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Travel

Naples: third time lucky

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ALTHOUGH we had visited Naples twice before, both were brief and superficial, so we felt we owed Campania’s great city a proper visit.

Our first time was in 2005 when we had spent a few days staying in Pompeii; we had taken a day trip into Naples, enjoyed a bus tour, found the Archaeological Museum closed, and then scooted back to our hotel.

We were back in 2011 as part of a Press delegation, visiting some of the highlights of the Province of Naples. Although we stayed for two nights at the luxurious Hotel Santa Lucia, with spectacular views of the Bay, our only real view of the city was from the windows of a minibus; the image was of streets choked with traffic and strewn with rubbish.

For our 2016 visit, we stayed for eight days in a wonderful Airbnb apartment in Via Duomo, in the heart of the city, and discovered a far happier, healthier and slightly more prosperous Naples than we had seen previously.

All the madness was still in evidence – insane driving, graffiti, noise, street beggars – but the city was far cleaner than in previous years, regeneration was in evidence in many places and there seemed a greater sense of purpose. Stylish, up-market shops abounded; Naples seemed finally to have arrived in the same century as the rest of us.

It is a city crammed with glorious buildings, many of which are in some distress, although fewer than we remembered from previous visits. Wonderful open spaces, like Piazza dei Plebiscito, delivered welcome fresh air and relief from the exhaust fumes pumping from the cars and scooters that so dominate.

Once we had got to grips with the layout of the city centre, we found it pleasantly walkable, but we resorted to the very inexpensive taxis on several occasions, used the excellent, if limited, Metro system once, and had a couple of trips on the Circumvesuviana trains.

Our excursions took us, via Metro, to the Castel Sant’Elmo in the Vomero district, where we enjoyed majestic views over the city and the Bay, with mighty Vesuvius in the background; by train to the excavations at Herculaneum (Ercolana); by tourist bus to the district of Posillipo; by taxi to the world-class Naples Archaeological Museum; and by train again to Sorrento.

From a visitor standpoint, Campania’s most beguiling sights probably don’t include the city of Naples. Tourists and holidaymakers head to Pompeii and Herculaneum, to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast and Capri.

But until you’ve devoted a little time to southern Italy’s largest city, absorbed a little of its long and unique history and its quirky character, you’ll never really understand what this wonderful country is all about.

A view from the balcony of our Naples apartment

A view from the balcony of our Naples apartment

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Parking Naples-style

Parking Naples-style

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Castel Nuovo dating from the 13th century

Castel Nuovo dating from the 13th century

Piazza del Municipio, one of the largest in Europe

Piazza del Municipio, one of the largest in Europe

Piazza dei Plebiscito. It is named for the plebiscite of 1860 that brought Naples into the unified Kingdom of Italy, and is nowadays often used for big open-air concerts.

Piazza dei Plebiscito. It is named for the plebiscite of 1860 that brought Naples into the unified Kingdom of Italy, and is nowadays often used for big open-air concerts.

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Galleria Umberto I

Galleria Umberto I

Buskers in the shopping centre

Buskers in the shopping centre

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Castel Sant'Elmo, a medieval hilltop fortress in the Vomero district

Castel Sant’Elmo, a medieval hilltop fortress in the Vomero district

Panoramic views of the city, the Bay and Vesuvius

Panoramic views of the city, the Bay and Vesuvius

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Toledo Metro station, part of the city's network of so-called Metro Art Stations

Toledo Metro station, part of the city’s network of so-called Metro Art Stations

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The Duomo at Naples. Known as the Cathedral of San Gennaro, construction began in 1285.

The Duomo at Naples. Known as the Cathedral of San Gennaro, construction began in 1285.

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The Spanish quarter

The Spanish quarter

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Herculaneum, the ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD

Herculaneum, the ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD

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A powerful and haunting start to the tour of the Herculaneum excavations: the bones of the many who perished as they sought refuge in the little dwellings that, at the time of the Vesuvius eruption, were at the beach. The landscape was much changed by the eruption.

A powerful and haunting start to the tour of the Herculaneum excavations: the bones of the many who perished as they sought refuge in the little dwellings that, at the time of the Vesuvius eruption, were at the beach. The landscape was much changed by the eruption.

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There were many eating places in ancient Herculaneum where hot and cold food was offered for sale. The large pots would have contained different dishes and there were benches where diners could sit. It struck us that modern-day Naples was not so different, with its preponderance of lunchtime snack bars and takeaways but comparatively few restaurants for such a large city.

There were many eating places in ancient Herculaneum where hot and cold food was offered for sale. The large pots would have contained different dishes and there were benches where diners could sit.
It struck us that modern-day Naples was not so different, with its preponderance of lunchtime snack bars and takeaways but comparatively few restaurants for such a large city.

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Sede degli Augustali, the ruins of the shrine of the Augustans.

Sede degli Augustali, the ruins of the shrine of the Augustans.

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Naples Archaeological Museum. It is regarded as one of the finest in the world and was certainly one of the highlights of our visit to the city. The next few pages show some of the amazing exhibits, including the famous Farnese Bull, a Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture. It was formerly in the Farnese collection in Rome.

Naples Archaeological Museum. It is regarded as one of the finest in the world and was certainly one of the highlights of our visit to the city. The next few pages show some of the amazing exhibits, including the famous Farnese Bull, a Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture. It was formerly in the Farnese collection in Rome.

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a scale model of the 'scavi' at Pompeii

a scale model of the ‘scavi’ at Pompeii

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Teatro San Carlo, one of Europe’s oldest theatres and, after La Scala in Milan, the most famous in Italy. It was founded in 1737.

Teatro San Carlo, one of Europe’s oldest theatres and, after La Scala in Milan, the most famous in Italy. It was founded in 1737.

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