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Naples

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10 Essential Experiences in Naples 




CAVE OF THE CUMAEN SYBIL

6th - 5th CENTURIES

CUMAE

25 km West of Naples

Prepare for a total sensory experience when you venture into the lair of the Cumaen Sybil. This little visited site offers an immediate connection to the ancient past. Best known as the daunting gargantuan figure depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Cumaen Sybil was a guide to the underworld and told the future by singing the fates and writing on oak leaves. Fans of Virgil's “The Aeneid” will find it easy to imagine Aeneas approaching this fearsome creature to ask her to help him descend to the underworld to visit his late father.

Little visited, the lair is reached through a long corridor, carved from rock with slanted walls which create a feeling of tension and disquiet. Be careful, when you reach the Sybil's seat in the innermost chamber, you may find that you begin to ask your own questions before listening for a disembodied whisper to reply.

DUOMO

BASILICA DI SANTA RESITUTA

BAPISTERY OF SAN GIOVANNI

5th Century AD




Santa Restitua, attached to the northern side of the Duomo, is the oldest surviving basilica in Naples Within, the Baptistery of San Giovanni offers a variety of visually arresting delights. Take note of the exquisite, unusual iconography of the 5th century mosaics. They centre on a golden Chi Rho cross with Alpha and Omega on a blue background strewn with stars. Underneath, narrative mosaics depict scenes from among others,Christ saving Peter from the sea, Holy women at the Empty tomb and the Miracle of the Fish. The fragile condition of the works add to their power. The narrative stories resonate with the city itself and somehow remain with you as you wander around the city outside.

                                                                                          SAN DOMENICO MAGGIORE

CAPELLA SANSEVERO

18th Century

Originally built 16th Century

Via de Sanctis 19




This astounding mixture of 18th century architecture and sculpture has recently been restored and beautifully lit. The iconography is mysterious but brace yourself for a shock when you reach the crypt. Tragedy lurks within. Be sure to note, Sammartino's Veiled Christ because it is simply astonishing. The sculpture's power and poignancy rival Michelangelo's superstar piece “ The Pieta” in St Peters, Rome. See if you can decipher the Free Masonic messages among the shields, medallions and inscriptions.


                                                                                 SANTA CHIARA

IL CHIOSTRO MAIOLICATO

Mid 18th Century

Via Benedetto Croce



A visit to the charming oasis is the perfect way to escape the daily insanity that is life in Naples. The gardens and cloister offer arbours and alcoves where you can find respite and restoration. Vines are trained over the walks, most of them on arbours supported by thick octagonal columns awash with bright majolica tiles featuring thick green garlands of foliage bound with yellow ribbons. Benches, completely covered with tiles showing happy scenes of Neapolitan life or allegories of the elements against beautiful landscapes of Campania allow you to rest your weary feet while taking in the scene. Surrounding you are marble fountains covered in more majolica tile, rustic walkways and even a Gothic arcade. The gardens themselves are lush and cool. Fruit trees and cypresses scent the air, letting you know without a doubt that you are in Southern Italy and very lucky to be there too.


MUSEO ARCHEOLOGICO NAZIONALE

Piazza Museo Nazionale



An absolute treasure trove of archeological delights, the Museo Archeologico contains a huge number of mosaics, statues, frescoes, even household items from Herculaneum, Pompeii and other locations impacted by the eruption of Vesuvius. There is an extraordinary collection of bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri, including the suitably debauched Drunken Satyr and a pair of very energetic runners. See if you can spot the wise Seneca among the busts.

The more delicate among you may be shocked by the collection of erotic art, mainly from Pompeii. Eye popping doesn't begin to describe it. The rule is that those under 14 can only enter 'The Secret Room” accompanied by an adult but you would be amazed how easily kids can manage to creep in without being spotted. The result? Lots of red faced grown ups coming up with fanciful explanations!

The museum itself is cool and well worth exploring. Wander off the beaten track to make your own discoveries. There are lots of uncrowded spaces that allow reflection and relaxation among the wonders of the ancient world.

CASTEL SANT'ELMO

1329-1343, rebuilt in the 16th Century

Via Tito Angelina



Originally designed to be a military fort and prison, this fantastic building with insanely beautiful views, offers a surreal experience to the visitor. You enter the sculpted lower areas before ascending into the built structure itself. Everything seems to fold inwards, long round holes open oddly to let the light inside, intersecting staircases meet at a window, the spaces are eccentric and unforgettable. Many just visit to check out the view from the roof terrace, but it is well worth making the effort to explore. You will be lucky to see another person, which adds to the bizarre, slightly wild atmosphere. Fabulous.

GARDEN OF THE FUGITIVES

Via Noceria



Amid the mind blowing wonder of Pompeii, is a place that will bring home the human cost of the volcanic explosion of Vesuvius in 79 AD like no other. The Garden of the Fugitives holds the ghostly remains of a small group of thirteen adults and six children at the foot of a wall. The fact that just beyond is the sea and escape only adds to the tragic energy of the site. It is a good idea to visit before you take on Pompeii itself, because it reminds you that this was a living place, buzzing and humming with life until nature's fury buried all before it in ash. A word of warning: Be prepared to be swamped by offers from 'guides'. You don't need them. Use a good guide book or just let your instincts and imagination take you where you need to go. Discover this extraordinary place yourself, make your own interpretations, feel it's energy on your own terms. You will not regret it.


VILLA DEI MISTERI

Outside the main site of Pompeii, on the Viale della Villa dei Misteri



The Villa of the Mysteries is located outside the walls of Pompeii on the way to Herculaneum. This place is unique because despite being covered in in ash and small volcanic material, it pretty much survived the eruption of Vesuvius intact.

The villa takes it's name from it's most famous room. A rectangular space completely covered with Dionysiac murals which are thought to depict the bridal initiation of a young woman. Twenty Nine life size figures act out various scenes leading a shy young bride through the various rites of sexual pain and pleasure in preparation for marriage. Another room offers Egyptian style paintings and a stunning Tuscan columned atrium. Architectural features such as columns, lintels, doorways and arches all painted on flat surfaces appear three dimensional by tricking the eye. The most beautiful rooms are those painted with solid black panels decorated with wreath swags. These intricately decorated spaces allow you to instantly connect with the ancient residents of the villa and adds impact when you visit Pompeii.

TORRE ANNUNZIATA

19 kms Southeast of Naples



The Villa of Oplontis at Torre Annunziata is a large structure consisting of a number of rooms, most decorated with murals featuring architectural details,along with mythological and genre scenes. The house was so well known that many of the smaller houses in Pompeii were believed to be modelled on it's design. The whole feel of the house was dedicated to entertainment and leisure which is reflected in the number of reception and service rooms, gardens and a swimming pool. The house was believed to have belonged to Nero's second wife Poppaea and was certainly luxe enough to have amused the rich and mighty of Rome. It is interesting to compare this villa with the Villa dei Misteri because although it is not as well preserved, the archaeological nature of the site allows your imagination to run riot, especially in the extraordinary excavated garden.

THE SEVEN WORKS OF MERCY

1607

Carravagio

Pio Monte della Misericordia

Via dei Tribunali 253, Naples



Moving, challenging, dynamic and utterly humane, this magnificent altarpiece by Caravaggio is an essential experience for those visiting Naples. No other work by the Master captures the kinetic energy and unerring eye of this tormented genius. The painting is Naples. It's filth and it's fury, it's penitence and peace, beauty and squalor.

Your eye roams from point to point, picking up on minute details that give fuller meaning to the work. The different groups in the painting represent the different types of charity listed in the Gospel according to Matthew. The church added one more act, the burial of the dead. Darkness looms throughout, overshot with a mysterious warm light. Tumult is taking place but at it's centre are the embracing angels, rushing towards earth with the Madonna and Child in tow. Existence itself is under Caravaggio's microscope. Brutal and cruel but hope too, is displayed, reminding the visitor that Naples, despite it's tough, pitiless image offers respite from the harshness of life through it's food, it's culture, it's stunning environment and the salty, grounded, humanity of it's people.


Attribution: Seven acts of Mercy. 1607. Caravaggio. Piomonte della Misericordia. Naples.

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