Naples (or more properly, Napoli) is the home of pizza and the place in which the quintessential Margherita pizza was created (named after the Queen). Although the city is congested, graffiti-scarred and somewhat dirty, it does have more than pizza going for it.
Our independent exploration of the city began along the southern shoreline, where the pedestrian-only roadway passed two of the city’s fortresses (Castel dell’Ovo and Castel Nouvo), a small beach, amusement park and pleasure boat harbor and a long line of large, outdoor seafood restaurants. A short distance after the road opens to cars, a new line begins: this of passenger ferry, followed by cargo ship terminals.
The pedestrian end of the street led to a roadside park and the city’s upscale Chiaia district, with its residences, offices, hotels, luxury shops and of course, restaurants and clubs—the later ofwhich attract huge weekend crowds that flow out into the street. It also housed our hotel, our favorite Neopolitan pizza restaurant (Mattozzi, as discussed below) and our favorite gourmet store.
Via Toledo, the city’s primary North-South axis, leads to two of the city’s largest, most popular piazzas, Reale and Dante, both of which were sites of large festivals on the holiday we were in town. Among Via Toledo areas primary sites include:
- Galleria Umberto I, a marble-floored, glass-domed shopping arcade and office complex created from a 19th-century building similar to those in Rome (see Rome post) and Milan (in a forthcoming Milan post);
- Spanish Quarter, a densely packed section of five and six story buildings with laundry hanging from balcony windows, entire blocks that are dedicated to parked cars (packed in columns of threes for the entire block) and others that are dedicated to restaurants with outdoor seating;
- National Archeological Museum with thousands of Greek and Roman works, including many of the best mosaics, frescos, sculptures and scrolls from Pompei and Herculaneum; a museum that was, unfortunately, closed the only day we had available to visit;
- Historic District, accessible from the only remaining original city gate from Piazza Dante, and the origin point of a walking tour that we took of the district.
The Historic Walking Tour from FreeWalkingTourNapoli, was one of the few disappointing free walking tours on which we have been. The guide found it difficult to engage with individuals and spoke English with an accent that was extremely difficult to understand, especially in the noisy, jam-packed streets of Naples’ historic district. Although we gave up half way through the tour, we did see some interesting sites and gained some important perspective on Naples. Among the highlights:
- Piazza Dante, a large open plaza, build around a statue of guess who, and usually dominated by the huge, columns and statues of the Vittorio Emanuele school. Usually, that is, except for the week we were there when the square was filled with tents housing the dozens of food stands making up the International Festival of Food, with shops and restaurants from a couple dozen countries, from Argentina and Brazil, to Germany and France.
- Maggiore Gate, the only surviving of the city gates that leads from the Piazza, into the heart of the historic town;
- The palaces that surround the square;
- Via Tribunali, the historic districts’ main street and the city’s ancient governing and financial center. The narrow street was so jammed with pedestrians (especially when one of the street bands played Hava Nagila, that even the police were not able to help one of the very few motorists who were allowed on, or dared try navigate the street.
- San Lorenzo Maggiore, a 14th-century Gothic church (very unusual for the city) with an unadorned 18th-century façade;
- The Incurable Hospital, which is where people infected with the plague and other then incurable, communicable diseases were effectively quarantined, before their bodies were sent to an out-of-the-city cemetary where their bones and sculls still lie in piles in a cave.
- Pulcinella, a bronze of a traditional clown mask with a huge nose which is rubbed for good luck. The mask, according to the guide, is supposed to represent resident’s love and hate of the city;
- The Duomo, the city’s main cathedral and home to a vial of the blood of the city’s patron saint, the fluid of which is supposedly congealed for 362 days per year (presumably 363 in leap years) and re-liquifies for three specific days (all holidays, of course). The cathedral itself has a 19th-century façade, a lovely Renaissance Capella and ceiling paintings and beautifully frescoed and mosaic basilica;
- Gesu Nouvo, a fortress-like, 16th-century which, while closed when we were there, is supposed to have an elaborate interior; and
- Santa Chiara, a 14th-century church (also closed) with an attached convent and cloister.
We also had a couple of disappointments, in addition to our guide, within the historic district. While some of the churches that we would have liked to visit were closed, our greatest disappointment was in not being able to get into one that was open:
- Cappella Sanservo is home to Sammartino’s incredible, marble Veiled Christ sculpture. We were unable to buy tickets online since the website said the church was closed on Tuesdays (the only day we had available in the city). When we went anyways, the line was around the block.
- Mattozzi Pizzeria, in the city’s Chiaia district served by far, the best Margherita pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil) that we ever had (although it was only one of two that we had in Naples, which is its birthplace). While most people order one pie per person, we split one, so as to enable us to try other dishes. One of the other dishes consisted of an excellent baby octopus and mussels with tomato. And since we so enjoyed both of these local dishes, we went all out with one other Neopolitan specialty, a fried pizza filled with ricotta and salami, a very good dish that, unfortunately, is too filling (not to speak of too unhealthy) to make a steady diet of. Our wine was a 2016 Feudo de San Gregono Rubrato Aglianico.
- Sorbillo’s Pizzerella, one of the oldest, busiest and most famous of all of Naples’s pizzerias, at which we had one Margherita and another with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham and mushrooms. Although the pizzas were half the price (E5 for the Margherita, compared with E10 at Mattozzi), we much preferred Mattozzi.
- Locando Ntretella, a Chiaia-based seafood restaurant, where we had Shellfish Sautee (baby clams and mussels in a white wine butter sauce) and grilled squid, both of which were very good. Our local, Campagnia wine was a 2015 Lacryma Christo del Vesuvio white Vigna del Vucano.
Palazzo Alabardieri. The hotel is by the port area and is about a 30 minute walk to the historic section. While it was fairly expensive and is rated 4 stars, it seemed to be lacking in recent TLC. For example, in our room, the shower drain could not drain the water fast enough and the shower continually threatened to overflow onto the bathroom floor (it did have a nice showerhead). The screws holding the shelving in the bathroom were loose and the shelves were all tilted down. We couldn’t get the safe to work but we never asked for help with it. However, the room was comfortable, plugs by the bed and the AC worked well. One other strange thing is that when the person at the front desk was working at their desk, you couldn’t see them if they were sitting down