Unusual attractions in Naples: 5 cool places
Almost everyone associates the word “sights” with museums, cathedrals and squares. Naples is no exception. In it, as in any other major city, there are places “from postcards.”
But there are also unusual sights in Naples that not everyone knows. So, let’s walk around the non-touristy places.
The Fountain of the Giant (Fontana del Gigante)
The most beautiful fountain of the Gigante in Naples, many people for some reason bypass it. And in vain, because at one time it was worked on by two great Italian creators – Michelangelo and Bernini.
They created an unusual structure in the form of three huge arches with columns. Inside are sculptures of river deities, caryatids (female supporting sculptures) and a bowl of plenty supported by two sea animals.
Vomero Hill (collina del Vomero)
From the top you can see breathtaking panoramic views of the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius volcano. Take the subway or cable car to get to the top of the hill. The funicular ride is much more interesting: the carriages move from one station to another underground, in tunnels, and the platforms are built at an angle.
Not afraid of heights? Then we recommend this tour of Naples.
The most unusual attraction in Naples – the doll’s hospital store
If you can still argue about the uniqueness of the previous two places, the hospital-shop for ancient dolls certainly belongs to the most unusual sights of Naples. The place has been open since the 1800s.
It’s actually a second-hand toy store, but tourists mistake it more for a museum. A huge number of discarded toys get a second life here, from plastic to porcelain.
On the walls hang vintage posters with scenes of children carrying their “broken little people” to caring doctors.
Cimitero delle Fontanelle
You probably already know that cemeteries in Italy often become landmarks because of the beautiful tombstones, crypts, and catacombs.
The Fontanelle Cemetery is a special place in Naples: the cemetery is entirely in a cave. There are hundreds of skulls and skeletons scattered all around its perimeter. Originally, people who died of a plague epidemic in the 16th century were buried here, later the bodies of the poor were transported. The last burials were made in 1837, at the time of the cholera.
The place is very sad, gloomy and even repulsive, but nevertheless it has attracted tourists for many years. Entrance is free.
Libreria Berisio bookstore bar
The Libreria Berisio store is unique in that it works as a bookstore during the day and turns into a bar in the evening. Here you can enjoy pleasant music, delicious cocktails and the pleasant smell of old books. The address is Via Port’Alba 28.
Want to visit the most unusual place on earth? Climb up to the crater of Vesuvius. We recommend wearing your most comfortable clothes, headgear and closed shoes, as the ascent to the crater along the trail will take about half an hour. Sticks are offered at the ticket office to make the trek easier.
Read about how to climb the volcano and where to buy tickets in this article.
And you can also book a room with a view of Vesuvius in nearby towns.
Flegrei Fields (Campi Flegrei)
Another imposing and unusual location in Naples is the “Fields of Phlegreia. According to legend, the Roman god of fire, Vulcan, once lived in this area. It is one of the planet’s 20 supervolcanoes, whose eruption could change the climate of the entire Earth. But do not fear, the eruption occurs once every hundred thousand years.
This interesting place is also suitable for visiting with children. The volcanic zone gurgles loudly and hisses intimidatingly.
Naples is a find for history buffs. And a find for those who want to save money is the tourist card, which allows you to visit 3 attractions for free and get discounts on 20 museums and archaeological sites. The card can be purchased at this link.
Incredible Campaign. Part 2-1 – Naples, terrible and beautiful: Decumani, temples and other antiquities.
Perhaps Naples can be called the most ambiguous city in Italy, so many contradictions and contrasts. But that is precisely its secret, it attracts and intrigues. Few tourists get to know it for real, usually they get to know it very superficially and almost on the run. No wonder then that for most people it remains misunderstood, for some even repulsive and intimidating, especially if you start from the central station and Piazza Garibaldi, the neighborhood, at the mention of which the Neapolitans themselves cross over. Yes, it’s not a city you can fall in love with immediately, or that can enchant. But there’s something about it, probably just these swings of emotion that it evokes, like a seesaw: It seems beautiful when you look at the surrounding scenery, the magnificent bay, the formidable Vesuvius, then suddenly the eye catches the graffiti-painted, shabby walls of dark alleys and piles of garbage, and it begins to seem terrifying… Then it amazes by quantity and beauty of cathedrals and palaces meeting almost at each step, then at once it wakes up a mass of suspicious personalities and petty thieves (as they say, they baptize with one hand and take out a purse from a gaping tourist with the other). And all this, coupled with the chaotically rushing mopeds makes you keep your ears open and not relax in the hustle and bustle of the city … In general, the beautiful is so closely intertwined with the repulsive that you can not understand what impression this city leaves in the end. Having been in Naples for short visits, both with excursions and independently, it remained for me an enigma, a confusing but fascinating puzzle, which for some reason I want to meet again and see only the beautiful, perceiving as a special color its shortcomings! And this time we will walk through its most atmospheric places, allowing you to see Naples from top to bottom in the literal sense.
We begin our walk in the historic center, at Porta Capuana. Once it was the eastern entrance to Naples, a triumphal arch inscribed between the strong and brutal towers of the fortress wall.
Of the wall almost nothing remains, but the arch and the towers are preserved in excellent condition, and its appearance is very reminiscent of the Castle of Anjou, the hallmark of Naples. Opposite the gate is the massive Castello Capuano, which for a long time was the seat of the court. This is probably why the street that runs from it was named Via Tribunali. This is the street we need, because it is the central Decumano Maggiore of Naples.
The Decumani in Naples are three streets stretching from east to west, founded by the Greeks in the 5th century B.C., developed under the Romans and surviving until today. Of course, only the ancient planning of this part of the city was preserved, but not the appearance. The buildings that now stand along the decumanes were built much later, but on the remains of the foundations of ancient Roman buildings, and therefore their height of 4-5 floors give the impression of too dark and cramped streets, in some places even creepy: the dull gray walls of the buildings, the laundry hanging, the scooters scurrying around in this cramped space, and even the sky is almost invisible in these narrow slits between the houses… And yet, this is the part of town that has the most colorful Neapolitan atmosphere, and sometimes it seems that time is frozen here in the Middle Ages: the merchants open their shops, the loaders push the goods on carts, the ovens of ancient pizzerias heat up, the inhabitants of the upper floors let down on a rope from the window the plastic buckets designed for shopping and filled by shopkeepers, all accompanied either by too emotional talk or swearing in a Neapolitan dialect, you can’t tell). … At first glance it seems chaotic, but gradually you begin to feel that this chaos is part of the local color. Well, the main beauty of these unimpressive streets is hidden inside numerous churches and palaces, outside so unremarkable, but inside it is simply stunning in size and wealth. And in this again reveals the contrasting and unexpected character of Naples, it is quite in its spirit: first to cause bewilderment and disappointment by a seemingly quite simple and even frightening appearance, and then to amaze by the extraordinary brightness of the contents, this directly furious Baroque, or unexpected Gothic, and often an inconceivable mixture of styles. Along the decumani are the most important churches of the city, but first we deviate a little from the central decumani in Via Duomo to look into the main church of Naples, the Duomo San Gennaro, or the Cathedral of St. Januarius, the patron saint of the city. There is no square in front of the cathedral and its bright neo-Gothic façade suddenly appears amidst the usual streetscape.
The cathedral was built in the second half of the 13th century by Charles I of Anjou on the site of two early Christian churches – St. Stephanie and St. Restituta. Only fragments of mosaics on the floor remain of the former, while the latter was incorporated into the Duomo as a separate chapel. The interior of the cathedral is astonishingly rich and holds priceless works of art, including frescoes by Luca Giordano and Perugino, as well as tombs of Neapolitan kings. The most precious treasures are in the Baroque San Gennaro Chapel (remember the cinema classic “Operation Saint Gennaro”), the Minutolo Chapel, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, mentioned in the Decameron, with frescos and marble tombstones from the 14th to 16th century, is also worth seeing. Finally, the Cathedral houses the oldest baptistery in the Western world, the 4th century Baptistery of San Giovanno.
But the main relic of the Cathedral since the Middle Ages is a vessel with the caked blood of St. Januarius, sealed almost 1700 years ago, as well as a gold bust of the martyr, which is a reliquary and holds the remains of the bones of his skull inside. Three times a year a miracle is performed – the blood liquefies and even sometimes boils over. It happens on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May, September 19 and December 16. If suddenly the miracle does not happen, it portends great misfortune for the city. So it was, for example, in 1527 when the plague killed more than 40 thousand people, and in the 20th century as many as three times: in 1939 – before the Second World War, in 1944 – before the eruption of Vesuvius, and in 1979, when a powerful earthquake killed 3 thousand people. Neapolitans believe immensely in their patron (which is very vividly depicted in the same movie “Operation Saint Januarius”), there are many interesting legends associated with him. So, according to legend, it was St. Januarius who helped to save the city from the plague epidemic that was raging in the 16th century. Also to the merits of the Saint is said to have saved Naples from the eruption of Vesuvius in 1631 when a torrent of red-hot lava was already rushing towards the city but met on its way a statue of the saint, it suddenly stopped and the eruption stopped. So, having paid tribute to the saint and secured his support for our journey, we return to Via Tribunali and, very close by, we see another church, one of the largest in Naples, the Church of Girolamini.
The church is notable for its two magnificent chapels, as well as the works of art housed there, including frescoes by Luca Giordano and sculptures by Pietro Bernini. The church has an underground crypt, which is reputed to be a mysterious place. The first room of the crypt served as the burial place of the priests, and the second room holds the bones and skulls that were objects of worship. Unfortunately, the dungeons are almost always closed.
Soon we find ourselves in the small but very remarkable Piazza San Gaetano: it was the site of the ancient Greek agora and later of the Roman forum. In the center of the square there is a monument to St. Gaetano, right in front of the church of San Paolo Maggiore, in the crypt of which he is buried.
In front of the church there are powerful columns, a remnant of the ancient temple of Dioscuri that once stood on the site. Inside the church is typical Neapolitan Baroque. Diagonally from San Paolo Maggiore stands the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore (its orange facade, unfortunately, is under restoration and is covered with a grid), which, as if in contrast to its neighbor, surprisingly preserved the noble Gothic style (a rare example in Naples of the so-called Angevin Gothic)
This crossroads between the two churches, in addition to being the “center” of the ancient city, is remarkable for the fact that it gives the opportunity to “fall” into antiquity and see with your own eyes the remains of the Roman forum, because here, under each of the churches is the entrance to the Naples Underground. The Underground of Naples is another amazing secret of the city. It turns out that for nearly 3000 years of existence, the layers of history have not disappeared, and under the modern city is a whole network of underground tunnels, which form like a “parallel world”: the ancient catacombs and underground sanctuaries, ancient Greek caves, ancient Roman aqueducts, ancient streets with the remnants of surviving buildings, medieval tunnels, secret galleries Bourbon, etc. In fact, Naples stands on millions of cubic meters of voids, which have been formed since Greco-Roman times in connection with the need to extract the tuff for the construction of buildings and city walls, and subsequently used for various purposes: from water supply systems and cisterns with water, to landfills and bomb shelters. Under the Church of San Paolo Maggiore you can visit the tour through the underground Napoli Sotterranea, which runs along the bed of the ancient aqueduct up to the huge cistern for collecting water (incidentally, the system built by the ancient Romans underground water supply lasted long enough – until the 19th century). But the tour is quite long, for 2 hours, so in order to save time and energy, we decided to confine ourselves to visit a small archaeological area under the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore, where we can walk along the central street of the ancient forum, see the remains of an ancient Roman basilica, the Palace of Justice, shopping and craft shops.
In some places there are even fragments of ancient frescoes and mosaics on the floor! It is an incredible feeling to walk down a Roman street, hidden from the modern city under the ground!
From Piazza San Gaetano we turn to the narrow street cardo – Via San Gregorio-Armeno, perpendicular to Via Tribunale and leading to the lower Decumano Inferiore. This narrow pedestrian street has a very special Christmas atmosphere all year round, with unusual merchandise lined on both sides: presepes, or nativity scenes. And not only do they sell them, but they are also made right here, in small craft shops. Crèches are a very old art, the first nativity scenes date back to the 11th century. Historically, a presepe is a figurative composition dedicated to biblical scenes related to the birth of Christ. Over time, presepes have gradually transformed, acquiring newer and newer elements of decorations and characters, and as a result, in their modern form they can touch upon absolutely any topic, but traditionally they are considered a Christmas decoration. The presepe tradition is popular all over Italy, but it is Naples that is considered its ancestor, and Neapolitan presepe is known all over the world. And Via San Gregorio-Armeno is the center of this art, a real puppet city: presepes from large to small, scenes on modern and contemporary topics, as well as on historical and religious, and everything is so natural, executed down to the smallest detail, often equipped with mechanisms that all these scenes seem to come to life: mills spin, bakers bake pizza, shepherds shear sheep, butchers chop meat, etc.
In Naples, there is even a saying: in the morning on the news, in the evening in the presep, indicating the speed with which topical themes are embodied in the puppet sketches.
In the meantime, we find ourselves in front of the church of San Gregorio-Armeno, one of the oldest Neapolitan temples. It was built in 930 and was once the site of the ancient temple of Ceres.
Even after looking at the Baroque splendor of the other churches in Naples, you can not help but marvel: this church looks like a golden casket full of jewels. The Baroque style is originally characterized by redundancy, oversaturation, but the southern temperament of the Neapolitans, their desire to make everything “beautiful-beautiful” here does not know measure at all and stuns to the loss of speech!
Finally we reach the street of the lower Decumano, called Spaccanapoli. This street is not to be found on any map, but it is known to every Neapolitan. It consists of a series of narrow streets, flowing one into another, and from a height looks like a deep long slit, as if a knife divides the city. Spaccanapoli literally translates as “the cleft of Naples”, a name that has been preserved since ancient times. We walk along Via San Biagio dei Librai, and in the midst of the crowded buildings there is suddenly a small niche (Piazzetta Nilo), where opposite the terraced facade of the church of Sant’Angelo a Nilo there is an ancient monument dedicated to the Nile River.
The history of the monument dates back almost 2000 years: in the 2nd century merchants from Alexandria began to settle in this area, thanks to whom the sculpture appeared. The Nile is represented as an old man with a horn of plenty, resting on a sphinx.
A little further on, the Piazzetta Nilo flows into the larger Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.
In the center of the square rises an obelisk erected by Dominican monks to commemorate the deliverance of Naples from the plague in 1656. But the unusual church of San Domenico Maggiore, which faces the square with its backside, the apse, is a real eye-catcher. Inside, the church is huge and stretched upwards, which makes it seem very tall and narrow. It was originally built in the 14th century in the Gothic style, but was later modified many times until it was frozen in the Baroque form, loved by the Neapolitans. Thomas Aquinas and Giordano Bruno preached in this church.
From the church of San Domenico Maggiore it’s very close to another Neapolitan landmark, hidden deep in the block between Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunale. We talk of the Chapel of Sansevero, built in 1590 on the site of the discovery of the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary and conceived as family mausoleum of the family Sansevero. In addition to the architecture and interior design, including unique frescoes, the chapel is famous for its masterpiece sculptures, the main one being the Cristo velato (Christ under the Shroud, Giuseppe Sanmartino, 1753). The marble Christ in the center of the chapel, covered with the finest marble shroud, makes such a piercing impression that it is impossible to tear your eyes away. There are also quite eerie exhibits in this chapel, and it is entirely shrouded in mysticism and mystery thanks to the efforts of Raimondo di Sangro, the seventh prince of Sansevero, the most mysterious person of the 18th century. Filming in the chapel is strictly forbidden and is carefully monitored, so here is a link to photos and a more detailed description of the chapel and the mysterious person of Raimondo di Sangro.
After visiting the chapel we return to Spaccanapoli, called Via Benedetto Croce, which leads us to the next square, Piazza Gesù’ Nuovo, in the center of which rises the Obelisk of Immacolata (Guglia dell’Immacolata).
The unusual, bristling gray facade of the church of Gesu’ Nuovo immediately catches the eye.
The church was originally built in the 15th century as a palace, but its owners were later expelled from Naples because of protests against the Inquisition, and the palace itself went to the Treasury and was later sold to the Jesuit order. Since the Jesuits already had a temple in Naples, the newly acquired church was called Nova – Gesu’ Nuovo. The Jesuits turned out in full force and in a short time re-equipped the space and saturated it to the brim with impossible luxuries.
There is also a relatively modest room in Gesu’ Nuovo – the hall in memory of the Neapolitan doctor, the devotee and selfless benefactor Giuseppe Moscati, who selflessly cured people and was numbered among the saints. He is buried in the same church and people still come to his bronze monument to touch his hands and there have been many cases of miraculous healing after visiting his grave.
Opposite the Church of Gesu’ Nuovo is an imposing church complex, the Church and Monastery of Santa Chiara. The church seems enormous compared to the other buildings and clearly stands out among them. The church was built in 1328 under Robert of Anjou and was intended to bury the kings of the Angevin dynasty and later the Neapolitan Bourbons. Inside the church of Santa Chiara there is no baroque opulence, it is austere and laconic.
Only Giotto’s frescoes and the sarcophagi of the Angevin kings stand out. Most visitors, however, are attracted not so much by the church itself as by the cloistered courtyard of the Clarisse sisters. It was added much later than the church, in 1739. The walls of its galleries are painted with frescoes, and the benches and columns are tiled with majolica.
The paintings on the tiles reproduce mythological and historical scenes from the life of Naples. Overall, the cloister looks like an unexpected oasis of bright colors after the austere interiors of the church. Yes, this is Naples, with its unexpected contrasts .
In Piazza Gesu’ Nuovo our walk in the historic center of Naples ends: we walked along its ancient streets – the Decumani, saw numerous churches of Naples from the Middle Ages, and even “fell” into antiquity, found ourselves in the Underground Naples, walking along the ancient Roman street Cardo Maximus. And we have to say that the general impression from everything seen and felt was only positive, because even if at first sight this very heart of the city looked so repulsive, so gloomy and frozen in the Middle Ages, yet the concentration of interesting, unusual and beautiful appeared to be incredibly high! Yes, and by the way, the historic center of Naples is included in the list of World Heritage Sites. Well, then another Naples awaits us!