Naples (Napoli) remains a glorious assault on your senses, as explosive as Vesuvius, its local volcano. Naples has always been the black sheep of Italian cities, the misfit, the outcast, the messy brother that nobody knew quite what to do with. It is burdened by poverty, unemployment, bureaucratic inefficiency and organised crime, but remains, nonetheless, a triumph of the human spirit. Fortunately, Naples is one of the most beautiful Italian cities, with a friendly population and beguiling cultural heritage. Like all black sheep, troubled Naples is simply the most interesting member of its family.
Noisy but thrilling, Naples has it all – Baroque churches, buzzing street life, world-class museums and cosmopolitan verve. The name Naples derives from Neapolis, the New City founded by settlers from Cumae in the 6th century bc. Romans flocked there, drawn by the golden climate, the sparkling bay and the political freedom which retention of the Greek constitution allowed. Virgil wrote the Aeneid here; emperors built gardens and bathed in this campania felix, or “happy land”. Since then, the Neapolitans have survived Norman, Spanish and Bourbon rule, as well as Mafia (Camorra) control to remain an irrepressible force –and a thorn in the side of modern Italy.
Naples is a fabulous but frenetic city so take more care than you would elsewhere in Italy. The only way to get a feel for the city is to walk its different quarters and ride the funiculars up the Vomero hill. Also try the glossy metro line from Piazza Dante to Vomero even if you don’t need to travel by train. Each station is adorned with bold contemporary artworks. Make easy forays to Pompeii, Herculaneum and the islands but avoid the crime-infested city suburbs - unless you want to play-act being in Gomorrah, a brutal Neapolitan version of The Godfather.