We docked in the heart of Naples next to the ferry terminal just yards away from the shopping centre of the city. The Neapolitans are passionate about their home town, and with good reason. Beyond the tired clichés – pizza, mobsters and handbag snatchers – is a warm, vital and often beautiful city. Churches, palaces and castles from its heyday as capital of the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples mingle with world-class galleries, museums and archaeological sites.
Few regions of Italy claim as many iconic images as the corner of Campania that holds the Amalfi Coast, Naples, and the sun-splashed islands of Capri, Ischia, and Procida. If the colourful cliffside houses don’t win your heart, the azure sea will. Cultural highlights are always nearby too, from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum to the echoes of classical history in the vibrant streets of Naples and Sorrento.
Then there are the views. Head upwards from the old quarter’s narrow lanes and the seaside city, all earthy tones and palm trees in the shadow of brooding Vesuvius, is at your feet, with the Bay of Naples beyond. There’s plenty to enjoy at street level, too. After 10 years of sprucing up, the cobbled streets are enticing places to wander. So much of life takes place out of doors here that there is always something to observe. Find a piazza or a café terrace and you’ll have your own street theatre performance to go with the coffee and cakes that fuel all this liveliness.
“Built like a great amphitheatre around her beautiful bay, Naples is an eternally unfolding play acted by a million of the best actors in the world,” Herbert Kubly observed in his American in Italy. “The comedy is broad, the tragedy violent. The curtain never rings down.” A huge zest for living and crowded conditions in the shadow of Vesuvius make Naples the most vibrant city in Italy—a steaming, bubbling, reverberating minestrone in which each block is a small village, every street the setting for a Punch-and-Judy show, and everything seems to be a backdrop for an opera not yet composed.
It’s said that northern Italians vacation here to remind themselves of the time when Italy was molto Italiana—really Italian. In this respect, Naples—Napoli in Italian—doesn’t disappoint: Neapolitan rainbows of laundry wave in the wind over alleyways open-windowed with friendliness, mothers caress children, men break out into impromptu arias at sidewalk cafés, and street scenes offer Fellini-esque slices of life. Everywhere contrasting elements of faded gilt and romance, rust and calamity, grandeur and squalor form a pageant of pure Italianità—Italy at its most Italian.
As the historic capital of Campania, Naples has been perpetually and tumultuously in a state of flux. Neapolitans are instinctively the most hospitable of people, and they’ve often paid a price for being so, having unwittingly extended a warm welcome to wave after wave of invaders. Lombard’s, Goths, Normans, Swabians, Spanish viceroys and kings, and Napoleonic generals arrived in turn; most of them proved to be greedy and self-serving. Still, if these foreign rulers bled the populace dry with taxes, they left the impoverished city with a rich architectural inheritance.
The ancient city of Pompeii — famously ruined in A.D. 79 when mighty Mount Vesuvius blew its top — is one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions. Few visitors make it to the top of the towering volcano, but those who do enjoy a commanding view. The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the commune of Pompeii. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Researchers believe that the town was founded in the seventh or sixth century BC by the Osci or Oscans. It came under the domination of Rome in the 4th century BC, and was conquered and became a Roman colony in 80 BC after it joined an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman Republic. By the time of its destruction, 160 years later, its population was approximately 11,000 people, and the city had a complex water system, an amphitheatre, gymnasium and a port.
The eruption destroyed the city, killing its inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash. Evidence for the destruction originally came from a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens. The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1 748.The objects that lay beneath the city have been well-preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture.