So yes, Rome blew me away with its art, history, food, and culture. There is perhaps no better way to start getting to know Italy than by exploring the capital. However, Rome is also just a gateway to the rest of country with hundreds of beautiful, wonderful destinations. In fact, it was not Rome that stole my heart during this trip, but Naples. Yes, Naples.
I get the impression that Naples is known for all the wrong sort of things. It’s dirty, it’s rough, it’s full of crime. And indeed, there are a lot of bits that are ‘bad’.
But, Naples has character, a soul that is both troubled and sophisticated. It has depth. I admit, I was at first quite afraid of such a foreign place but as the days went on I suddenly felt incredibly refreshed to see a city so distinct from Rome.
Perhaps the key to understanding Naples is understanding who Pulcinella is. He is described as ‘the voice of the people, as the direct expression of a people as lively and spirited as the Neapolitans is never questioned’. Pulcinella embodies duality — two sides of the same man. On the one hand, he’s lazy, unreliable, exploitive and selfish, but on the other hand he’s clever, spontaneous, funny and a rebel. He’s unpredictable and difficult to understand, but nonetheless he is indispensable. This is Naples.
There are many wonderful treasures in Naples, but below I’ve listed some of my highlights.
When I was planning my trip to Naples, I had a debate as to how long I should stay in the city. I knew I wanted to use it as a sort of jumping point where Victor and I could do day trips to Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum and elsewhere. However, I wanted to dedicate one whole day to one specific thing: the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
If you have any hope of understanding or even appreciating any of the archaeological area of Campania, you simply must visit this museum. It contains Roman artifacts from nearby Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. It is also a marvel because of the sheer amount of stuff in the collections.
For example, the amount of statues and sculptures! You just enter room upon room full of glorious, elegant, completely still men and women. Admittedly, you quickly become desensitized. What a thing it is to get used to something so amazing.
After taking in all the beautiful artwork, you move on to another wonderland of history. The museum has the most impressive collection of mosaics. Ancient Greeks and Romans decorated their villas with intricate mosaics: essentially, murals made up of tiny little stones. Most of the mosaics in the collection are from the floors or walls of the major ancient sites. The most well-known are the mosaics from the House of the Faun, one of the largest and most impressive private residences in Pompeii.
Though of course, I’ve saved the best for last. The most impressive section of the museum is the part dedicated to frescoes and murals. Essentially all of Pompeii’s colour and life is here.
Let’s leave beyond antiquity for a moment to focus on another amazing thing about Naples: the pizza! Pizza in Naples is quite special, but perhaps you are not sure why. Though there are several arguments for where pizza exactly originated, Naples is most definitely at the heart of that history. Greek conquerors moved into Italy with their flatbreads and from this, Margherita pizza was invented in Naples in 1889. Since then, hundreds of pizza joints have popped up. You can’t pass a single street without seeing a neon sign declaring pizza.
Neapolitan pizza is usually only one of two options: margherita or marinara. In fact, the UN’s cultural body made the job of pizzaiuolo, or pizza-maker, “intangible cultural heritage”. Yes, making Neapolitan pizza is now a UNESCO treasure. They stated: “The culinary know-how linked to the making of the pizza, which includes gestures, songs, visual expressions, local slang, the ability to handle the dough, show oneself off and share it is an indisputable cultural heritage.”
Though Naples is full of delicious pizza, only a handful of establishments provide the best of the best. As a lover of pizza, and an explorer of all things authentic, my hands-down favourite pizzeria is L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. For other great options, try Starita or. Skip Gino Sorbillo — it’s overrated.
In addition to spending sometime on trying some pizza, you also need to try out a trattoria. Imagine walking up to a rough-around-the-edges family establishment offering an extensive menu of traditional home-cooked Italian dishes. Trattorias are manifestations of Italian grandmothers cooking for those they care about. Not only do you get to try hearty food, trattoria menus are cheap!
For example, at Trattoria Da Nennella, a meal consisting of a first dish, second dish (fish or meat) and side dish is only 15 euros! We ordered things like pasta and potatoes with cheese, salads, roasted chicory and eggplant. We also got fried anchovies — yum yum!
The fourth and final day in Naples proved to be quite different weather-wise. Our trip to Italy had thus been heavy coats and boots. But, upon arrival to Naples the sun finally emerged. We wore t-shirts and I even had a Magnum ice cream!
The sea brings over you a weird sense of nostalgia. Because it is so beautiful, it also makes you stop and think. I’m in Italy! Naples! And, what a beautiful city it is. And by the city, I mean all of it: the bad, the good, the ugly, and the magic.
What do you think? Would you visit Naples?