Italy's third-largest city thrives on the chaos that prevails amid its busy streets. This is the place where pizza was invented, and its restaurants continue to serve some of Italy's finest cuisine.
Sheltered by the Bay of Naples and dominated by the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, Naples is imbued with the best of nature's bounty. The city is somewhat schizophrenic in its juxtaposition of superb museums and Renaissance and Baroque churches alongside crumbling tenement blocks and squalor. Noisy markets sell a collection of items, from high-quality fresh produce to fake designer goods. Roads are characteristically hectic with gung-ho moped drivers weaving wildly through the streets and frustrating traffic jams clogging the city's arteries. Despite these less refined elements, Naples is a fascinating destination and a great base from which to explore popular attractions like the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The city's transport hub is located around the immense Piazza Garibaldi, on the east side of Naples. The area's growing African population has imbued the streets with the flavours of its immigrants. Southwest from here is the Piazza Bovio, and branching to the left of it, the Piazza Municipio and nearby Piazza del Plebiscito. On the watery edges are the Molo Beverollo and the Stazione Marittima, the point of departure for ferries. From the reaches of Spaccanapoli one can explore the historic part of Naples with its numerous palaces and churches.
This fascinating, world-class museum houses the Farnese collection of antiquities from Lazio and Campania and the incredible treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Notable among these collections are the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull, the largest known ancient sculpture. On the mezzanine level is the Alexander Mosaic and at the furthest end of the mezzanine floor is the Secret Room (Gabinetto Segreto). The intriguing collection contained here showcases erotic material found in the brothels, baths, houses and taverns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The top section of the museum houses the Campanian wall paintings, well-preserved creations attesting to a mysterious past world. These are supported by a range of artefacts, in the form of glass, silver, ceramics, rope and even foodstuffs surviving from the Campanian cities of yesteryear. The remarkable collection is housed in a 17th-century building interesting in itself. Visitors should check ahead whether all the exhibits in the museum will be open to avoid disappointment as the most popular exhibits are subject to close at any time for restoration and maintenance work. Although a popular attraction in its own right, the museum is also a worthwhile stop if you plan to visit Pompeii as so many of its treasures are stored here.
The Chapel of San Gennaro is accessed from the south aisle of the Cathedral of Naples. This 13th-century Gothic building is dedicated to the patron saint of the city. Tradition tells the story of how two phials of San Gennaro's congealed blood liquefied in the bishop's hand after his martyred body was transported to the church. Legend has it that disaster will strike if the blood fails to liquefy on specific festival days - the first Saturday in May, on September 19 and December 16. The liquefaction ceremony, known as the Miracle of the Blood, takes place during a special Mass in full view of the congregation. The first chapel on the right upon entry into the cathedral is dedicated to San Gennaro (also known as Saint Januarius) and holds the famous phials of blood and a silver reliquary containing his skull. Beneath the Duomo are the excavations of well-preserved Greek and Roman roads that stretch beneath the modern city. Special tours of the excavations can be arranged. Generations of wealthy Neopolitains funded the cathedral and it is a treasure trove of local history and religious iconography.
Visitors should be aware that there have been some incidents of pickpocketing outside of the cathedral. Entry to the cathedral is free, but there is a charge to visit the archaeological site.
This museum occupies a restored 18th-century palace perched on the city's hills, and its artworks are arranged by collections and not chronology. The Farnese and Bourbon rulers amassed impressive collections of Renaissance paintings and Flemish masterpieces that can be viewed along with other great works. Notable among these are Masaccio's Crucifixion, Filipino Lippi's Annunciation and Saints, Raphael's Leo X, Bellini's Transfiguration, Michelangelo's Three Soldiers and Breughel's The Allegory of the Blind.
The palace is an attraction in its own right and the royal apartments are beautifully decorated and preserved with their 18th-century furnishings. Capodimonte is a pleasant neighbourhood in Naples, and the park surrounding the gallery is great for a peaceful stroll after ogling the art and finery of the museum. Various rooms and sections of the museum are closed to the public periodically for maintenance but the collection is so vast that this usually hardly matters; however, to avoid disappointment, check ahead how much of the museum is open, or ask at the entrance before buying your ticket. Although the collection is fascinating, the audio guide is not amazing and perhaps not worth the additional cost.
The Mediterranean climate of southern Italy is milder and sunnier than the north, with Naples being characterised by dry, warm summers and wet but mild autumns and winters. The pleasant climate and fertility of the Gulf of Naples made the region famous during Roman times, when emperors such as Claudius and Tiberius holidayed near the city, and the weather still makes a holiday in Naples enjoyable in any season. The average temperature in summer (June to September) is 72°F (22°C), although it can become significantly hotter, with frequent highs of 86°F (30°C). July and August are the hottest months of the year and it can become very humid during this period. In winter (December to March) the average temperature is about 48°F (9°C) and it can be rainy. In autumn it is comfortably warm but also wet, with November the wettest month of the year. Spring is a very pleasant time to visit Naples as it is warm and dry and sightseers won't suffer the heat of summer. March to May is therefore probably the best time to holiday in Naples, but many visitors choose to come in autumn, despite the rain, and some people enjoy the heat of the summer months.
Naples has a public transport network consisting of buses, trolleys and a subway, which is a bit complicated to use but preferable to taking on the city's notorious traffic jams in a hired car or taxi. Tickets for all forms of transport are uniform, and can be obtained at stations and news kiosks. The city's ANM buses are fairly frequent, most departing from the Piazza Garibaldi. The 'Metropolitana' metro line serves downtown (where most sights are located) and is generally the most useful for sightseeing. Funicular railways run up the Vomero from stations at Piazza Montesanto, Amadeo and Augusto. There are taxi ranks in most piazzas, but using a taxi can prove expensive because of traffic congestion. It is possible, and pleasurable, to walk around the historic centre of Naples where many of the main attractions are located, but some of the worthwhile sights, like the Fontanelle Cemetery, take tourists into potentially dangerous areas where it may not be a good idea to walk alone. Travellers should ensure they have a detailed map to help them navigate the streets of Naples, and ask at their hotel for advice on which areas should be avoided.
To holiday in Naples is to visit the real Italy, without the frills, where grime and dirt somehow add to the flavour of a city bubbling with life and colourful characters like the lava below its surface on the convergence of seismic faults.
Most travel to Naples in order to visit the nearby and well-preserved ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which stands sentinel over the city. Pompeii is one of Italy's most famous and popular attractions and the haunting ruined city justifies a trip to the region in itself. Sightseers keen to explore southern Italy also tend to use Naples as a base for expeditions along the scenic Amalfi coast. However, the city does have its own treasures: the Cappella Sansevero chapel, in the historic centre of Naples was built in the late 1500s and contains some masterpieces of Italian sculpture. The Cathedral of Naples, completed in the 14th-century, is a magnificent Gothic structure containing many valuable artefacts and art works. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples is a world-class museum, containing many of the artefacts and remains from Pompeii and Herculaneum. The San Gennaro Catacombs are fascinating and spooky, full of mosaics and frescoes, and the burial site of many notable Naples figures including San Gennaro himself.
High summer means sweltering heat and crowds and is not the recommended time to travel to Naples, especially for sightseeing. Spring and autumn (April to June and September/October) are more pleasant seasons to pick for a Naples holiday, when the weather is warm and sunny and the archaeological attractions can be seen in relative peace and quiet.
In the year 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the Roman city of Pompeii in volcanic lava and ash. The most evocative testimony to its victims is the 'frozen people', plaster casts of the victims whose anguished contortions and facial expressions reveal the horror of their untimely deaths. The excavation of Pompeii, which started after its accidental rediscovery in 1749, is an ongoing process and every decade has brought to light new finds that provide insight into daily Roman life. A comprehensive tour of Pompeii's attractions will take approximately five hours. Guided tours are available but are pricier alternatives to doing it alone. There is an informative 'How to Visit Pompeii' guidebook for sale outside all the site entrances.
Pompeii is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions, seeing nearly 2.5 million visitors every year. It is one of the most intriguing ancient sites in the world and a full day of walking barely covers the many sights of interest. The Pompeii site has been plagued by mismanagement but has recently been granted a huge injection of funds which should improve maintenance; however, the place is so captivating that no amount of mismanagement can deter visitors from travelling to Pompeii, and the four associated sites of Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia and Boscoreale.
The well-preserved Greek temples of Paestum are arguably the best of their kind in the world, easily rivalling those of Sicily and Athens. The city was founded by its Greek colonists in the 7th Century BC, and later fell under Roman rule (until it was no longer commercially successful and its inhabitants fled for greener pastures). The north-south axis of the city is marked by the paved Via Sacra and most guided tours begin at its southern end. A guide to the excavations and Archaeological Museum can be bought at any of the roadside shops. Notable among the remains are three Doric temples, the best-preserved of their kind in the world. Built without the use of cement or mortar, these remarkable structures comprise the Basilica, the Temple of Poseidon and the Temple of Ceres. Heading north along Via Sacra will take one to the Roman Forum, gymnasium and amphitheatre. Finally, Paestum's Museum contains a fascinating collection of pottery and paintings found in the tombs of the area. The main temples are fenced off so you can't wander through them, but many other ruins can be explored without hindrance and the site is often pleasantly devoid of tourists, leaving visitors to explore at their leisure in peace and with remarkable freedom.
For anyone with even the smallest interest in human history, the Sassi de Matera - located in the region of Basilicata, about 156 miles (250km) east of Naples - are a must-see tourist attraction. The unbelievable cave-dwellings of Matera were inscribed in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1993, and have been astonishing visitors to the region ever since. Dug into the tuff rock of the region (rock comprised of consolidated volcanic ash), the 'houses' are often little more than caverns, and remain as testament to a troglodyte population believed to be the first human settlement in Italy. Some of the streets of present-day Matera double as rooftops to the underground dwellings, and beneath the surface, a network of labyrinths and caverns once traversed by the prehistoric civilisation can still be observed. As has been noted, the inhabitants of Matera's Sassi are the only people who can claim to live in the same houses as their ancestors did 9,000 years ago - making these amazing structures compulsory viewing for all tourists to Italy who are keen on historical sightseeing. It's fun to hire bikes and ride to the caverns further afield and there are many good local guides to hire.
An emblematic tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is reason enough for any visitor to Naples to make the short trip across to the island of Capri. A world-famous sea cave, the Blue Grotto is perpetually filled with brilliant sapphire light, caused by sunlight entering through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater from beneath. The cave also contains a smaller opening right at the level of the waterline, through which bright sunshine pours, and through which tourists are admitted by row-boat. Gaze in wonder at the spectral water, more light-filled than the air in the cave, and be sure to dip your hands and watch them glow an eerie silver-blue. Since row-boats entering the cave can only take a maximum of three passengers, you are ensured a private and truly unforgettable experience in the Blue Grotto, one which you will treasure for the rest of your life.
Blue Grotto Tours is a popular tour company which guides trips into the mystical blue cave and has earned rave reviews from tourists. Of course, the island of Capri is beautiful and a hop across the water from Naples is worthwhile just to see the lovely landscape and experience the atmosphere of this famous island.
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