So, I originally wrote a Day 1 diary of my time in Naples however the internet managed to delete my whole post. Cheers mate. I was out there for around 6 weeks excavating with the amazing Apolline Project but got weekends off to explore. I’d always been planning to one day do a road trip through Italy from the north to the south but Naples was never really on my radar except as a place to explore Pompeii and Herculaneum from. Oh the errors of the ignorant – Naples is definitely a hidden gem of Italy and despite being one of the most idiosyncratic places I’ve ever been to – nothing runs on time, people have a negligible grasp of English and if female prepare to deal with frequent catcalls/amorous compliments; the culture shock eventually turned to a begrudging attachment to this mad city. Anyway since I was out there for so long, I’ve decided to do a count down of my top 10 highlights in the city instead of daily diaries.
Certosa di San Martino
Even if you don’t visit the monastery itself, the view over Naples from outside is breath-taking as you get to see the whole city with Vesuvius looming in the background from above. And it’s best reached by a funicular which happens to be incorporated into the local public transport system and not a tourist trap like funiculars in other European cities.
Aside from the view, the monastic complex once belonged to the Carthusians but is now abandoned meaning that alongisde the church you can also visit the living and administrative quarters of the monks. The cloister was one of my highlights – especially with the skull decorations on the balustrade, much more preferable than chubby cherubs and other more usual contemporary decorations. There’s also a museum attached to the monastery with the Bourbon royal barges but personally I found exploring the endless baroque passages of the monastery itself far more interesting!
Whilst images of the cathedrals in Italy’s other major cities such as Florence and Milan easily spring to mind, Naples’ main church is rather unassuming from the outside. It has an interesting seemingly embossed ceiling and 4th century mosaics in the baptisty however the person highlight was the side-chapel dedicated to Saint Gennaro containing multiple silver reliquary busts. The one belonging to the eponymous saint contains phials of blood that “miraculously” liquefy twice a year. His bust is missing the bejewelled mitre which is on display in the neighbouring museum as it contains over 3000 diamonds and multiple emeralds and rubies so being casually on display in the cathedral might not be the best idea.
The Museo Archaeologico Nazionale
Without a doubt I’d recommend visiting the famed museum however I spent my time wondering around the museum frustrated by the lack of labels and typological grouping of artefacts that meant their original location was lost to the visitor. A lot of the major finds from Pompeii were also absent being on display in international exhibitions – the British Museum’s 2013 exhibition being one of these which I was lucky to see as I felt the objects where far better displayed than they would be in their Neapolitan “home.”
However lackadaisical museum displays aside, some of the artefacts really spoke for themselves – especially the Alexander the Great mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii. You really need to see it in the
flesh tesserae to appreciate the scale as well as the section of the Persian ruler Darius and his cavalry, far better preserved than the Greek section. The fresco of Vesuvius alongside its patron god Dionysus was another stand-out exhibit, namely due to the grapeomorphic god – fancy dress inspiration anyone? I bought the highlights guide after visiting and only then did I realise how much was not on display – the portrait of Sappho, the sculptures of the runners from Herculaneum’s Villa of Papyri and the undescribable Ephesian Artemis – all museum highlights and nowhere to be found! Heartbreaking stuff if you’re an archaeological student.
A Neapolitan noble family’s baroque chapel, the marble statues here are without a doubt some of the most skilled I have every seen carved including an amazing veiled Christ surrounded by statues of the virtues including my personal favourite disillusion. Apparently this is best portrayed by a man peeking out of a fishing net – a monumental feat to carve into marble. Downstairs from the chapel are two macabre models of male and female arterial systems which apparently are so realistic that many Neapolitans believe they’re from actual humans and not man-made. Personally I didn’t find them that realistic but amazing in their accuracy nonetheless.
San Domenico Maggiore
This church featured one of my joint favourite interiors of all the churches I visited, possibly influenced by the fact the columns where my favourite colour and I’ve never seen pink glass chandeliers in a church before. I only visited the church for a few minutes before lunchtime closing and definitely regret not returning because the interior is honestly breath-taking.
Anyway as I’m off excavating for a couple more weeks and life in the field tends to lack access to electricity it may sadly be a while before I have the opportunity to write more about my amazing time in south Italy. So ciao for now!