Naples: raw and gritty?

Post written by Laura

The Italian city of Naples has an unfortunate reputation of being a dirty, dangerous and crime ridden city overrun with Mafia… However as this was the meeting place for my 4th Intrepid tour ‘Amalfi Coast Hike, Boat and Kayak‘ I had no option other than to stay there…

With my bestie Bridget we had decided to take part in an active holiday to explore the Amalfi Coast, said to be one of the most stunning coastlines in the World.

We arrived in Naples a day early to enable us to explore the Old Town in which we were staying, carb up with lots of pizza and relax in readiness for a week of hiking.

Piazza Vincenzo Bellini

After Rome and Milan, Naples is the third largest city of Italy and with its close proximity to famous landmarks such as Pompeii, Vesuvius and the glamorous island of Capri it can sometimes be overlooked.

Having arrived during late afternoon, after checking into the Hotel Neapolis in the heart of the Old Town, we set off for an initial exploration with a particular mission to find our first pizzeria!

Our first impressions of the Old Town were positive… despite its reputation the historic narrow cobbled streets were vibrant and full of life. Open air bakeries and coffee shops lined the streets selling slices of pizza and a variety of pastries. We tried a sfogliatella, a ridged pastry in the shape of a shell and filled with a custardy ricotta.

A bit later we thought our mission had been accomplished when we found a pleasant outdoor table in the Piazza del Gesu Nuovo. Unfortunately the pizzas were somewhat burnt and tasteless… this was disappointing as Naples is the original home of the pizza and we were expecting something special…

Piazza Vincenzo Bellini

Sunday in Naples

Following the disappointing pizza we set off the following morning for a full day of Naples action… We returned to the nearby Piazza Vincenzo Bellini, where underground ruins can be seen. We had stopped in this lively plaza for a drink the previous evening.

Books for sale!
Jazz music
Piazza Dante

We came across the statue of Pulcinella, a puppet character from Naples that is referred to as Mr Punch in the UK!

Banksy: Madonna with a Pistol

We found the only Banksy in Naples, the ‘Madonna with a Pistol’ where a gun is found where the halo should be! This is to show the link between crime and religion in Naples. The Banksy had a protective cover which is why there is glare and reflection on the image.

Street art

Amongst the masses of graffiti, Naples has its fair share of street art. The mural above was painted by an artist called Jorit.

Piazza San Gaetano
Napoli Sotterranea

For 10 euros we visited the Napoli Sotterranea, or ‘Naples Underground’ a labyrinth of underground tunnels, caves and historic foundations dating back to nearly 5000 years when they were first inhabited.

In the 3rd century BC the Greeks began using volcanic material for buildings and later the Romans implemented an advanced water system. During the 2nd World War, the underground was used as a shelter as Naples was Italy’s most bombed city.

Tours are held every two hours and we were part of a large group of about 60 people. We had to walk down steps to a depth of 40 meters and from here we visited the caverns and by candle light had to squeeze through narrow tunnels. The guide explained how the city of Naples was built on these ancient foundations.

Bridget and Laura

For lunch, as we strolled through the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore we came across ‘Jamon‘ described by Lonely Planet as a ‘savvy little deli–wine bar’. We had our first Aperol spritz of the trip, an Italian cocktail containing Aperol, Prosecco and a dash of soda. This was a great little pit stop ideal for people watching while munching on delicious tapas.

Archeological area

Later in the afternoon and a short distance from Napoli Sotterranea we visited the ‘San Lorenzo Maggiore‘ the location of another ancient buried city. The entrance fee was also 10 euros but this time we were able to wander around by ourselves. There were far less people and in some ways this site was much more varied.

We began at the archeological area with its 3 meter wide underground Roman road where you could see the remnants of shops such as a bakery and a winery and even the ancient tax office!

Chapter Hall

Upstairs we wandered through the museum and the elaborate Chapter Hall with its fresco walls and ceilings. Fresco is a type of mural painting.

Naples baba’s

Following our dose of history and culture it was time for a snack… Baba’s are another Naples tradition and hundreds of them can be found lining the shelves of the bakeries of Naples.

At 6 pm it was time to meet our Intrepid leader and group. Tour leader Giovanni introduced himself and gave us a run-down of the itinerary for the week… this was followed by a visit to another pizzeria which enabled us to start getting to know our 10 new Intrepid friends! And the pizza was much better this time 🙂

Naples summary

I last visited Naples in December 2008 and do remember a certain ‘grittiness’ and so wasn’t too eager to visit again. This time however we focussed exclusively on the Old Town and I was pleasantly surprised! While there is still a huge amount of graffiti (which reminded me of Valparaiso in Chile) I felt Naples also had a certain charm… I felt safer than I did in Valparaiso and had a brilliant day exploring the narrow streets and buzzing piazzas. The lack of tourism and commercialism added to the authenticity.

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