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A Rambler in Naples


A few days in Naples can include a lot: a lot of churches, a lot of museums, a lot of food, and especially a lot of wandering through city streets, feeling out the city, making pictures of lovely and less so, and piling up enough questions and enough missed opportunities to keep the city on the bucket list.

That was especially true for us on this trip; some museums we wanted to see were under renovation; another wasn't open on our only day for it, and so on. But for me, at least, the wandering and noticing is as important as the places; here are some fruits of my ramblings.

Spaghetti and tomato sauce baked in a pie. Excellent!

For a start, Naples is a city with a lot of food to look at; much of it doesn't require stepping indoors, because like ancient Pompeii, a good portion of the businesses in the historic center are hole-in-the-wall food shops, mostly take-away, but occasionally with a stool or a table in the street.


It claims to be the birthplace of pizza, though many others dispute it, but it has a verifiable claim to the first pizzeria, above. The slightly peppery fried rings below, and the Vesuvius-shaped are definitely local. The baba is actually a baba au rhum, sometimes with jelly or chocolate inserted between the mountains and the rocks below.


Bread and cheese, of course...


But in Naples, even the statuary may take a culinary turn, as with this artichoke fountain.


Shopping in Naples is obviously not limited to small stores, especially outside the historic center. And Naples has one of the grandest of all the 19th century shopping galleries in Europe, the Galeria Umberto I, named for the second king of united Italy. Built in the late 1880s, not far from the port, it was meant to be the centerpiece of a decades-long renovation of the city.


The Galeria is essentially four long passages that meet under a central dome, with buildings designed to give the appearance of a major square or outdoor space, perhaps an echo of the ancient Forum of Rome, down to the faux-historic floor mosaics. From the hills above the city, it make a striking picture.


Near the Galeria on the waterfront is another landmark, witness to another rebuilding of the city, undertaken in the 13th century, when Sicily and Naples were united and capital and king moved from Palermo to Naples. The New Castle, as it was dubbed then, is nearly 800 years old now.


A more surprising survivor of yet another rebuilding plan is the fascist-era main Post Office building. What's especially surprising about that is that the facade still bears what amounts to a cornerstone, identifying the building as dating from 'The year 1936, the 14th of Fascism.'


Almost as plain a facade but hundreds of years older, this is the Gesu Nova, or New Church of Jesus.


Streets in the old quarter tend to be narrow and to intersect at odd angles—and occasionally to be interrupted by excavations. Only the fence around this one give you a hint: nothing's being built here; this is Roman, uncovered during street construction, and with no plan yet what to do. We were told it's been about ten years...


Naples has a world reputation for garbage and litter problems, although it didn't seem far different to other cities. But for those looking for some, here it is, along with a pigeon who wasn't interested in even the crust. Rats, however, appear to have a foothold, as a number areas had signs warning of rat poison.


Other than churches, most of the buildings in the area are not lavishly decorate, but this doorway at the Royal Conservatory of Music is an exception. A number of times when we passed by, crowds had gathered outside listening to student rehearsals and practice.


When you build and rebuild a city over centuries, you can usually find signs of 'adaptive reuse,' not just turning a church into a museum or concert hall, but making do with bits and pieces. A close look at the base of the campanile below reveals a patchwork: an inverted Roman column, resting on a paving stone on a recycled plinth held in place by rubble.


No, I don't really know why...but this was not the only one.


Occasionally a jumble of styles comes of building new things in tight places...


Below, and for this it's really the appropriate word, is the entrance to Underground Naples, a network of pathways and ancient cisterns that once supplied water and occasionally refuge to Neapolitans. It's a long descent, about 40 metres, and not surprisingly, it's always cool down there.

A local specialty: these are about 12" high, some of the many in the store were very elaborate. A few were set up with families and animals.


Father Nile has been around Naples for nearly two thousand years, but he's had a hard life. That's his second head and sphinx, and no one is really sure what he's meant to mean. More details here...


Below, two men ponder all that is Naples and its people and their ways. The Carabiniere appeared to be there for no particular reason—there was no sign of unrest. The other is Dante, standing in the square named for him, perhaps wondering in which circle of hell a poet is forced to stand motionless while pigeons deface him.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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Our 9-day guided tour of Italy had to skip Naples, because at the time there were worker strikes all over the city which we were told had escalated into pockets of violence.  So, we spent time in an out of the way hole-in-the-wall as you put it, where we had the most delicious red wine called Lacrima Christi or "Tears of Christ."  It is only from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.  I can find it in a local wine specialty shop that gets a few bottles each year.

George G

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