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The Description of Naples

Updated on April 8, 2014
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Naples is the capital of Naples province and of the region of Campania, Italy. Its name in Italian is Napoli. The city is situated on the north shore of the Bay of Naples, 120 miles (193 km) southeast of Rome, and it is the commercial and cultural center of southern Italy. Naples is the third largest city in Italy (after Rome and Milan), and it is the second busiest port (after Genoa). The population of the city in 2007 was an estimated 975,139.

Naples occupies a fan-shaped area extending about 5 miles (8 km) along the bay and stretching inland up the slopes of the surrounding hills. The older quarters and the business districts lie near the coast and on the lower slopes, while the more modern residential sections extend well up the hills, especially the Vomero hill.

A broad thoroughfare runs along the waterfront from Castel Nuovo to the little fishermen's inlet of Mergellina. It traverses the port of Santa Lucia. Beyond Mergellina the road winds up the hill to Posilippo, a section famous for its beautiful villas.

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Naples has a number of imposing medieval castles. The Castle of the Egg (12th century; Castel dell'Ovo) sits on a rocky islet off Santa Lucia. Originally Norman, the castle was rebuilt in 1274 by the Angevins. It offers an excellent view of the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius, an active volcano. New Castle (13th century; Castel Nuovo) dominates the main harbor. It has a triumphal arch, dating from the Renaissance, under which is a bronze door (1468) with six bas-reliefs depicting the struggle of Ferdinand of Aragon against René of Anjou. The door was taken away by the French king Charles VIII during his campaigns in Italy in 1494–1495, but it was subsequently returned. A cannonball remains embedded in it. St. Elmo's Castle (14th century; Castel Sant'Elmo) is on the Vomero hill. A massive structure with bastions, it was long used as a prison.

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Naples has more than 200 churches, many dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. During the Neapolitan baroque era of the 17th and 18th centuries most of the old churches were restyled, and many new ones were built. St. Clara's (Santa Chiara) was formerly the church of the royal family. Built for the Poor Clares by the wife of Robert of Anjou, king of Naples from 1309 to 1343, it was originally in Provençal Gothic but was covered with baroque decoration in the 18th century. Severely damaged during World War II, it is being restored to its original Gothic design. The detached campanile was completed in the 16th century.

The Church of the Mount of Olives (15th century; Chiesa di Monte Oliveto), also damaged during World War II, has been restored. It is rich in Florentine sculpture of the Renaissance, including an altar carved by Benedetto da Maiano, a terra-cotta pietà by Guido Mazzoni, and an altar and monument to Maria of Aragon, probably by Antonio Rossellino.

Gesù Nuovo Church
Gesù Nuovo Church | Source

The Cathedral of St. Januarius (14th century; Duomo San Gennaro) is basically Gothic but has a 19th century facade. It contains the chapel of Saint Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, in 17th century baroque style. A reliquary in the chapel holds a flask containing the saint's blood. Other chapels in the cathedral are the Minutolo, which has retained its original Gothic architecture and its 14th century frescoes, and the chapel of Saint Lawrence, adorned with a 14th century fresco representing the Tree of Jesse. The 4th century Basilica of St. Restituta was altered in the Gothic period and again in the 17th century. The baptistery at the end of the north aisle dates from the 5th century.

Other religious structures include the Monastery of St. Martin (14th century; Certosa di San Martino), a Carthusian monastery on the Vomero hill, almost completely remodeled in the 16th and 17th centuries; St. John's Church (14th century; San Giovanni a Carbonara); and the Church of St. Dominic Major (14th century; San Domenico Maggiore).

The National Museum (Museo Nazionale) is a 16th century palace that for a time housed the University of Naples. Works of art belonging to the Farnese family and treasures discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum were installed here in 1777. The picture gallery of the Capodimonte Palace has one of Italy's foremost collections of paintings. Among the artists represented here are Lucas Cranach the Elder, Bruegel the Elder, Joos van Cleve, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Velázquez, and El Greco.

The Old Quarter

The Old Spacca Quarter (Quartiere Vecchio di Spacca-Napoli) is the heart of old Naples. In its narrow, crowded streets and picturesque squares are the small shops of local artisans and the homes of working people. Lines of washing dry in the sun, and strings of lemons hang in the windows. Shoeshine boys with gilded stools compete for business, and street vendors sell tortoises, glowworms, and peanuts. The pizzerie ("pizza-shops") serve many varieties of pizza, the world-famous dish that originated in Naples.

Other Quarters

The port of Naples is the point of embarkation for tourists going to the resorts of Capri, Ischia, and Sorrento. The restaurants on the waterfront serve such Neapolitan specialties as fish stew and pasta mixed with shellfish. Near the port is the Galleria, an enclosed shopping area with an elaborate terrazzo walkway and arched skylights. Here the celebrated Neapolitan ices are sold. Naples' most fashionable street is the Via Roma.

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