Naples is located halfway between the volcano Vesuvius and the separate volcanic area, the Phlegrean Fields. It is an enchanting and moving city. It is unique and different. A lot of symbols of Italy abroad were born here, as for example the pizza, the pasta, the ragù (tomato sauce with veal or pork requiring 5-6 hours cooking time), the unique ricotta-based pastiera, the babà, the tarantella, the Neapolitan mask Pulcinella, the Neapolitan songs, the Neapolitan theatre, the typical Neapolitan comic spirit.
Founded by the Greeks, and therefore with a millenary history, Naples was the capital of southern Italy and Sicily for eight centuries - the greatest pre-unitary Italian state ever - and became a reference point for the entire European culture. Its past is visible in its architecture (its town centre is on UNESCO's World heritage list), but also in all its vernacular idioms, cuisine, music, handicrafts and theatre.
Its town centre is quite large (the biggest in Europe), and so rich (in the 1700s, Naples had something like 500 cupolas, although today there are approximately 100 less due to the World War II bombings: it is still the city with the greatest number of monumental churches in the world), making it fascinating to get lost in it; people are enraptured by the alleys of its popular districts, the outlines of its historic palaces and the numerous signs of religious devotion, all in a Baroque style.
If the Caracciolo seafront and Via Partenope are the main places people from Naples go for walks (up to Ovo castle), then piazza Plebiscito is the throbbing heart of the city and a place where locals gather: overlooking the square is the Royal Palace, the heart of power in Naples since the 1600s. Behind it is Nuovo castle, better known as the Maschio Angioino, which dominates Town Hall square.
Behind Town Hall is Via Toledo, to the west of which is the labyrinth of the Spanish Districts, otherwise known as the "purest Neapolitan" areas in the city. As is the adjacent Spaccanapoli, one of the districts with the most churches: among others, Santa Chiara with its annexed Clarisse cloister, realized in the 1300s.
Next to San Lorenzo Maggiore (also frequented by Boccaccio, while Petrarch lived in the annexed convent) is Via dei Tribunali, which intersects with Via del Cathedral: erected in a place where there has always been a place of worship right from the 4th Century, the Cathedral was subjected to subsequent restoration and remodeling. Its doorways date back to the 1400s, and inside is the church of Santa Restituta, one of the early Christian basilicas on which it is set. Vomero hill, a city within the city, dominates the city's historic districts from above.
Certainly the museums enriching Naples cannot be overlooked, starting with the National Archaeological Museum and the Reggia di Capodimonte, on the hill, home to a wonderful porcelain collection. Visitors must also make a stop at the Girolamini monastery, St. Peter's music conservatory in Maiella, Pio Monte della Misericordia (with its famous art gallery), and the San Several chapel in which the mysterious statue of the veiled Christ is kept.
There is an extraordinary but little-known side of Naples. It is Naples underground.
Starting in piazza San Gaetano (dedicated to one of the 54 patron saints of the city), visitors are led 40 m underground along a guided tour through old underground cisterns dating back to the Greek-Roman period and active up to the 1800s: Naples was in fact the only large European city to have drinking water in its homes, supplied by a system of wells connected to underground-aqueduct cisterns, which were obtained by digging in the tuff: today, one kilometre (of the tens of kilometres under the city) of the galleries can be visited. The old, underground Greek-Roman theatre can also be visited.
The San Gennaro catacombs should also be visited, in the bowels of the city; this burial complex is the most important in southern Italy both for its age (they date back to the 2nd Century) and its frescoes dating back to the 10th Century. Here is a little something about Gennaro, the patron saint par excellence: his blood was collected in an ampoule and three times a year in the Cathedral (19th September, the Saturday before the first Sunday in May and 16th December), the "miracle" of blood takes place, when the blood liquefies and then coagulates again.