See Naples and live

Tired after a long journey, being dropped in the wrong place by our taxi driver was not the best first impression we had of Naples.

ornate courtyards, baroque churches, underground labyrinths, morbid rituals and a medley of rich pastries and pizzas

Fed-up and hungry, we navigated our way through the winding passageways of the city, dragging our suitcases amidst the echoes of gossiping neighbours and mischievous children, while dodging rusty, buzzing scooters. Eventually reaching the historic centre, we were enticed and rejuvenated by authentic, freshly cooked pizza.

Naples is free of the swarming tourist masses that are inescapable in cities such as Rome and Venice

When thinking of Naples, it is easy to merely imagine a city of grime, crime and dilapidated buildings. But this only adds to its unique charm. Instead, picture ornate courtyards, baroque churches, underground labyrinths, morbid rituals and a medley of rich pastries and pizzas.

Largely overlooked, Naples is free of the swarming tourist masses that are inescapable in cities such as Rome and Venice.

in the morning you are met with the sound of church bells ringing and the smell of freshly brewed coffee

Be sure to spend at least a weekend in Naples — you definitely won’t regret it, and it is sure to not break the bank. Leaving the apartment in the morning you are met with the sound of church bells ringing and the smell of freshly brewed coffee.

Start your day off well with warm sfogliatelle from one of Naples’ oldest bakeries – Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio; rich and warm spiced ricotta is encased in flaky, buttery pastry, freshly baked in front of you.

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the eccentric shrines of the rich – their skulls embedded into the walls and decorated with frescoes

Take some time to explore the curious obsession with death that permeates Neapolitan life. Visit the excavated catacombs of San Gennaro and San Gaudioso for a glimpse of underground Naples that dates back to 200AD, as you head beneath beautifully ornate churches that reveal the eccentric shrines of the rich – their skulls embedded into the walls and decorated with frescoes. Alongside these are the plain, characterless graves of the poor, a symbol for the inequalities that still exist in the city today.

Neapolitans used to adopt and pray for skulls that they believed were in purgatory

All the bones from the catacombs were recently transported to Fontanelle cemetery, which leads you inside a cave overflowing with cobweb coated skulls.

Continuing your macabre journey, visit the church named Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco. Here, Neapolitans used to adopt and pray for skulls that they believed were in purgatory. Adopting skulls is now illegal, but you can still visit the shrines, the most famous being dedicated to the skull of a young girl named Lucia.

peeling walls scattered with barred, shattered windows and vivid, menacing graffiti

It only gets more obscure with a nearby Doll’s Hospital where old china dolls are ‘operated’ on.

Make sure to get a glimpse of ‘Jesopazzo’, an abandoned mental asylum; it is a rather chilling sight to look up at its peeling walls scattered with barred, shattered windows and vivid, menacing graffiti.

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you are surrounded by is a scattering of lemon and olive trees and brightly painted baroque columns

Lighten your spirit with a visit to Castel Sant’Elmo with some of the most breathtaking panoramas of the city, or Castel dell’Ovo for a wonderful skyline adjoining a dazzling cobalt ocean. Alternatively, in the silent Cloister gardens of the Santa Chiara monastery, all you are surrounded by is a scattering of lemon and olive trees and brightly painted baroque columns.

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If you decide to escape Naples to visit Pompeii, prioritise climbing Vesuvius. From the exit of Pompeii, pay €5.50 for a winding, rocky return bus trip up the dormant volcano, which allows just enough time to race to the top to see the crater.

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From the top of Vesuvius indulge in the splendid landscape of the surrounding towns that lie below the clouds, illuminated by the afternoon sun.

treat yourself to what will without doubt be the best, and cheapest pizza you will have ever eaten

Once back in Naples after a stuffy train ride home of sandy and sunburnt families on their way back from a day spent in Sorrento, treat yourself to what will without doubt be the best, and cheapest pizza you will have ever eaten.

Pair with an Aperol Spritz and finish the night off with fresh gelato or tiramisu, and you’ll never want to leave

The best places to go are Di Matteo, Pizza Starita, or Sorbillo, where you will be served a fresh, doughy pizza, coated in only the best tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, drizzled with locally sourced olive oil. Pair with an Aperol Spritz and finish the night off with fresh gelato or tiramisu, and you’ll never want to leave.

To really bring your trip to life, read renowned author Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan four-part family saga. Writing under a pseudonym, Ferrante communicates a painfully true account of Naples.

The two intelligent protagonists – Elena and Lila – experience poverty, oppression brought on by the clash between fascism and communism, and of the struggle of independence under a male-dominated society.

Set from the 1950s to present, Ferrante refers to multiple areas of Naples that conjure up impressions of the city, enticing the reader into even deeper exploration.

Before the end of your journey, hunt down the baroque Palazzo dello Spagnolo, a gaudy staircase built in 1738, hidden behind a typical market street of inner-Naples.

a grotesque concrete exterior reveals a delicate and ornate goldfinished interior

Wander around the intricate churches of Naples, visiting Capelle San Severo, the Catedral de Nápoles, and Gesú Nuovo, a church whose bizarre, grotesque concrete exterior reveals a delicate and ornate goldfinished interior.

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We often hear “see Naples and die”, but truly, to see Naples is to live, and amongst the morbid sentiment is a fascinating history waiting to be discovered. illuminated by the afternoon sun.


This was originally posted on Epigram.

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