One might remember this iconic phrase from the even more iconic Joey Tribbiani of the hit TV-show, Friends. In this episode, Chandler and Joey (the best of friends) fall out over a girl they both like. Every time Joey encounters Chandler, he tells him ‘Vafanapoli!’ But what does he even mean?
Well, like the Reddit users arguing in this thread, Tuscans don’t really use this phrase. What they REALLY say is far more vulgar, but if I put that on this blog I am going to have to use sensitive content warnings, so why don’t you take a second to peruse this unassuming and totally innocent link….
‘Central Perk’ by William Warby on Flickr
Okay, now that you’re on board, let’s talk about Naples.
Va Fa Napoli: What’s the deal with Naples?
So, if Joey’s insult is a fabrication, is there any truth to it? Why Naples?
Good question, Me.
In this post, I explore the good and the bad of Naples. However, I will be largely ignoring Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and such like because they will be discussed properly in their own blogpost later in this series.
For now, let’s look at the dirty underbelly of Naples…
Naples has a bad reputation amongst tourists to Italy, who consider the City of Naples to be dangerous, dirty and unnecessary to any trip to Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast.
Naples has a fairly prominent Mafia-like crime gang, known as the Camorra, which you can read some more about here. According to Business Insider, it is the Camorra who are to blame for the city’s infamous trash problem. Alarmingly, their article mentions the absurdly high rate of cancer that results from long-time exposure to the toxic waste dumped in and around the Naples area. However, as reported by Wanted In Rome, this issue has been largely addressed in Naples. The presence of the Camorra is not as recognisable as it once was, with most tourists entirely unaware of their influence in the city should they not already know. Most tourists complain of pick pockets and petty thieves, but this is not uncommon in any main city in Italy, especially considering how many operate in Rome.
These issues are not insubstantial, but to disregard Naples so quickly on an ugly phase in its history would be to miss out on one of Italy’s most precious historical gems. There is a reason Naples’ historic centre is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.
You would have to be Bobo the Fool to not know that Naples has a long history, originating as a Greek city and continuing to be an important port in Southern Italy. The city is in close proximity to Mount Vesuvius, that cheeky volcanic devil who smothered Pompeii and the other sites you can read about in my blogpost here.
As a result of this fine and rich history, Naples has much to offer besides the incredible site of Pompeii, beginning with the National Museum of Archaeology.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale
In The National Archaeological Museum, you can find much of the archeological artefacts and evidence retrieved from the ruins of Pompeii and the surrounding Vesuvian plains. It is here you will get a great feel for the Ancient Pompeiian people, with epigraphs, mosaics, ancient erotic artwork, wall frescoes and street pottery detailing the politics of the time. Not to mention the colossal Farnese collection of Greek and Roman statues. It is well worth the visit if you are a big Classics nerd, like me.
The Naples Cathedral and The Catacombs of San Gennaro
Built on the foundations of a 6th Century cathedral, Duomo Di Napoli, Naples Cathedral, or San Gennaro Cathedral, dates from around 1294 – 1323. It remains despite having been subjected to the throes of an earthquake and significant bombing during World War II. There are many notable things in this cathedral for the more artsy among us, however, there is something of particular interest to me: The Chapel of the Treasury of San Gennaro.
This architectural gem was designed by Francesco Grimaldi in the early 17th-century and features the art work of many famous painters and sculptors. The background to why St. Januarius became the patron saint of Naples is that Naples and its people were in big trouble in the 16th-century. The Neapolitan people expressed a solemn vow to St. Januarius that they would build a chapel in exchange for his eternal protection. St. Januarius must have agreed, somehow, because this is how the chapel came to be here today.
If you’re into spooky tombs, which I admit I am, then the Catacombe di San Gennaro is for you. In the 5th-century, Saint Januarius’ body was interred here, making it the oldest catacomb in Naples. On offer are fresco paintings and mosaics dating from the 2nd-century. Within these tombs, there is a wealthy of information regarding how the different strata of society were buried. The tomb also holds the earliest portrait of the saint as the protector of Naples.
This next one is really special and is WAY up there on my To-Do list: Gaiola Underwater Park. This is a marine protected area which Visit Naples boasts has volcanological, biological and historic-archaeological sites to explore and marvel. It makes up roughly 42 hectares of sea and is home to some of the most varied sea flora and fauna in the Mediterranean, according to Visit Naples. There are centuries-old Ancient Roman ruins visible from the sea bed! Che figata, no? Not only is this place visually stunning, but it ALSO has ghost stories. C’mon?! It has everything. So, story goes, that this island was the wreck and ruin of its many inhabitants. One persistent spirit is that of a ghost woman, one who is said to have died in a shipwreck. But the island can do one better on this story. Other locals say that the ghost is that of Hans Braun’s wife. Hans himself was found murdered and rolled up in a carpet in his own villa, whereafter his wife fell into the sea in an accident caused by a cable car fault. An unfortunate couple to say the least.
Tomb of the Poet Virgil
Publicus Vergilius Maro, otherwise known as Virgil, is said to be buried in Piedigrotta in Naples. Virgil was a Roman poet during the reign of Augustus, who famously wrote The Aeneid, detailing Rome’s connection to the Ancient Greek hero, Aeneas, and his family line. Aeneas is told to have founded early Rome and many of the rulers and emperors to come would claim lineage from Aeneas. Much of his other work is beautiful, but if you are not Classically inclined, it is possible to find them very very very very boring. For example, The Georgics is literally just about farming. Nevertheless, his poetry is profound and lasts the test of time, inspiring many famous writers of history and modernity, such as Shakespeare, Dante, Joyce and Tennyson to name but a few. He died in Brundisium, but he asked for his remains to be brought back to Naples, where this tomb was built to house him eternally. Except that it doesn’t… But just let that one slide, will ya.
So, this is a house-museum, aiming to take you back in time to when it would have been at its peak splendour: in 1897, in the hands of the Pignatelli Aragona Cortés family. Princess Rosina Pignatelli transformed the villa into a cultural hub for intellectuals and creatives. During their time, they collected marbles, candelabra, books, porcelain, clocks, silverware, and bronzes, all of which can be viewed by visitors today. This is thanks to Princess Rosina, who donated the museum to the Italian state in honour of her husband’s memory, under the condition that nothing should be separated from their collection.
It is decorated in antique and exquisite furniture and furnishings, authentically reviving a time when this house would have been the height of lavish pleasure and excess. Incredibly Instagrammable, this house-museum will make you feel like a cast member of Beauty and The Beast, The Crown, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace all at once. And the GARDENS! Just stop me right there. It’s truly stunning. Take a look at those photos.
Museo Capella Sansevera
The Sansevero Chapel Museum is absolutely incredible. Just one look at that dizzying ceiling has me desperate to tour this marble-coated mausoleum. The chapel museum is home to the Veiled Christ (1753), a sculpture renowned for the skill of its sculptor, Giuseppe Sanmartino. This sculpture is one of the most famous in the world, it’s depiction of fabric through marble being astonishingly detailed and life-like.
The hilariously named Castel dell’Ovo, or Egg Castle, is situated on the island of Megaride in Naples. Legend has it that the castle got its name from an egg that the aforementioned Virgil hid in the dungeons of the castle. He placed this egg inside of a cage because, as the story goes, the fate of the castle rests with the fate of that very egg. It is a VERY silly story, but I absolutely love the idea of Virgil running around with an egg in a cage. Fantastic. Many Neapolitans, according to legend of course, really did believe Virgil when he told them their Fate rested on this magic egg. So, in 1370, Queen Joan of Anjou had to quell the public’s hysteria at the news that the egg had begun to fall apart by declaring the egg had been restored to its former magic-eggy glory. I told you, it’s just fantastic.
It was on this island that Lucullus built his lush, sprawling villa and gardens after becoming insanely wealthy in Asia. This castle was also the site of much conflict, but because I rarely care for Medieval or Modern Warfare, you can Google that yourself, or click here.
Naples harbours an incredible secret, 40-metres below its historic centre. It’s a secret that is over 2,500 years old and will blow your mind. Naples Underground is an underground tunnel system of tuffaceous cavities reaching as far back as the Ancient Greeks. The Romans later used these tunnels for building aqueducts. They excavated these tunnels in order to build a new city in the 4th-century BC, Neapolis. As a part of this unique underground tour, you can visit the World War II air-raid shelters, the remains of a Roman theatre, The War Museum and the Hypogeum Gardens, a vegetable garden which is growing deep underground in the bowels of Naples.
The Thermal Springs of Ischia
Ischia is a volcanic island that has been visited for its hot springs and radioactive waters since the Ancient Greek & Roman times. But don’t stress; at low concentrations, this water is actually known for its healing properties. Nobody has claimed superhuman powers yet… But then again… I wouldn’t declare my Spidey Senses either… Hmm…
Anyways, not only does it have beautiful hot springs, but Ischia has ancient ruins, beaches, geysers and even a castle! There is no real monopoly on the waters regarding ‘best’ pools to bathe in, though regulars may have their preferences and marketers will try their best to sway you. So, don’t feel you need to pay top dollar at the expensive resorts. There are a number of open public hot springs that anyone can dip in. (Check out this post for the best public spots!) An affordable access hotel or spa will also do. Apparently, these waters make your skin feel INCREDIBLE. I can’t wait to try it. (I promise to update all those interested when I finally make the trip.)
Travelling around Naples
Whatever you do, DO NOT DRIVE. I don’t drive anyways, and I love a good bus ride, but if you’re thinking of driving, I urge you to read through what Wanted In Rome have to say on the matter. Take the bus, or if you’re alright with a stroll, you can take the periphery trains and walk to where you need to be. Walking is worthwhile, considering Naples has the most preserved street plan from Ancient Roman times of any Italian city, or so they say.
And that’s the 411 on Naples!
If you have any other hot tips and tricks, let me know! Hit up the comment box and give me your suggestions.
Ciara O’Siorain (chi desidera diventare la bella donna figa come gli italiani)