World Facts Index > Italy > Naples

Goethe sympathised with all those who fell in love with Naples and lost their senses. He felt that once one began to write about the city, paint it or come close to it in anyway, one forfeited heart and soul to its beauty.

The city is rich in age-old history and contradictions. As a tourist, you have to decide which of its many attributes you want to focus on, the mysterious and fascinating aspect which has its roots in legends, or whether you prefer to focus on the city's more brutal and violent side, which is just as intriguing and displays the wounds of its turbulent history. Perhaps the sunny and easy-going side of corruption appeals to you more or the efforts made to give the city a new cultural and moral code.

The city is divided into 21 zones, and it has so many monuments that it is rightfully known as 'an open air museum'. Meanwhile, here is a little guide to allow you to choose the most significant places of interest and tourist attractions, should you find yourself in this glorious city, but with time as your enemy.

San Ferdinando ' Chiaia ' Posilippo - The places, monuments and landscapes in this triangle are probably the ones which have made Naples famous, and they also offer one of the best itineraries for tourists who would like to visit these areas. The tourist who lands in Naples finds themselves immediately immersed in the scenery of Il Piazza Municipio which is itself dominated by the impressive mole del Maschio Angioino or Castel Nuovo; Teatro San Carlo, the splendid Galleria Umberto I┬ and the spectacular Piazza del Plebiscito behind the fa├žade of the majestic Palazzo Reale,the semicircular colonnade and the domes of the splendid Basilica di San Francesco di Paola are all close to one another and just waiting to be seen. Heading down towards the sea, you'll come upon Santa Lucia and then Borgo Marinaro where the Castel dell'Ovo stands in all its glory.

Chiaia - is the area which faces the bay; you must visit this area and take a long walk along the promenade from Via Partenope past Via Caracciolo until Mergellina or stop by at Villa Comunale blessed with trees dating back centuries, neo classical statues, artistic fountains; it is here that you'll find the oldest acquarium in Europe. The most important monument in the zone is the Villa Pignatelli which today is home to one of Naples' museums.

Posillipo - offers up the chance to enjoy a splendid view of the bay and the incredible mount Vesuvius, the promontory of Sorrento and the island of Capri. Looking eastwards, you will behold the Bay of Pozzuoli as well as the islands of Nisida, Ischia and Procida and the historical Campi Flegrei (Phlegrean Fields).

Il Centro Antico - Naples is characterised by its uniformity in town planning. In fact, the quarters which make up the ancient centre still faithfully adhere to the Greco-Roman plans for the city of Neapolis. In these quarters are layer upon layer of history which unfold before the eyes of the unsuspecting visitor like an enormous history book. The alleyways overflowing with life in quarters such as San Lorenzo, San Giuseppe, Porto e Pendino are the same ones in which Greeks would trade and build temples during the 4th century.

It is practically impossible to list all the monuments that you will find in the three decumani and the numerous sidestreets (i cardi) which run perpendicular to them, but mention must be made of the following churches: San Paolo Maggiore built upon the foundations of the tempio dei Dioscuri, (two columns of the temple are still visible), there is San Lorenzo Maggiore, underneath which are important archaelogical remains which the public are able to visit. These two churches are located in Piazza San Gaetano, the ancient Roman marketplace along Via dei Tribunali, the ancient decumanus maggiore. The church and street of San Gregorio Armeno are also worth a visit, this church was also built on the site of a temple. Via dei Tribunali ends in front of Castel Capuano, the oldest fort in the city built for Norman kings, behind it lies opening onto the Porta Capuana.
Walking along Via Duomo, you'll come across the Cathedral dedicated to San Gennaro, the city's patron, the cathedral seems to be in a place that doesn't seem grand enough for such an important building, il Duomo which incorporates the ancient basilica of Santa Restituta built on the orders of Constantine, and the Battistero di San Giovanni in Fonte which is the oldest baptistery in the western world. Beneath the Duomo lie ancient archaeological sites, which you can visit. The stratification begins with the ancient Greek and finishes with the Middle Ages. The Museo Civico Filangieri is also located in Via Duomo and is housed inside the Palazzo Como which was built during the Renaissance.
Piazzetta Nilo is situated on Via San Biagio dei Librai, and in which you'll find a 2000 year old statue, Statua del Corpo di Napoli. Following the axis of 'Spaccanapoli' you will find other examples of Neapolitan culture: in Piazza San Domenico Maggiore you will find the basilica of the same name and numerous palazzi from the Aragon and Spanish era with the Guglia which was dedicated to the Saint at the centre. The Cappella di San Severo is also worth a visit. Piazza del Ges├╣ Nuovo yields such treasures as the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, the il Chiostro delle Clarisse, the 16th century fa├žade of the Ges├╣ Nuovo and the Guglia dell'Immacolata. The San Giovanni Maggiore, was built on the remains of the 4th century temple of Hercules and faces the piazza of San Giovanni where the chapel of San Giovanni di Pappacoda contains a stupendous Gothic doorway. The primary university faculties and museums are housed in these historic piazzas.

Il Centro Storico - The quarters of the Centro Storico are natural extensions of the Centro Antico, which represent the Medieval and Renaissance developments reaching to the Spanish viceroys and the Neapolitan Bourbons.

The 'Spanish quarters'; the elegant Via Toledo with its historic palazzi and churches that contain the masterpieces of 17th century Neapolitan painters; Piazza Monteoliveto which contains Palazzo Gravina, the Fontana built in honour of Carlos II of Spain and the church Sant'Anna dei Lombardi with a wealth of Renaissance treasures, Piazza Dante with the 18th century fa├žade of the National Boarding School il Convitto Nazionale and Port'Alba, where the 'lazzari' di Masaniello got the better of the cannons of the Viceroy. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is one of the most important museums of its kind and is located in Piazza. The Porta San Gennaro is located in Piazza Cavour and its one of the oldest gateways in the city.

Via S. Maria di Costantinopoli has many palazzi such as L'Accademia di Belle Arti and many dazzling churches. In Piazza Bellini one can still see traces of ancient Greek city walls; Piazza della Sanit├á holds the 17th century Chiesa di Santa Maria under which are the San Gaudosio Catacombs; the zona dei Vergini e zona delle Fontanelle, are ancient areas used for burial in Greco-Roman Naples, other places of interest in the immediate vicinity are: Via Foria; Piazza Carlo III which has an enormous fa├žade (375m long) the Albergo dei Poveri and the Orto Botanico; Corso Garibaldi and the piazza of the same name, which is now the headquarters of Central Station; Corso Umberto with the Neo-classical style University of Federico II; Piazza Bovio with the Palazzo della Borsa and the famous Fontana del Nettuno; Piazza Mercato, the back drop to dramatic events in Neapolitan history adjacent to this piazza is Piazza del Carmine; all of these places are representative but not unique to the zones which developed and grew into the centro antico.

I Quartieri Collinari - These are hill zones which were developed at the end of the 19th century as a residential district for the Neapolitan bourgeoisie il Vomero underwent radical changes in the '50s and '70s which has made it into one of the busiest and most chaotic areas in the city. It is linked to surrounding areas by three funicolar railways, but it still retains among some of the city's most important monuments. Castel Sant'Elmo and the Certosa di San Martino, were built around 1350, and dominate the city from above. Today, La Certosa houses the National Museum of San Martino, which shows collections, paintings scupltures, documents and relics of Neapolitan tradition, amongst other things.

Villa Floridiana was given by King Ferdinando of Bourbon to his second wife; it consists of a park, at the centre of which stands a small palace which is now a museum (Il Museo della Ceramica Duca di Martina). The attentive tourist can't let a visit to the catacombs of San Gennaro escape him. The catacombs were dug from the yellow tuff of the Aminei hills in the Capodimonte at the beginning of the second century. The galleries, which create a kind of underground basilica leave a lasting impression on the unsuspecting traveller. The sepulchre of San Gennaro and the tombs of the bishops, amongst whom lies the bishop of Carthage.

Inside the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, (a palace, built in 1738 and surrounded by a large park and a wood which acted as a hunting ground), is the museum with its collections and the National Gallery with its extensive art gallery.

La Zona Flegrea
Fuorigrotta - is part of this area, it is a modern residential zone where the Rai has its headquarters, as does the Politecnico; it is the new headquarters of the Universitaria, and important sports complexes such as Stadio San Paolo and the Mostra d'Oltremare headquarters of many important tradefairs, of the Zoo, Edenlandia a large theme park; Bagnoli Is an ex industrial zone and is now home to the Città della Scienza, of the old shed steelworks on banks facing the island of Nisida; Agnano was the seat of ancient and the famous Ippodromo (racecourse) with a nearby nature reserve, where several protected species, are cared for by the W.W.F. Numerous Roman remains can be found all around this area.

The peripheral zones do not offer much of interest to the tourist: these zones are mainly industrial or ex-agricultural zones which have been destroyed over the years by cement which has been dumped here as the city tries to find space in which to expand.

History of Naples

The origins of the city of Naples are rooted in legend. The chief protagonist is the Parthenopean Siren ' a mythical, fascinating creature which for centuries, was said to resemble a bird, but with the delicate facial features of a young girl. In Antiquity, many shipwrecks occurred off the 'Island of the Sirens', (believed by some to be the Isle of 'Li Galli') which lies in front of the coast at Positano. This was apparently because sailors would be bewitched and disturbed by the irresitible song of the island's inhabitants (the sirens), causing them to lose control of both themselves and their ships. It was only Ulysees, the hero of Ithaca who managed to escae this fate, by forcing his crew to plug their ears with wax and then tying them to the mainmast of the fragile hull, thus saving the ship and all its equipment from being wrecked in a disastrous storm.

History books tell us that the Greeks arrived in Naples in stages. In the ninth century B.C. , they arrived on the island of Pithecusa (Ischia), in the following century, they arrived on the island of Cuma, and it was only in the sixth century B.C. that they founded Parthenope on the isle of Megaride, then extended to Monte Echia (the Pizzafalcone hill), which was more of a commercial centre than a city. In 470, the inhabitants of Cuma founded a real city in the east (on the site of the current historic city centre), which they called Neapolis (or 'new city'), in order to distinguish it from Palepolis (the 'old city').

The urban lay-out of the city of Neapolis echoed the Grecian lay-out consisting of the 'cardo' and 'decumano' road system. The 'cardo' is a narrower street running from north to south, while the 'decumano' is wider and runs from east to west. This lay-out is still visible today as you walk down Via dei Tribunali and Via Benedetto Croce, Decumano Superiore and Via San Biagio dei Librai, Decumano Inferiore.

The city of Naples, with its magnificent scenery, attracted many intellectuals such as Cicero, Horatio and Pliny the Elder who wrote about the terrible eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 B.C. which destroyed Pompeii and Ercolano. The great Latin poet Virgil also lived in Naples ' he chose to stay in the delightful Mergellina district where the so-called 'Tomb of Virgil' and the nearby 'Tomb of the Leopards' can now be found.

Medieval Naples

During the early Middle Ages, the city remained inside the walls which were built under Valentiniano III (450-455). The walls were only widened at certain sections, to include the del Ges├╣ Church, part of the Santa Chiara Convent, the neighbouring palaces, and the Santa Maria La Nova and San Giovanni Maggiore churches. The first Christian cemetries in southern Italy were also built here ' the San Gennaro and San Gaudioso catacombs bear witness to this. Local ecclesistical history states that the Emperor Constantine founded the basilica which was dedicated to Santa Restituta in the eighth century. The apses ' dedicated to San Giorgio Maggiore and San Gennaro - in the basilicas founded by the Bishop Severo at the end of the fourth century are of particular interest: they are linked via the underground catacombs dedicated to San Gennaro.

The Baptistery of St John the Baptist also dates back to this period - it consists of a baptismal building founded by the Bishop Sotero in the second half of the fifth century. The small Santa Maria Maggiore bell dating back to the ninth century is an isolated example of Lombardian architecture.

Norman/Swabian Period

After having been made an autonmous Byzantine duchy, Naples was conquered by the Normans in the ninth century. The urban development that took place during this period encompassed more of the hinterland, (with the construction of the Capuano Castle) and the flat land near the port where the 'Castel dell'Ovo' ('Egg Castle') was enlarged, to become the royal palace of Ruggeri II.

Angioino and Aragon period

In 1266, Charles I of Angi├▓ transferred the capital of the kingdom of Sicily from Palermo to Naples, heralding a period of active civil renewal for the city. The city walls were enlarged: from the Capuano Castle, they now included the churches of Sant'Eligio and Egiziaca a Forcella, the area around the Market, Santa Maria La Nova, the area where the Orsini of Gravina Palace was to be built, the area on which the Piazza del Ges├╣ currently stands and the Via San Sebastiano leading all the way down to Port'Alba. Charles I was particularly concerned with carrying out public works ' amongst other things he ordered the drainage and settlement of the marshy area in the north-east of the city, as well as the re-structuring of the Campano Aqueduct. The Market and all the artist's workshops which were situated in the historic city centre were moved to the south-eastern part of the city. In 1279, the construction of the Castel Nuovo" ('New Castle') began.

The religious architecture of the time gave rise to churches such as the San Lorenzo Maggiore church which was already built on the site of the Roman basilica and also the churches of San Domenico, San Pietro a Maiella, Santa Chiara, Santa Maria Egiziaca, San Gregorio Armeno, Donna Romita and Donnaregina.

The Angoians imported architecture, jewellry, fabrics and various other objects into Naples from France.

Representative masters from major Italian schools of art were invited to Naples: Pietro Cavallini from Rome, Simone Martini from Sienna and Giotto from Florence. The large cycle of frescoes in the ancient Santa Maria Donnaregina church are evidence of the influence of the Roman school of art in Naples. The only evidence of the three years of Giotto's work in Naples (1329-1332) are the fragments of his work which remain in the Santa Barbara Chapel in the Castel Nuovo. Evidence of the school of painting developed during the reign of Joannna I are visible in the Chiesa dell'Incoronata and the Barrese Chapel in San Lorenzo.

The passage from typical Neopoltian architecture to the floral d├ęcor of fifteenth-century Catalan architecure which appeared in urban centres of the the Aragon period was masterminded by Guglielmo Sagrera. This was the architect who designed the 'Room of Barons' in the Castel Nuovo, and who was probably also involved in the reconstruction of the castle in the fifteenth century, before Italian Renaissance elements were introduced.

The Spanish Viceroy

In the sixteenth century, Naples became the capital of the Spanish viceroyalty. Don Pedro Alvarez of Toledo (Viceroy from 1532 to 1553) widened the city walls, increasing the city's surface area by a third. The walls on the western side joined at the Sant'Elmo Castle fortress which was re-built to include the Angioian 'Belforte'. The building work was carried out along the axis of the newly-built Via Toledo. Six streets parallel to the Via Toledo, crossed by a series of streets at right angles to it, make up an area which was dedicated to military lodgings. This area corresponds to the Montecalvario district which is now a residential area.

The construction of residences for the aristocracy both in the ancient city centre and outside the city walls provided the city with a good equilibrium, with both luxury buildings, and less ostentatious ones being built to cope with the demand for housing: the Orsini, Marigliano and Corigliano Palaces are all examples of civil Renaissance buildings.

The grandiose Porta Capuana by Giuliano da Maiano remains standing to this day. The Triumphal Arch of Alfonso of Aragon in the Castel Nuovo was also built during this period ' some believe it was the work of Luciano Laurano while others attribute it to Guglielmo Sagrera.

The architectural organisations of the fifteenth century were housed in the Palace of Diomede Carafa a San Biagio dei Librai and in the Cuomo Palace on Via Duomo. Today, the offices of the Faculty of Architecture are housed in the Gravina Palace and the Church of Santa Caterina a Formiello. Marble was sent to Naples by Donatello and Michelozzo for the tomb of Cardinal Brancaccio in the Church of Sant'Angelo a Nilo. Antonio Rossellino sent the last of his works to the Monteoliveto Church where Guido Mazzoni of Modena and Benedetto of Maiano also worked.

Seventeenth-century Naples

During this period, the Treasury was called upon to finance the building of luxury residences for the nobility: religious buildings and the building of the new Royal Palace (all by Domenico Fontana), as well as the degli Studi Palace which is now the National Museum. Palaces were also built in Posillipo, including the Donn'Anna di Cosimo Fanzago Palace which renewed a tradition started by the Romans for residences in the Posillipo Hills.

Numerous churches by Francesco Grimaldi - San Paolo Maggiore, Santi Apostoli, Santa Maria degli Angeli a Pizzofalcone ' were also built at this time. The churches of the Ascensione a Chiaia, Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci, San Ferdinando, San Giorgio Maggiore, San Giuseppe delle Scalze a Pontecorvo, la Sapienza, SantaTeresa a Chiaia and Santa Maria Egiziaca a Pizzofalcone and the Maddaloni Palace were all designed by Cosimo Fanzago.

All of these works are Neopolitan interpretations of the Baroque style ' more obvious in external appearance than in spatial conceptions, they are extremely colourful and intricately decorated. Brother Nuvolo - who designed the churches of Santa Maria alla Sanità and San Sebastiano ' was also influenced by new, expressive Baroque styles. The architect Arcangelo Guglielmelli continued this theme and painted beautifully imaginative settings and backdrops such as that of San Giuseppe dei Ruffi and the Library of the 'Girolamini'. In 1607, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio left his masterful paintings to the Pio Monte di Misericordia and the San Domenico Maggiore charitable institutions.

Eighteenth-century Naples

The invading Austrian powers of 1707 to 1734 took over a a city afflicted by the epidemic of 1691, in economic stagnation and under the influence of the excessively dictatorial ecclesiastical powers.

The city was in an even worse state when Charles III of Bourbon succeeded the Hapsburgs in 1734. The new monarch imposed a tax on the property of the Church in order to augment the resources of the Treasury. Charles III encouraged the development of commerce and industry, the building of an urban infrastructure (roads, ports etc.), the improvement of urban conditions, as can be observed in the city plan drawn up by Giovanni Carafa duca di Nola which indicate the new ideas in urban development with regard to the Via Foria, Capodimonte and the Torre del Greco area as well as the expansion of the Granili.

The Bourbon dynasty was also involved in the construction of major buildings such as the Teatro San Carlo designed by Medrano and inaugurated in 1737, the Royal Palace at Capodimonte ' also by Medrano, and the Royal Hostel for the Poor by Ferdinando Fuga (who also designed the fa├žade of the dei Girolamini Church, the Giordano and Caramanico Palaces) , the cavalry barracks on the della Maddalena bridge by Luigi Vanvitelli, the palaces of Ferdinando Sanfelice ai Vergini, the Serra di Cassano Palace and the Church of Santa Maria delle Periclitanti at Pontecorvo. Luigi Vanvitelli designed the d'Angri Palace, the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Church of the Missionary Fathers and the Carolino Forum.

All buildings constructed in the Bourbon period gave the city a more European dimension.

Nineteenth-century Naples

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Joseph Bonaparte continued with the work on the city's infrastructure that was started by Ferdinando. He had a wide road built that ran from the Museum to the Royal Palace at Capodimonte, which dug in to the della Sanità Valley with a viaduct inaugurated by Murat in 1810. Murat promoted the creation of the Botanical Gardens, the Astronomical Observatory, the widening of the Via Foria and the lengthening of the Via Posillipo, all in line with the new guiding principles of urban development.

When Ferdinand I returned to Naples, the construction of the Ferdinand Forum (now known as the Piazza del Plebiscito) got underway. At the end of the piazza stand the San Francesco di Paola Church and the San Giacomo Palace for the ministery. The Bagnoli road was completed and Antonio Niccolini was given the task of re-building the San Carlo theatre which was destroyed in a fire.

Ferdinand IV had the Via Posillipo completed so that it ran all the way to Bagnoli, and work was begun on the building of the Royal Villa, (now the Town Hall) which stands on the Chiaia Riviera.

During this period, tourism experienced a boom, with around 8000 visitors arriving a year. Ferdinand II had the Via Costantinopoli widened, the Via del Piliero settled, and built the Corso Maria Teresa, (now renamed the Corso Vittorio Emanuele).

Modern Naples

In 1860, Naples was unified with the rest of Italy. At this point it had around 450,000 inhabitants.

The first significant work carried out in twenty years of unity was the widening of the Via Duomo (an ancient pivotal point of the Greco-Roman city), the Corso Garibaldi and the Via Caracciolo. Part of the urban renewal work which was carried out after the cholera epidemic of 1884 was the demolition of the most congested areas which were located in a straight line along the Corso Umberto I , as well as the construction of a fifth road characterised by the Umbertini Palaces. With the exception of this road, the alleys and shops in the surrounding area remained breeding ground for poverty.

In 1891, the introduction of the funicular provided the first link to Vomero ' a newly expanding district. Between the two world wars, Naples' urban expansion was considerable. The expansion included: the Vasto district, located near the central railway station, the Vomero district, and the Regina Elena district in the west, the Arenella and Materdei districts in the north and the Fuorigrotta district in Campi Flegrei.

In the city centre, renewal work continued with the building of the Carità district, the Via Diaz and the palaces of the fascists. The 'Mostra d'Oltremare' exhibition complex was built in the western region.

During the Second World War (1943-1944), the city sustained considerable damage.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 54 55 58 64 72 78 84 85 78 71 62 56
Avg. Low 38 38 42 46 54 60 64 64 58 52 45 41
Avg. Precip. 4.1 in 3.9 in 3.4 in 3.0 in 2.0 in 1.3 in 1.0 in 1.6 in 3.3 in 5.1 in 6.4 in 4.8 in


Custom Search

Copyright 2005