Naples is a real treasure chest filled with art and history, indelible signs of the past dominations, each of which has contributed to the building of this city that in the center encloses a heritage so rich it has been designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
2.500 years of history told by palaces, churches, monuments and art galleries among which the daily life is carried on by the ‘napoletani’ with their trademark joy and creativity.
Four castles tower over the city. The different but well integrated architectural lines of Castel Nuovo, otherwise known as the Maschio Angioino, evoke the double role of palace and fortress that this building had during the domination of the Anjiou and Aragon families. Beautiful is also the Arco di Trionfo committed by King Alfonso I of Aragon and designed by Pietro de Martino and Francesco Laurana. On a small island, linked to the mainland by a bridge, there is the monumental Castello dell’Ovo, now exhibit and congress centre, with a stunning view of the whole bay.
Nestled on the Vomero lies Castel S. Elmo, overlooking the street locally known as ‘spaccanapoli’ that divides the city into two sections. Finally, Castel Capuano, originally built as a fortress but subsequently renovated and turned into a residence for the aristocrats. Nearby, Porta Capuana, outlined by a marble arch, is the main entrance to the old town.
The churches of the city are countless. The Cathedral, erected upon pre-existing buildings, over time has undergone radical modifications to repair the damages caused by the earthquakes, especially on the outside. Enrico Alvino, in 1800, opted for the vertical development that features the façade with spires, aediculas and cusps built around what had survived the earthquake. The interior, based on a Christian cross plan and three long naves divided by two rows of columns, hosts the famous Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro, the Chapel of St. Gennaro’s Treasure, which holds masterpieces made with precious metals and the two vials containing the blood of the saint. Another place linked to the Saint Patron of Naples is the Catacombe di San Gennaro with its frescos, mosaic and other valued artwork.
A combination of architectural layers realized over time outlines the massive San Lorenzo Maggiore Basilica, built upon greek-roman remains, now restored and open to the public through the inner cloister.
Along Spaccanapoli the visitor can visit the Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo, with its unique façade obtained by a 15th century palace and marble decorations and paintings inside. The S. Chiara Monastery, with the the simple lines characteristic of the Franciscan churches, hedges in the royal tombs and the Chiostro delle Clarisse, with an unusual decoration entirely made with multi-coloured majolica depicting the colours of the land. Majestic as a cathedral and filled with art pieces is the church of San Domenico Maggiore, another interesting example of the peculiar artistic heritage of the city of Napoli.
The Sansevero Chapel is linked to the polyhedric personality of Raimondo di Sangro; the church is commonly called ‘pietatella’ and is a notable example of the merging of architecture and art. Famous is the Cristo Velato by Giuseppe Sammartino, which strikes the visitor for the extraordinary craftsmanship employed to design the shroud laid on the body of Jesus Christ.
The art collections of noble families such as the Farnese and Borgia, and the many finds from Pompei, Ercolano and other areas of constitute the comprehensive heritage of the largest museum of ancient art of southern Italy: the National Archeological Museum, housed in the Palazzo degli Studi.
The Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, surrounded by a large park, hosts the Capodimonte Museum and National Galleries, an incredible collection of masterpieces by Tiziano, Raffaello, Correggio, Masaccio, Mantegna, Caravaggio and the Neapolitan masters. Amazing is the furnishing of the Royal Apartments, where there is the famous Porcelain ‘salottino’, a masterpiece of the Capodimonte Royal Factory whose production is partly on display in the Porcelain Gallery. This is the only museum to balance the classic with the modern art –such as Andy Warhol’s.
The Museo Civico Gaetano Filangieri, in addition to a large collection of sculptures and paintings, hosts a vast array of European and Asian weapons, an invaluable numismatic collection and many precious porcelain items from the most important Italian and European factories.
Probably the most prominent squares of Napoli, Piazza del Plebiscito displays the grand colonnade designed by Gioacchino Murat, in front of which there is the magnificent Palazzo Reale designed by Domenico Fontana, home of the Vittorio Emanuele III National Library, the largest in southern Italy with ancient and priceless items. The S. Carlo Theatre is behind the Palazzo Reale, a temple for music and classic ballet where famed artists such as Gioacchino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti performed over the years. The Umberto I Gallery is just in front of the entrance of the theatre, with the marble floors decorated by fine geometries.
Along Via Toledo, one of the main streets, there are the so-called Quartieri Spagnoli, built in 1500 by Don Pedro da Toledo as army billets and now a neighbourhood with the most authentic Neapolitan spirit. The atmosphere that pervades the area can also be felt throughout the province, where an ancient mystique blends with the incomparable beauty of the environment.