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Naples 101

Naples with View of Vesuvius

The Bay of Naples and View of Vesuvius

Although Naples is the third largest city in Italy, it is not as well known as its more popular neighbors to the north, like Rome, Florence, and Venice. That’s why we’ve brought in guest poster Gabriella Sannino to tell us the basics about her adopted hometown.

Naples 101

As an Italian citizen, I love writing about my country. What’s even more exciting is when I get to write about Naples. Granted, I wasn’t born there – I was actually born in Pistoia, Tuscany -, but Napoli will always be the place I consider home. It gives me great pleasure to be able to share the background of this beautiful city with you.

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Naples has not only had an architectural influence on many other cities in Italy, but upon other cities throughout Europe. The chief city in the southern or Mezzogiorno region of Italy, Naples remains the capital of the Campania region and the third largest city in Italy.

A Brief History

Castel Nuovo in Naples Italy

Castel Nuovo, one of the symbols of Naples

The Greeks, who jointly colonized both Ischia Island and the Bay of Naples in the eight century B.C, founded Neopolis. In the fifth century B.C. settlers moved from nearby Cumae to Neapolis, or “new city.” Nearby Palaipolis became known as the “Old City”; the two cities merged in the third century B.C. Since then, many outsiders have occupied Naples for extended periods of time. The Greeks, the Byzantines, the Normans, the Romans have all left their mark.

Romulus Augustus, the last Roman Emperor, was imprisoned in Naples in 476. The Normans created the Kingdom of Sicily in 1039. Pope Clement IV gave Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily to Charles of Anjou in 1266, and Charles quickly transferred the capital from Palermo to Naples.

In 1284, the kingdom was divided into two parts and stayed as such until 1816, when the kingdom of Two Sicilies was created. By that time, Spain, Austria and the Bourbons had occupied Naples. Finally, in October 1860, Naples became part of the new Italy.

Naples has retained influences from most of its occupants. The Romans introduced networks of roads that connected the city to the rest of Italy. A strong Greek Hellinistic influence is still present, but the Romans expanded the port and added public baths to modernize the city. The Normans contributed the church San Giovanni a Mare and notable castles such as Castel Capuano and Castel dell’Ovo.

Present-day Naples

Palazzo Reale Napoli

Palazzo Reale Napoli

Today, Naples is the transportation hub of southern Italy. The airport, Capodichino, connects with several other European airports; the port opens to several Tyrrhenian Sea destinations, including Genoa and Palermo, and ferry connections to surrounding isles. The notable light railway, Circumvesuviana, connects Naples to Rome and many southern points.

A growing tourist trade has led to improvements to many of the city’s landmarks. If you rent a car, take a day trip down the Costiera Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast). There you can stop your car on the side of the road and witness some of the most picturesque towns with amazingly friendly locals.

Visitors to Naples are often enthralled with the feverish street activity, delighted with ferries to outlying islands of Capri and Ischia, and enchanted by the ancient ruins of nearby Pompeii. Some of my favorite things to do for a day excursion whenever I’m home are to either visit Ischia or take the train down to Pompeii and hang out for the day.

The Piazza del Plebiscito, the San Carlo Theater, and the Galleria Umberto have been thoroughly renovated. A new highway system makes for easy access by vehicle. Here are a few amazing places to see:

  • Monte di Pietà – If you want to see frescoes, this is a great hang out for an afternoon.
  • Palazzo Reale – The broad, bustling Piazza del Plebiscito, which fronts the Palazzo Reale, is one of my favorite hang outs when I’m touring this gorgeous city.
  • San Francesco di Paola – A fine place to see altars in gold and precious stones.
  • Napoli Sotterranea – This is one of the most fascinating places and it just so happens to be underground.
  • Teatro San Carlo – is known as being one of the oldest theaters in Europe, which is famous for its almost-perfect acoustics, and the vast network of the underground tunnels, mazes, and rooms.

These are just some of local spots around Naples. We have some of the most wonderful people, food, and chaos. One of the favorite things a true Napoletano will say is:

“Chaos, Panic, Disorder… My work here is done.”

About the  Author: Gabriella Sannino has held positions as a marketing consultant,  web designer and copywriter throughout her career before opening Level 343, an Organic SEO copywriting company. She lives in the US with her family but still holds an Italian citizenship. Her passions in brand building through social media, marketing techniques and writing strong copy that converts are all part of the  strategy. She fancies herself as an Italian rocker, rebel and SEO geek. Her passions include everything Italian, especially Naples. The fact she loves singing old Neapolitan songs in the shower or while cooking are what keep her grounded.

Photos © luciano, lksdf pantchoa

Italy’s Most Unusual Religious Relics

Examining the ampoule of San Gennaro's blood

Examining the ampoule of San Gennaro's blood

No matter if you’re a devout Catholic or a curious non-believer, you should make a point to check out a few of Italy’s many religious relics. More than 2,000 years of Christianity has produced numerous fascinating, if not gruesome, stories. And it seems that for every Biblical tale, there is a relic housed in Rome, the Vatican, or in one of Italy’s thousands of churches. Here are a few unusual relics that you can put on your next Italy itinerary.

The Shroud of Turin
Shroud of Turin Exhibition Poster This is perhaps Italy’s most famous relic, housed in the Cathedral of Turin (Duomo di Torino) in the Piemonte region. The Shroud is a linen cloth that bears “the image of a man who appears to have been physically hurt in a manner consistent with crucifixion,” according to Wikipedia. In short, the image on the Shroud bears a striking resemblance to the collectively agreed upon image of Jesus Christ and is thought to be Christ’s burial shroud – thus, the relic’s significance among Christians.

As with all religious relics, the Shroud’s authenticity has been doubted. Even the Catholic Church has yet to formally endorse the Shroud. And a recent scientific study confirms the shroud as a relic of the Middle Ages (i.e., NOT 2,000 years old). Nevertheless, this sacred relic (called Santa Sindone in Italian) is well-protected by the Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud.

Because of the Shroud’s delicate nature, it is not always on display. However, in 2010, Turin will host an exhibition for the Shroud. From April 10 to May 23, 2010, the Shroud of Turin will be on exhibit for thousands of visiting pilgrims. As of this writing, online tickets have yet to go on sale. So check back with the Torino Tourism website for more information.

The Blood of San Gennaro
It’s hardly surprising that a hot-blooded place like Naples would have a relic made of blood (see main photo above). Each year, the city of Naples awaits the liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius (San Gennaro), which is stored in an ampoule in a reliquary in the Naples Cathedral. An early saint of the church, having been beheaded during Emperor Diocletian’s anti-Christian raids in the 4th century, San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples. The liquefying of his blood, which can happen up to 18 times per year, is thought to signify a miracle and helps protect Naples from calamities, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Michelle Fabio explains more about the Feast of San Gennaro for Italy Magazine. She has also posted a link to the video of the Procession of San Gennaro, which you can watch below:

The Holy Foreskin (Currently Missing)
David Farley’s book An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town was one of the inspirations for this post. In his book, Farley writes about the town of Calcata, located in the region of Lazio (Rome’s region), where the Holy Foreskin – yes, the skin from Jesus Christ’s circumcised penis – was kept for centuries until its disappearance in 1983. Farley has devoted himself to this subject, so you’d do well to read his book to learn about the relic and Calcata, which is known as a “village of freaks.” But here’s an interesting tidbit: apparently Saint Catherine of Siena wore the Holy Foreskin as a ring. Now that’s some devotion.

Mary’s Holy Belt
Mary's Holy Belt in PratoThe Virgin Mary didn’t leave behind a piece of her body for future Christians to revere. But she did leave behind a belt. The story goes that Mary gave this sacred accessory to Apostle Thomas as she ascended to heaven. The Prato Cathedral acquired the relic in the 14C and has kept it in a precious silver reliquary ever since. In fact, a special chapel was built to house the relic and the church also commissioned artists Michelozzo and Donatello to build an exterior pulpit, from which the relic is ceremoniously displayed to crowds below.

Unlike the Shroud of Turin, the Sacra Cintola is made of a more durable material – green wool – so the church readily displays it five times a year: Christmas, Easter, May 1, August 15, and September 8. Prato is located in Tuscany, just north of Florence, so it is hardly off the beaten track should you wish to visit.

Relics in Rome
Being the center of the Christian universe, Rome has, perhaps, the most holy relics per square mile of any other city in Italy. And here you will find some wonderfully odd ones, including Saint John’s severed head in the church of San Silvestro in Capite (also the National Church of Great Britain in Rome); the “doubting finger” of Saint Thomas (in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme); papal innards in the church of SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio near the Trevi Fountain; the Santo Bambino in Santa Maria Aracoeli; and “evidence” of souls trapped in purgatory at the Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio (nicely explained by Jessica at WhyGo Italy).

I’m sure I’ve missed a ton of unusual relics in Italy. So, what’s your favorite?

Photos (top to bottom): sangennarofeast.org,Torino Turismo, Gwilbor.

The 2008-2009 Opera Season

Although many cities in Italy incorporate opera events as part of their summer festivals, the opera season typically begins in the fall and runs through spring. According to UK’s Italy Magazine, this year’s opera offerings are expected to excite, with Milan’s La Scala staging an opulent Aida; Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera performing Aida and La Traviata, and Tosca ; and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly taking flight at Venice’s La Fenice in the spring. Here’s a brief rundown of what else is on tap this season:

Teatro La Fenice, Venice
Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi, 10/19-29/2008
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, 5/22-31/2009
How to Get Tickets

Teatro Alla Scala, Milan
Don Carlo by G. Verdi, 12/2008 and 1/2009
Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner, 2/2009
Aida by G. Verdi, 6/2009 and 7/2009
How to Get Tickets, also check out their discount offers

Teatro dell’Opera, Rome
Tosca by G. Puccini, 1/14/-23/2009 and 4/22-27/2009
Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, 5/31-6/1/2009
Carmen by Georges Bizet, 6/17-28/2009
Aida by G. Verdi (at Terme di Caracalla), 7/10-24/2009
Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti (at TdC), 7/18-31/2009
Madama Butterfly by G. Puccini (at TdC), 7/27-8/3/2009
How to Get Tickets

Teatro Massimo, Palermo
Carmen by G. Bizet, 11/4-6/2008
Aida by G. Verdi, 11/26-30 and 12/2-7/2008
Lohengrin by R. Wagner, 1/24-31/2009
Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 6/10-17/2009
Cavalleria Rusticana (by Pietro Mascagni) with Pagliacci (by Ruggiero Leoncavallo), 7/4-9/2009
How to Get Tickets

Teatro San Carlo, Naples
Don Carlo by G. Verdi, 11/22-23/2008
Various medley evenings featuring the works of Verdi, Bellini, Puccini, etc., performed by the Teatro San Carlo Orchesta
How to Get Tickets

The Italian Tourism Board has listings of Italian opera houses (and their websites) if you’re interested in learning more.

Italy Article Round-Up

In case you missed these recent articles on travel to Italy…

New York Times
Sicily, Through the Eyes of the Leopard

The Washington Post
See Naples…And Eat

Sydney Morning Herald
Ready for Super-Bol (A Search for the Best Ragu in Bologna)

Los Angeles Times
Exploring Sun-Splashed Venice’s City Squares

The Guardian (UK)
Instant Weekend…Turin

The Boston Globe
Eat Them All, Pray For More, Love the Neopolitan Pie
Ancient Capri Still Casts Its Powerful Spell

Seattle Times (Rick Steves’ Europe)
For Italy In the Extreme, Go to Naples

The Independent (UK)
See Italy – From the Wheel of a Ferrari
Lyrical Charm in Capri

The Vancouver Sun
How To Enjoy Rome With the Kids

The Financial Times
Do You Need Another Reason to Visit Florence?

The Pontines, Perhaps

Unlike Greece, Italy isn’t a land of islands. Sure, there’s Sicily, Capri, and the Tuscan Archipelago, which includes Elba. But there is also a small set of islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea between Rome and Naples that, according to Guy Dinmore of The Financial Times, “offer a safer and saner way to travel” for those who want a “sedate alternative to dashing around packed piazzas.”

In “Escape to ‘Alcatraz’,” Dinmore explores the Pontine Islands, which were once used as prison islands by the likes of Emperor Augustus and Mussolini. You can still take a tour of Santa Stefano, the main prison island, which is today uninhabited, or stay on Ventotene to visit its subterranean dwellings and Roman cisterns or go snorkeling. Dinmore also touches on Ponza, the most popular of the Pontines, and Ischia, which is not exactly a Pontine island but typically grouped with Capri and Procida.

Ponza, apparently, is having its day in the sun lately, as German In Style magazine included it among its round-up of party islands. In Style suggests the following Ponza haunts:

Need more convincing? Check out these spectacular photos from the Pontine Islands on Flickr.

Photo by RonnyBas

Spain Conquers Italy

Palazzo Reale in Caserta Campania Italy

Palazzo Reale in Caserta, Campania Italy

Large parts of Italy were once united under the Spanish flag, with conquests in Naples and Sicily by the houses of Aragon and Bourbon, among others. Even Milan and Parma were under Spanish rule at one point. I confess that I am not an expert on Spain’s influence on Italy, so you may want to read more about it here or here. This article from Best of Sicily Magazine even discusses the Spaniards of Sicily. While I still need to brush up on my Spanish-Italian history, I do know there are a number of interesting sites to visit in Italy that have a Spanish past.

For example, the city of Caserta, north of Naples in Campania, is known for its breathtakingly large Royal Palace, built on the orders of Charles of Bourbon by Luigi Vanvitelli in the late 18th century. The Campania Regional Tourist office lists several regal itineraries including this Itinerary Fit For a King.

The Caserta Palace was one of four palaces used by the Bourbon Kings of Naples. The other three are in Naples, with one on the Capodimonte Hill, one in Portici, and the other at Piazza del Plebiscito. You can read more about the Bourbon palaces from the Royal House of Bourbon Two Sicilies, which still exists, if by name (and wealth) only.

Speaking of Sicily, the island has tons of Spanish leftovers, as it was ruled by the Houses of Aragon, Bourbon, Bourbon of Two Sicilies, and the Spanish Hapsburgs, among others. This brief history from the travel agency Think Sicily has a good rundown of what each dynasty left behind and what there is to see today. The Sicily Tourist website provides an itinerary of the castles and forts on the island, including the Spanish Fort (Portopalo di Capo Passero) on the southeast coast.

For more palaces, go north. The Palazzo Ducale di Colorno in the province of Parma was a Bourbon residence. Milan also has a Palazzo Reale, which houses the city’s contemporary art museum. Some of the Royal Palace in Milan was destroyed during World War II, but underwent a long restoration that ended in 2006.

Then, there’s the island of Sardinia, which was ruled for many years by Spain before becoming a kingdom in its own right. Sardinia has a very diverse history, and many of its feasts and festivals, such as Sartiglia, held each year in Oristano, features a medieval Spanish-style jousting tournament. Here, too, is The Complete Guide to Sardinia, a fantastic, in-depth article written by Frank Partridge of London’s Independent in 2007.

Of course, I have only touched on a few Spanish-related gems in Italy. Certainly the maritime territories, such as Genoa and Venice, have Spanish connections, and areas throughout Sicily and the Mezzogiorno (Abruzzo, Basilicata, etc.) also have leftovers from the Spanish era. I hope to bring you more about these sites in the future.

Photo from Caserta.nu

The Complete Guide to the Bay of Naples

Bay of Naples 

Now that Naples seems to have a handle on its garbage problem, it is hoping that tourists start to make their way back to Italy’s “city by the bay.” Right on time is a service article from the U.K.’s Independent. The Complete Guide to the Bay of Naples gives the lowdown on getting there, visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, and taking tours of Vesuvius, the Campi Flegrei “sulphurous sites,” and nearby destinations like Sorrento and Capri. As the article is geared towards the British traveler, some of the suggestions, such as for hotels, are a little on the pricey side for American tourists. But there is a lot of information here for someone who’s considering exploring one of Italy’s most evocative cities.

Not even 5 minutes since we wrote the above…Want even more about Naples? You may also enjoy 48 Hours in Naples. This recent piece from the same newspaper has great tips for the “independent” traveler, including city walks and dining suggestions.

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