My family and I had the great fortune to live in Naples for two years and had a fabulous time exploring Naples and the surrounding region of Campania, of which Naples is the capital.
Naples is a city of contrasts, ancient in history, rich in culture, vibrant in its daily life and yet suffering from a chronically inadequate infrastructure of city services which has hampered its reputation as a tourism destination. A local restaurateur we came to know described Naples in the following way:
“Naples is like a beautiful women with dirty feet, as long as you focus on her face you can have a great time.”
Google images of Naples and you’re likely to see pictures of the accumulated garbage during one of the frequent sanitation strikes which is so unfortunate and unfair because there are few other cities with as much natural beauty and potential as Naples. Instead Naples has become a transit point you speed through on your way to the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Pompeii, and Caserta and the hundreds of other significant sites and attractions in and around Naples.
Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. One of the hidden treasuries of Naples lays beneath the 18th-century cloister at San Lorenzo Maggiore, that was discovered this century, a completely intact Roman era neighborhood where you can truly get a feel for what living in a Roman city must have been like. Shops are intact, streets with the worn ruts of passing carts, its underground setting rather than being restricting seems to simulate what an evening in this neighborhood would have been like; even more amazing, archaeologists have uncovered even older sections dated to the Etruscan Era.
Naples was the summer retreat of the Roman elite and the ruins of their palaces still exist along the coast just north of the city, it was also the inspiration for ancient literature; Virgil tells us that Aeneas is said to have visited the underworld, entering through a cave at the edge of Lake Avernus on the Bay of Naples.
Just minutes further up the coast is Cumea, where the Cumaean Sibyl was considered the most important oracle to the Romans and second only to Delphi in the greater ancient world. Walking through the passage to the chamber where the oracle awaited supplicants is a unique experience and you can understand how visitors would feel a mystical otherworldly quality that reinforced the power of the oracle.
Vesuvius, Herculaneum, and Pompeii can be reached by train or car and are worthy of day trips. I actually recommend visiting Herculaneum if time requires you to choose versus Pompeii, its a more intimate experience, less crowded and gives you a more cohesive experience; that said, Pompeii is impressive and will not disappoint.
So what do I recommend for the traveler that wishes to experience Naples but is concerned over its reputation? There are several good options:
- Book a cruise departing Civitavecchia