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Naples and area, Italy

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Did You Know…?

  • Naples is considered the birthplace of modern pizza (1889).
  • The University of Naples is the world’s oldest state-run university (1224).
  • Dormant since 1944, Vesuvius is the only active volcano in continental Europe.
  • Some Neapolitan pizzas carry the D.O.C. designation in the way wines do.
  • Vesuvius has erupted more than 50 times since the devastating episode in 79 A.D.

Of Vesuvius and pizza

The Naples area, on the west coast of southern Italy, is known for Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. The remarkably well-preserved cities and their victims provide an invaluable window on life in the Roman Empire.

The whole area is a volcanic hotbed of sorts. Naples, only eight miles from Vesuvius, has thermal springs generated by volcanic activity.

The city is on the perimeter of an 35,000-year-old volcanic caldera, eight miles in diameter, that provides natural attractions (crater lakes and Solfatara, a bubbling pool of lava once considered the entrance to Hell) plus attractions of the manmade kind (a temple, an amphitheater, an archaeological museum and archaeological park). Known as Phlegrean Fields, the caldera extends to the city of Cuma and the western coast of the Bay of Naples.

The islands of Ischia and Procida, also part of the caldera, are tourist sites, Ischia because of its spas (with natural thermal baths), beaches and scenery and Procida for is pristine nature. Capri, accessible via Naples as well, is the jetsetter’s favorite, but it has Roman ruins plus the Blue Grotto.

As to Naples itself, although a gateway for Pompeii, Capri, Ischia, the Amalfi Coast and more, it has its own history with Roman and a few Greek ruins — plus a UNESCO listing for its historic center — to prove it. Naples hosts an excellent archaeological museum, plus the Capodimonte, which rivals Italy’s top art museums.

For foodies, it lures with its pasta and seafood, not to mention Margherita pizza (a Neapolitan creation) and even the street food. Naples attracts sailing enthusiasts with its boating opportunities.

The visuals are a mixed bag though. They include Mount Vesuvius and, off the coast, Capri and other islands. In town, however, they range from the four fortresses that speak to medieval and post-medieval life to the graffiti and a generally chaotic vibe that are aspects of modern Naples.

The city’s contradictions are fascinating and its vibe stimulating, but it’s not for everyone. Besides, Naples has a problem with pickpockets, scam artists and general-purpose thieves. Be informed about the possibilities and plan around them.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go out for a night of jazz or other live music. Nightlife is livelier in the winter. Look for clubs around Piazza dei Martiri or Piazza San Pasquale, for starters.
  • Hike in Vesuvius National Park. Walk to the top of the volcano’s crater. For an intriguing hike — lasting about three hours — begin and end the walk from Herculaneum. There are longer hiking options, too.
  • Rent a boat at Naples’ Darsena Actin Marina, and go sailing for three days, or a week.
  • Or, if appropriate, take sailing lessons.
  • Jog along the waterfront in the early morning or early evening. Or choose from the paths in Capodimonte Park or Virgiliano Park.
  • Attend a soccer game, but be aware the audience can become wild and, occasionally, violence erupts.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Put the Napoli Sotterranea (Naples Underground) on your sightseeing itinerary for a look at ancient aqueducts that once carried water between Naples and Rome. You may see belowground art exhibits here, too.
  • Walk through Naples’s Centro Storico (Historic Center) neighborhood, following either Via Tribunali or Via Benedetto Croce.
  • Make the rounds of Naples’ castles, either for their architectural features (especially true for Castel Nuovo) or for the views they afford (particularly nice from Castel dell’Ovo and Castel Sant’Elmo).
  • Buy at least one lunch from a street vendor — one idea: arancini, i.e., breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto stuffed with mozzarella. At night, order seafood, which is very good in this port city.
  • Explore Campi Flegrei, aka Phlegrean Fields, a volcanic caldera formed about 35,000 years ago, but with some action in historic times. Besides phenomenal natural sights, the area west of Naples includes leavings from antiquity: the Temple of Serapis, the Flavian Amphitheater and the Cuma Archaeological Park (site of a Greek, then Roman city). Baia Castle houses the area’s archaeological museum.
  • Take a guided tour of at least one of the city’s catacombs. The Catacombs of San Gennaro date from the second century.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Eat pizza — every day if you want to.
  • Join a tour of Pompeii and Herculaneum and complement that with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples which is home to the most impressive artifacts from the two cities, allowing plenty of time for both.
  • For fine art, spend quality time at the Capodimonte Museum where works by the likes of Botticelli and Raphael are on display.
  • Allow for time in a local spa. Naples is known for its thermal springs, which are generated by volcanic activity. Or, choose a spa on the island of Ischia, noted for its natural thermal basins.
  • Shop in stores of all sorts: upscale, midrange, etc. Try your hand at negotiating your deals in street markets, keeping in mind that brand names may not be authentic.
  • Take the ferry to Capri. See the Blue Grotto, a cave that is blue when the sun shines in. There are Tiberius’ villa and other historical sites, too, alongside the chichi restaurants and shops patronized by the rich and famous.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Italian Government Tourist Board at www.italia.it and choose your language if necessary.