This is the first post on my blog; I’m so excited! As you can see on my About page, I’m from Naples. My city is famous, of course (!), for the pizza and for the songs and for the Vesuvius, and also for the many problems that, as in every big city, you can face there.
But there’s way more to it than this, Naples is a city with a long, uninterrupted history dating back to the ancient Greeks, and I want to show you the beautiful monuments and cultural stuff that you can visit there.
Actually I’ve even encountered tourists who happened to be in Naples and didn’t know what to go and see, and hadn’t been able to find somebody to point it out to them. So, I also feel that posting about sightseeing in Naples could be something useful to people interested in coming to Southern Italy.
The only problem is that there are so many things to see, that I can’t put all of them in one post, so I will split them in more posts, according to the neighbourhood or the zone they are in. This first post is dedicated to the very centre, and most ancient part, of the city: the so-called Decumani.
This is actually the original centre of the ancient Greco-Roman city, where both the agora/market and, more above, the acropolis (the religious centre) were located. The name Decumani derives from the ancient street grid (still visible today) of streets running east-west (decumani), perpendicular to streets running north-south (cardi).
Starting your walk in the Decumani, be sure you don’t miss a stop at the statue of the Nile god, shown in the picture above. It’s a marble statue representing the god of the River Nile, built in the 2nd to 3rd century AD by the immigrants from Alexandria of Egypt living in Naples, by way of thanks for the friendly way that they were treated by the local people.
Also, above the Decumani are still visible the arcades of the ancient Roman theatre, which have now become parts of dwellings. Even the street still follow the arched form of the theatre, and it’s funny walking there, but the streets are really an intricate maze of small alleys, so you could really get lost, be very careful or go with some acquaintance that knows the way.
So, after this lengthy introduction, are you ready? Following is the list of the best things to see in the Decumani, which you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in Naples.
1. San Lorenzo Maggiore
This is actually a basilica, the construction of which started in the 13th century. It was completed in the 18th century with some reconstruction works to repair damage caused by earthquakes. Building of the cloister annexed to the basilica was begun in the 14th century; it is noteworthy for two rooms, the Sala Capitolare and the Sala Sisto V, decorated with 17th-century frescoes.
The most amazing, though, is what you can see underground, entering from the cloister: the ancient Roman covered market, under which also remains of the previous agora of the Greek period (Greeks actually founded Naples) have been found. You can walk inside this maze of ancient shops with very well preserved walls and structures, with backrooms, banks, oven, windows for air and light still intact. You actually have the impression of being taken back to 2,000 or more years ago, and feel as an ancient Roman walking to get groceries.
The cloister also offers access to a museum, which displays finds from the ancient agora/market and also more modern objects. It is noteworthy for its collection of ecclesiastical objects. For more information, visit the website.
2. Basilica di S. Paolo Maggiore
Almost in front of San Lorenzo Maggiore is the Basilica of S. Paolo Maggiore. This was originally a temple for the Dioscuri built in the 5th century BC, and then in the 9th-10th century was transformed into a basilica for S. Paul. It was reconstructed in the 15th century, but some original elements are still visible, such as the Corinthian columns in the facade.
It’s definitely worth a visit, for its impressive architecture – already the stairs leading to the entrance door are quite imposing – and the lavish decorations, the wonderful canvas and reliefs, visible mostly in the chapels situated along the lateral naves. Visit the website for further information.
3. Cappella Sansevero
A short walk from the Basilica of S. Paolo Maggiore will take you to another one of my favourite attractions, namely the Chapel of Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of San Severo. Originally this was an ancient temple of Isis; then in the 16th century it became a small gentilitial church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
In the 18th century it was refurbished with richly significant decoration by Raimondo di Sangro, who was famous for carrying on scientific experiments and was rumored to be a sort of alchemist or scientist-magician. The must-see of this chapel is the so-called Veiled Christ (shown in the picture above), a statue created by Giuseppe Sanmartino and representing the dead Christ covered by such a finely-worked veil that rumors where spread about Raimondo actually transforming a person, or at least the veil, into stone through a potion.
In the underground part of the same chapel there are two so-called Macchine anatomiche, two representation of human bodies whose blood systems and vessels are so finely executed that it was rumored that they were two actual persons: two servants used by the Prince in his experiments. For more information, visit the website.
4. Santa Chiara
Not far is the basilica of Santa Chiara, with annexed monastery and marvelous cloisters. Originally there were Roman thermae (baths) here, dated to the 1st century AD, which were used at least until the 4th century AD, according to the finds. Later, in the 14th century, the King decided to build a basilica in Gothic style, with attached monastery.
The basilica in itself is worth visiting for the architecture that creates an impressive, almost spiritual atmosphere, including great lighting; the canvas in the chapels located in the lateral naves, and the frescoes of the 14th century are still visible. Members of the royal and the noble families are buried there.
Also, the cloister is fantastic, with the colourful decorations of perfectly finely worked maiolica realized in the 18th century, a must-see artistic masterpiece.
From the cloister there is access to a small museum with very finely and richly decorated ecclesiastical objects, and an exposition with nativity sets, both worth a visit.
Finally, from the museum there is access to a part that I particularly like: the excavated Roman thermae, mentioned above, with also an exhibit of the finds unearthed there.
Be really sure not to miss visiting this, also because the ticket is very cheap! For more information, visit the website.
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All my love, my darlings, hope to see you soon! Ciao ciao!