Naples, Old But Not Dead

Almost forgotten but on an upswing for good reason, its truly old Italy. Naples as a shipping mecca during its heyday has had to compete with Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Capri for tourism. Wanting to keep their city as traditional as possible its paying off now for those who want the feel of life in Italy.

Walk down residential streets looking up at garment laden clotheslines going between balcony apartments brimming with plants. Young kids playing soccer and kick ball just below while parents are looking out shuttered windows adoringly at them. Older women sitting comfortably on patio furniture outside catching up on local events while a motor scooter zips on by. Yes, this is Naples.

How old is she?

Did you know that Naples otherwise known as “New City” is actually one of the oldest cities in Europe? Its has been inhabited since before the 8th Century B.C. . Rich in history as you walk through the streets you can see the evolution from ancient to what it has become today. Home to nearly one million residents its no wonder Naples is the third largest city in Italy. Originally settled by the Grecians in the second century, by the 6th century B.C. it was reinvented by Neapolis, can you see where Naples gets its name from today? Ancient Neaopolis also means “new city”.

How ancient is it!

Naples National Archeological Museum is filled with Pompeiian artifacts. In fact all the good ones have been carefully removed from the site and placed in this museum. Rooms filled with a rich collection of mosaics, frescoes and statues from the pre 79 A.D. Vesuvius Volcano eruption that wiped out Pompeii and Herculaneum. Its amazing that these bits of history are still in such good condition considering they are thousands of years old. Want to see how the rich lived back then? Check out the royal jewels of antiquity. The Secret Cabinet for adults only are rooms filled with ancient sexual art that can make even the most risqué blush. And no children allowed for good reason!

Outside the National Archeological Museum in Naples filled with relics from Pompeii

Outside the National Archeological Museum in Naples filled with relics from Pompeii

Ancient Roman tile mosaic of a cat at the National Archeological Museum in Naples

Did you know that Romans considered certain cats as goddesses? That’s what this one represents in this tile mosaic.

Punishment of Dirce statue at the Naples National Archeological Museum

One of the most popular works at the museum. The Punishment of Dirce who was tied to a wild bull when she dishonored her husband Lykos mother.

Body casts of those who had died during the Mt. Vesuvius Eruption.

Body casts of those who had died during the Mt. Vesuvius Eruption. This is the one part of the museum that really touches ones heart.

How old is Pizza?

This is a known fact: Everyone loves pizza. Another interesting fact: Pizza really was created in Italy and not New York. Originally it was made as flatbread in in hot brick ovens, then in the 16th century Naples created our first ever pizza! Although the varieties have changed through the years there is one style that has lasted centuries. Named after the ruling queen of the time, Pizza Margherita  is still a favorite today.

Want to try a slice where it all started? Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is the place to go for a historic culinary experience into the past.

Think the pizzeria where Queen Margherita is still in business? You bet the name is Brandi Pizzeria and its still busy even today!

Lombardi Pizzaria may not be as old as the other two but if you want pizza perfection this is the place to go. If you have just been to the National Archeological Museum is just a skip away.

Fresh baked pizza with basil and cheese

Oh yum, pizza Margherita. Does this look good enough to eat or what? BTW, the cheese is buffalo mozzarella.

Wow, those churches are old!

Naples isn’t without a few old churches like the Duomo di San Gennaro which was built way back in 570 A.D. . The facade is impressive but even more is the wooden ceiling laced in golden gilt like picture frames surrounding the frescos. The real historical throw back is the two story Catacombs of St. Gennaro and basilica. These catacombs are literally a maze through tunnels that lead you through chapels, arched ceilings and burial chambers.

Duomo di San Gennaro in Naples Italy fresco cupola

Cupola frescoes are incredibly vibrant

Catacombs of St. Gennaro at the Duomo di San Gennaro in Naples Italy

These catacombs are some of the most interesting in Naples

Santa Maria del Carmine probably Naples most interesting church was built in the 1300’s. Founded by Palestinian monks who escaped the persecution of Christianity from the Islamists of the Holy Land. Along with their long travels they brought a treasured golden icon of Saint Mary and baby Jesus with them. With the dark skin tones it is though to be a black Madonna. Hence the name of the church Santa Maria. Outside the red and black facade and bell tower is unique but its inside that matters. It may not be as large as other churches but its still impressive. The detail of the walls takes you back in time to another place another artistic era.  Laying here are the remains of Conrad of Swabia, grandson of Barbarossa.

Santa Maria del Carmine facade

Santa Maria del Carmine belfry

San Domenico Maggiore is a Neapolitan treasure built in 1283 with all 3 architectural styles that have changed through years of renovations, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque decor. As one of the largest churches in Naples, San Domenico where the Dominican sect had started. Inside has three different naves, each one different. One of the chapels has tall marbled columns and archways bordered in gilded gold. The high Romanesque ceiling also bordered in gold. The art inside was by a few of the Italian masters like Giovan Battista Nauclerio, Pietro Cavallini and the ceiling fresco “Triumph of the Faith” by Francesco Solimena was stunning. Finally a walk through the cloister area is one of Neapolitan beauty.

Inside the sanctuary at San Domenico Maggiore Church in Naples Italy

Inside the sanctuary

Francesco Solimena's famous ceiling fresco at the San Domenico Church in Naples, Italy

Francesco Solimena’s famous ceiling fresco. I could just sit for hours staring at this beautiful painting.

To say that Naples today is old and outdated is a surprisingly underestimate of how beautiful and fun this ancient city is. A suggestion, If in Rome, visiting Pompeii or staying anywhere on the Amalfi Coast take at least a few hours to discover this gem of a destination.


  1. Everyone knows Naples, but I think most of us (me) wouldn’t be able to name anything it’s famous for, except pizza. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog post about it before, so it’s nice to see someone with enthusiasm for it detail some pointers.

  2. I’m glad Naples is on the up again, it always seems to get shunned in favour of the more glamorous sister cities, and it does have a lot to offer. I’d love to explore the St Gennaro catacombs, they sound spooky but kinda different!

  3. This looks like a really cool time away! I can’t wait to go there 🙂

    Crystal recently posted… [Photos] Volcanoes and Hot Springs of Rotorua

  4. I skipped Naples on my last trip around Italy. To be honest I was a little put off by stories of trash in the street and a high crime rate – but reading your post, she actually has a lot to offer and I’m glad she is on the up again!

  5. Such a cool place to explore. I love all the architecture, could spend hours visiting the churches and buildings. I wouldn’t miss a stop there when touring Italy!

  6. Wow that’s really old yet still alive and kicking. I think Noto in Sicily is the oldest city I’ve ever been so far.

  7. I love the way that you started this article. Naples is such a beautiful place and I am so glad that you have shared it. Plus your picture are absolutely beautiful 🙂

  8. There’s a grandeur in the words as much as it is there in the pictures. The article is a virtual tour of Naples.

  9. I’ve never been to Naples before but my wife has, and she has told me many great things. I never realised just how old it is and how much history this place has! I would love to visit one day especially to try a pizza from the place it was invented!

  10. Oh! I’ve always wanted to visit Naples, I think it is an interesting city in Italy.

Comments are closed