Naples, A City to Die For…
‘Go to Naples and then die’, the Italians say. It’s a play on words – a coastal town near Naples sounds like the Italian word for die – but the grim humour is in the supposed truth of the phrase. The city does have a seamy side and tourist tales of bag snatches and rip-off merchants abound, but on the other hand – if you are after cheap holidays and a city with layers of history piled chaotically one on top of the other, you can’t beat the capital of the south of Italy. Here are a few of the best bits off the beaten track, none of which will cost you too much to enjoy.
Napoli Sotterranea: Literally ‘Underground Naples’, these ancient catacombs in the volcanic tufo rock the city is built on can be entered next to the Church of Saint Paul of Tarsus on the Via Tribunali in the historic centre. From one maze of streets you descend forty metres down to another even narrower. Claustrophobes be warned – this may not be the tour for you – but sometimes the passages open out into caverns where there are remnants of the Neapolitans who sheltered here from bombardments during the war. Back much further, the tour takes you to the buried remains of an amphitheatre dating to the time of Emperor Nero and beyond.
Vomero: Napoli’s Montmartre, the best way to reach the hilltop zone of Vomero is via the funicular railway. Once there, you’ll find a somewhat more refined atmosphere than the market trading madness of the lower city. There are chic cafes aplenty where stylish Neapolitans hang out, checking out the latest fashions and generally whiling away the time in typically animated conversations. You’ll also want to visit the monument that dominates Vomero from the crest of the hill, the 13th century Castle of Saint Elmo.
Piazza Dante/University area: The area round Piazza Dante and Naples’ main university is one of the liveliest in the city, and crucially, one of the best for eating well on a budget. There are a few pizzerias here laying claim to the title of best in the city, where if you don’t want to offend the locals (never a good idea) you should choose a doughy Neapolitan base rather than the thin and crispy Roman style. Before or after you’ve eaten, check out the museum which is just north of Piazza Dante as well. Some of the finest discoveries from Pompei and Herculaneum are on display here – including the ever popular x-rated Roman era murals.
Spanish Quarter: A poor area just off the fashionable shopping drag of the Via Toledo, walking through the Spanish Quarter feels like being back in the nineteenth century. Tourists are a common sight, but still best to be wary as you negotiate the maze of streets. The Camorra (the Naples mafia) are known to have a strong presence here, something fans of the book and film, Gomorrah, may well know. Of course the presence of organized crime in Naples is linked to its relative poverty and that, oddly enough, is one of the reasons why this lively city is quite easy on the wallet for the budget traveler.