were many luxury hotels and government buildings. Eventually we reached the V. Cesario Console and had therefore completed a circular walk, although partly underground. The final place to visit was the Royal Palace. The Museum of the Royal Apartments shares the building with the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III which is the most important library in southern Italy. Our entry ticket was 6 euros. There are 30 rooms in the first floor museum which are arranged around a central courtyard. They are reached by a grand staircase which leads to the Ambulatory. In the west wing are the Court Theatre and the public chambers. The Court Theatre was built in 1768 to celebrate the wedding of Maria Carolina of Austria with Ferdinand IV of Bourbon. The papier-mache figures and the Royal Box date from this time but much of the rest had to be restored and repaired after the bombing in 1943. In the south wing are the private chambers. The east wing houses the Capella Palatina and the Sala di Ercole. The rooms in the State apartments have 16th to 19th century paintings. After visiting the museum it was possible to explore the gardens but there was scaffolding and work which spoiled the views.
The Teatro San Carlo is adjacent to the Royal Palace but entrance is only by timed tour and there were only two tours in English each day, and at the wrong times. It is one of the oldest opera houses in the world and was built by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for the Bourbon King Charles in 1737 so pre-dates La Scala in Milan. There was a fire in 1816 and it was rebuilt with 6 tiers of 184 boxes, including the royal box. Many great people, including Rossini and Donizetti, have been artistic directors there. The Galleria Umberto I, with its impressive iron and glass roof and elegant marble pavement, is opposite. It was built in 1884 and we walked through and emerged into a quiet street with pavement cafes. Attracted by a sign for Pizza and Beer 5 euros, we discovered that the price was 6 euros sitting at a table, and the beer was only a small glass, but the combination was perfect for a light lunch. Naples is famous for the original Neapolitan pizza, and ours had mozzarella cheese topping.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 31st October, 2018