What to do in Eight Hours ashore… NAPLES, Italy – a Cruise Port Guide…
Naples, in the region of Campagnia, Italy, is an almost perfect port to visit on your cruise. The unmistakable shape of Vesuvius is first thing you see, sitting on the horizon as you enter the Bay of Naples. Your ship will berth at the deep water harbour of the Stazione Marittima which is close to town, the Metro, railway and to local ferries, right next to Castel Nuovo and the Piazza dal Municipo.
Naples is a love it or hate it destination! I really like the little back streets and cafes, the museums, galleries and churches, I even quite like the ubiquitous scooters and graffiti and am quite happy wandering the main parts of the city but I do accept that it has a bit of a seedy side and that you really shouldn’t wander too far off the beaten track, especially on your own. There is a lot of talk on cruise forums about bag snatching and pickpocketing but I’m not sure that it is any worse than in many other cities, certainly a bit of common sense it needed but it is not a dangerous city in any real sense although it is true that the Camorra ( Naples mafia) are still active behind the secenes.
To me Naples is an almost perfect port to visit on your cruise, there is just so much to see and do that it will definitely take more than one or two visits to see it all. The unmistakable shape of Vesuvius appears on the horizon as you enter the Bay of Naples and headfor your berth at the deep water harbour of the Stazione Marittima, right next to Castel Nuovo and the Piazza dal Municipo. Here you are close to town, the Metro, railway and to local ferries.
This Port Profile is on the city Naples itself…there is much more to see if you travel out of town; Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Sorrento, Capri and Ischia just to name a few – but there is a lot to see in Naples without getting on a coach, train or ferry.
Naples was founded by the Greeks in about 10BC and became part of the Roman Empire in about 4BC. The eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 was visible from Naples and there is a written description of the event by the Roman writer Pliny, who was watching it from the town of Misenum, (now Miseno) just further around the bay of Naples to the west. The town of Herculaneum, directly beneath the volcano, was buried under a sea of lava and mud. The town of Pompeii which was further to the east missed the lava but was hit by a cloud of poisonous gas know as a pyroclastic surge which killed everyone in the town and buried it beneath a thick layer of cinders and ash, preserving it for us to visit today!
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Naples came under Byzantine rule during which time it flourished. In the years that followed it became part of the Norman kingdom of Sicily and then part of the Angevin kingdom, of which it was the capital city. By 1503 the Spanish had taken control of the town which grew to be the largest city in Italy. Naples was modernised by the Bourbon King Charles III in the 18th century, his ambitious programme of buildings included a Royal Place at Caserta which he based on the palace of Versailles, and the town became an important stop of the ‘Grand’ Tour’ of Europe made by the wealthy and educated of the day.
In 1860 Naples became part of Garibaldi’s new ‘Unified Italy’ and was a popular desination for musicians artists, architects and playwrights such as Oscar Wilde. You can see the influences of this Art Nuevo period in Piazza Dante and around town but more obvious is the Monumental Fascist architecture, particularly in some of the town major institutions such as the the bank of Naples, the post office and the Stazione Marittima where your ship is berthed. The majority of 1930s architecture was destroyed in WW2 and post war rebuilding was haphazard at best, directed more for their own financial gain by local politicians than with any sense of regeneration or restoration.
Today Naples is a vibrant and creative city, full of music and song, which celebrates its history whilst looking towards the future. You will find modern art installations such as the Salt Mountain in Piazza del Plebiscito in close proximity to the historical Angovese Castel Nuovo, built in 1279, which is right by the entrance to todays port.
The Cruise Terminal is bright and airy, it has all the usual things including some shops and a small pharmacy, from here it is an easy walk into town. It is easy to explore out from Naples either on organised tours or by yourself on trains or ferries. It is possible to hire a car from just outside the Terminal but unless you are completely happy driving in Europe I would probably avoid the appalling Naples traffic. The ferry terminal (Molo Beverello) is closer to the cruise terminal then any of the rental car offices and, if you want to travel out of town say to Ischia, Capri or Sorrento, a ferry is probably more fun!
There is also a HOHO bus in town if that appeals, there are two intersecting loops that visit many of the main sights such as Museo dell’Opera Duomo, Basilica of Santa Croce, Palazzo Pitti and Teatro Verdi but it travels well out of town to Posillipo and does not go up to Monte Santo, or into the centre of the old town Naples so I would take a look at the map and decide if it is for you. Personally I think you will see more of the city with a combination of walking, buses and the Funicular Railways.
The Funicular system of trains taking people up to Monte Santo and Chaia (as celebrated in the Neapolitan song Funiculi, Funicular) was built in 1875 and is one of the real symbols of the city along with Pulcinella (a masked performer that has echoes of the plague doctors of Venice, but whose function to to make people laugh), the hand carved wood Nativity ( Naples is home to workshops that make beautiful hand carved Nativities that are popular all over Italy) and of course pizza, which was invented here in the 18th Century ( apparently in pretty much any restaurant you care to ask!).
Within easy flat walking of the port is Castel Nuevo with its stunning renaissance arched entrance, the 16th century Palazzo Reale and stables, the San Francesco di Paola Church, the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest opera house in Europe Galleria and Galleria Umberto I – a large iron and glass covered shopping area similar to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.Exit from the Galleria onto the main street in Naples, Via Toledo.
If you head north you will reach the older area of the city. If you turn right onto Via Capitelli you will be in the Spaccanapoli, a long straight street with various names along its way dating from Roman times that cuts right across the city. It is lined with churches, Palazzos and squares, any or all of which are worth a short visit and walking the shady, deep street is also brief respite from the heat!
There are some wonderful sculptures in Naples, but two in particular, Veiled Christ by Sanmartino and Modesty by Corradini can be found in the tiny Capella Sansevero just north of Spaccanapoli on Via San dom Maggiore. If you are interested in sculpture then head a bit further north to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale where they have a wonderful collection including the Farnese Bull, the largest group sculpture to have survived from 200BC, and the Farnese Atlas holding the world on his shoulders, there are also some absolutely stunning artefacts and mosaics from Pompeii (especially the recreated Temple of Isis) and many other treasures from the collection built up by the Medici family during the Renaissance.
Between Spaccanapoli and the Museum you will cross another straight Roman street, the Via dei Tribunali, also lined with shops as well as ancient monasteries, churches and the 13th century Duomo (cathedral) which was built incorporating much older buildings on the site including the mosaic decorated Baptistry which dates from AD550. Next to another church, San Paolo Maggiore, you will find the entrance to one of Naples’ less well known features, the Napoli Sotterranea, a huge network of underground passages, catacombs and aqueducts which are only open for visits on Saturdays and Sundays; dating from Roman times and extended over the centuries they were used in WW2 as shelters during the bombing and many are still used today as interconnecting storage areas and cellars beneath the city.
You can also access underground Naples in other places, for example the catacombs beneath San Severo & San Gennaro churches, and if such things interest you, you could also visit the Cimitero delle fontanelle where there is a fairly gruesome underground ossuary. All of these attractions are slightly further north of the city as is the lovely Capodimonte Park and Museum.
This was built as a palace by Charles III to house the Medici collections that belonged to his mother Elizabeth Farnese, it is surrounded by a small park where Charles liked to hunt. This is also where he introduced porcelain manufacture into Italy , the resulting Capodimonte china figures becoming as famous as the Meissen china it was founded to copy. The Queens Parlour in the museum is tiled with nearly 300 tiles of fine porcelain. The whole area is good place to escape from town for a little while on a hot sunny day!
The same is true of Monte Santo which is accessed by the original funicular railway. A short trip to the top is fun to do and you will find the towns Maritime Museum, housed in old monastery with beautiful views out over the Bay of Naples and the port.
Your will find designer shops in Galleria Umberto 1 and some nice pedestrian shopping areas and pizzerias around Via dei Tribunali. There are street markets on Corso Umberto by the Garibaldi Train Station and Via Chiaia is a pedestrianised street with lots of boutiques. Do not miss the Neapolitan Christmas shops with their famous Nativity scenes – they are mainly found on Spaccanopoli.
The 1950s style Naples of the Elena Farrantes books is still to be found in the Luzatti area and on the island of Ischia where you may well fall across a TV crew filming her new adaptation of My Brilliant Friend for HBO! If you are a fan of the books you might like to try lookingforlila.com or en.platypustour.it to organise a themed tour. On the subject of books the pizzeria that featured in the film of the book ‘Eat, pray, love’ is Da Michele on Via Sersale, 13 – it only serves margherita or marinara pizza but you can’t go to Naples without trying a traditional neapolitan, margherita pizza! It is made with a thin, hand kneaded crust and buffalo milk mozarella cooked quickly in a hot oven.
Traditional pizzerias like Da Michele and Di Matteo on Via dei Tribunali, 94 have very sparse interiors with small plastic cups for your drink but very cheap prices for a pizza. It’s an experience…
Naples is a port that features on many Mediterranean itineraries so you will probably find yourself there more than once. Although Pompeii, Vesuvius and Capri are the more obvious trips I highly recommend that you spend a day in the town at some point, Naples is a special place that deserves a little exploring!
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