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I love Naples. It isn’t incredibly easy to navigate from the beginning, a warren of small streets. Skip the car if you can and lean in to getting lost – it’s a charming place, lots and lots of people, very rough (and beautiful at the same time). I was told Naples doesn’t erase, or even really repair, they just add layers – and you feel it, this is a city that still has hints of thousands of years of history in plain sight.

Hotels

  • We stayed a bit outside of town at the **B/W Hotel Paradiso, which I quite liked. Quieter, with parking.
  • For work trips, **Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo is one of the nicer downtown locations. It’s fine, a bit functional for my taste, but the breakfast room is gorgeous with a great view of the city.
  • Colleagues stayed at *NH Napoli Panorama. Lobby is not great, rooms reportedly very small. Acceptable, but not a top choice.

Sites

  • ***Catacombs of San Gennaro: Very impressive, if a bit out  of the city. On a hill, under a magnificent cathedral. The catacombs themselves are quite large, going down two stories (and possibly more, they haven’t been completely excavated). There were three types of graves – those in the ground, those in rectangular cutouts in the wall, and large room-like family tombs with beautiful paintings and mosaics. Most were built (and reused) in the 2nd-5th centuries A.D. I loved one with three layers – the first painting (they assume) of a dead child, the second of child + parent, and the final of a child + mother + father. There were also many pictures of African ‘sacerdotes.’ In the rear of the cave you find the roof paintings of the original church, with paintings of the first 31 bishops of Naples, and many early Christian images (heavily influenced by pagan themes and designs). 
  • **Chiesa Museo di Santa Luciella ai Librai is an odd and charmingly offbeat find. Abandoned and abused for many years (used as a garage, a landfill), since 2016 it’s been a focal point of the Cultural Association Respiriamo Arte, who lead tours and are slowly restoring the place. Founded shortly before 1327, in 1629 it was dedicated as the Chapel of the Art of the Molinari (millers or workers at a mill). It was later dedicated to lava stone workers – Saint Lucia specifically because the processing of the lava stone constituted a risk to the eyes of which she is the patron saint. The underground cemetery was for the lava workers only, and remains a slightly creepy and interesting place. The skull with ears is famous (and hard to see, unless you’re very tall). 
  • **Complesso Monumentale Sant’Anna dei Lombardi: The church was founded in 1411 by Gorello Origlia, ]protonotario of King Ladislaus of Durres, who sponsored the construction of a small church called Santa Maria di Monteoliveto. Radical expansion work by Alfonso II of Aragon King of Naples led to the church becoming a favorite of the Aragonese court. It’s ornate and diverse, with a wide variety of updates over a long period of time (including post WWII-repairs). I didn’t do the paid chapels, but the public areas are impressive and it’s likely worth a full visit. I especially liked the stone inlay work, until I saw the inlay extreme at Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo
  • **Complesso Monumentale di Santa Chiara lives up to the name – it’s a huge place, almost overwhelming in its scale – the church itself towers above the city and was designed to be visible from the sea. It’s worth going to the museum – the church is not elegant (heavily bombed in WWII), but the pictures of the “before” state are quite moving. Also the Cloister is gorgeous, one of the prettiest spots in the city.
  • The **Church of the Gesù Nuovo is one of the most important and vast churches in the city, with one of the highest concentrations of baroque painting and sculpture – I think of it as the Church of the Inlay, with remarkable decorative stonework on nearly every surface. The sourcing of different areas within the huge building  is complex (many changes, many catastrophic events) and it’s worth taking time to linger and explore. The exterior facade is also really interesting, very modern in appearance (though not new). 
  • ***Naples National Archaeological Museum: one of the best of its kind, with (among many other things) an extensive treasure trove of artifacts from Pompei.
  • ***Napoli Sotterranea: At 130 feet below, wonders of the ancient world are revealed, as the Napoli Sotterranea organization’s tour (10 euros) takes you into a maze of caves that stretches over 280 miles, carved into the volcanic tuff bedrock by the Greeks in the 4th century B.C. The 90-minute tour guides visitors past a Greek-Roman theater where Nero once performed, and through the archaic hollows where Neapolitans took shelter during World War II air raids. We loved this.
  • **Sansevero Chapel Museum is a chapel housing almost thirty works of art, including the very famous Christ Veiled under a Shroud by Giuseppe Sanmartino. It’s a gorgeous collection in a relatively small space (book well in advance, expect to be packed in with lots of people) that is worth planning for. My favorite was The Release from Deception with its elaborate fishing net carving.

Food

  • **Solopizza Napoli is an easy and fairly tasty pizza stop. Not crowded, friendly staff.
  • **Tandem is the place for authentic Ragu. It’s not fancy, popular with students, and has huge portions (several locations around the city).

Articles


Pompeii

Pompeii and Stabeia are a lot to see in one day – better to hit on different days. Pompeii is well documented, very crowded, quite worth it.


Stabiae

This article caught my attention years ago – “With its stunning views of the Bay of Naples and nearby Mount Vesuvius, Stabiae was a playground for the glitterati of the day. The entire area remained untouched until 1748, when engineers and soldiers were hired by the ruling Bourbon kings to find Pompeii. They dug tunnels and trenches and were rewarded by finding not Pompeii — not at first, anyway — but Stabiae’s Villa San Marco, Villa Arianna and evidence of other homes of up to 200,000 square feet each, which tells us plenty about the wealth of their owners. When Pompeii was unearthed three miles to the north, around 1750, the king did not have enough manpower to explore both sites at the same time. Attention and workers were diverted to Pompeii, and Stabiae’s tunnels and trenches were filled in to prevent weather damage and looting. The site remained closed and all but forgotten for another 200 years.”

Do go to the trouble of finding Stabiae (it takes some work). It’s empty and very impressive, the high rent district compared to Pompeii.

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