“Europe’s most beautiful city”, in the words of the great Cervantes, it was a fount of inspiration for Goethe as well: “One may write or paint as much as one likes, but this place, the shore, the gulf, Vesuvius, the citadels, the villas, everything, defies description.” It’s not for nothing that the capital of Italy’s Campania region is also a Unesco World Heritage. They call it the “cradle of civilization” and so it is. Neapolis, “the new city”, founded by a Greek colony in the 6th-7th century B.C. Where the nymph Parthenope, tossed in the water by Ulysses, landed and came to!
Toledo, where military garrisons were established to quell possible uprisings in the time of Spanish rule, is the city’s liveliest, and perhaps most “Neapolitan”, quarter today. Laundry draped on lines stretched over narrow streets, pepper plants dangling from window sills, women shouting out to their neighbors, street vendors hawking their wares, and the aroma of food cooking wafting over it all - how like Istanbul! No wonder my central Italian husband - who doesn’t understand a word of the Neapolitan dialect - describes his feelings in this noisy city as “alienation”, echoing my own sentiments when I roam the streets of my beloved Balat in Istanbul. A Neapolitan woman doctor’s son who has traveled in Turkey hit the nail on the head when he exclaimed upon setting eyes on Istanbul, “Wow! This is Naples!”.
But there are also things like no other, the things that make Napoli Napoli. For one thing, the Neapolitan songs, famous all over the world, a wistful blend of sadness and longing. Ruberto Murolo, “the singers’ singer”, and Sergio Brunin are the kings of this business. And the theater, the cinema, and the actors the city has given the world, like the unforgettable comedian Toto, or the great actor Eduardo de Filippo and his family. Not to mention the dark-eyed beauty Sophia Loren, who grew up near Naples. And then the cuisine, starting with pasta and pizza…
Pizza cannot be said to have originated in Naples, but the city is the home of the world-famous Margherita. A pizzaiolo by the name of Raffaele Esposito made a pizza of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves - to represent the red, white and green of the Italian flag - for Queen Margherita in 1889. The Queen loved it and the name stuck. Once regarded as “poor people’s food”, pizza is made best here. According to my Neapolitan teacher Natale, “People in northern Italy people eat pizza with a knife and fork, but real pizza is folded in four and eaten with the hands, just like in Naples!”
One of the first things that springs to mind at the mention of Naples is the magnificent Galleria Umberto I shopping mall with its soaring glass dome. And the opulent Salone Margherita di Napoli with its chic shops, historic cafes and cabaret, easily comparable to Paris’s “Moulin Rouge”. This dance cafe, whose opening was attended by princesses, countesses, and prominent politicians and journalists of the day, is a symbol of Italy’s early 20th century cultural flowering. The colorful Pignasecca market place with its rows of artisans’ workshops is yet another side of the city. For Naples is city of a thousand faces. People, streets and utter pandemonium on the one hand, capital of historic kingdoms on the other. The Royal Palace of 1836 stands on Piazza Plebiscito in the heart of the city. Another palace, Capodimonte, this one from 1738, is home to southern Italy’s finest art museum, boasting works by painters from Raphael and Goya to Botticelli and Bruegel.
And then Castel dell’Ovo, Naples’ oldest castle. This so-called “Castle of the Egg” stands guard over the nearby fishing village of Marinaro. Why “egg”, you ask? Here’s the story: According to legend, an egg hidden somewhere - nobody knows where - inside the castle is what keeps it standing. If one day the egg breaks, the castle will come crashing down, and the city of Naples will be destroyed in the natural disasters that ensue. There is also a seaside castle, Maschio Angioino, aka Castel Nuovo, harking back to the rule here of France’s Anjou dynasty. A medieval classic, it forms the backdrop today for newlywed photos at its location on the town square. Housing the Local Historical Society and the city museum, it is the protector of Naples. In short, there’s a lot to see and talk about in this city, so how about a tour plan?
POMPEII AND HERCULANEUM
Frozen in time in a disaster that occurred some 2,000 years ago. See Pompeii, buried under the lava and ash spewed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and the homes, theaters, bath, main square and administrative buildings at Herculaneum, which was engulfed by a river of lava in the same disaster. There are trains to both from Naples.
Considered one of the world’s best. On exhibition are pristine murals, mosaics and an extraordinary collection of sculptures, transported here from Pompeii and Herculaneum when the museum opened at the end of the 16th century.
NOT WITHOUT SEEING CAPRI!
If you go to Naples, don’t come back without seeing the rich and famous Isle of Capri right off the coast. Just fifty minutes away by seabus, an hour by ferry, Capri becomes the “isle of flowers” in springtime.
May 1 to 30: Monuments Month. All museums are open every day, and admission is free of charge for one week of the month.
May 1 to 4: Naples Comicon, International Comics Festival. For information: www.comicon.it
May 4 to 7: Capri Art Film Festival. A festival held on the Isle of Capri with world-famous Hollywood stars in attendance. For information: www.caprihollywood.com
Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Naples-Istanbul flights every day of the week. Departure times are at 11:45 a.m. from Istanbul and 1:55 p.m. from Naples. For information: www.turkishairlines.com