See Naples and Die!
By Juliana de Angelis
There is a saying in Italy that goes 'vedi Napoli e poi muori'. Translated, this means 'see Naples and die'. The actual meaning of this refers to being overwhelmed by what a beautiful and an incredible city Naples is. (although some may argue that what it really means that Naples is such a dangerous and chaotic city that it will kill you!)
Love it or hate it, Naples really is a city and a half. It is full of life and the life is full of passion. And yes, you may have heard some negative things about Naples, but there are so many more positive things about Naples, it would be a shame to make a judgement without ever having visited the place yourself. In my opinion, it is probably the most colourful, vibrant and magical city in Europe, if not the World.
True, Naples could be considered as chaotic, with cars and vespas racing around the city not paying attention to traffic lights -and in some cases, especially around the historical centre, there are no pavements, but long narrow roads in which to accommodate both traffic and people. It could also be considered as corrupt or dangerous by some, with gang warfare by the Camorra (Neapolitan Mafia) still operating here, and teenage street boys that mug people by snatching their bags while scooting past on vespas (Not to mention stories circulating such as a woman who went into a shop to buy some clothes, but never came out....when the police were alerted by her husband she was apparantly found in the old city ruins underneath the shop being smuggled to god knows where......)
But one thing that Naples could NEVER be considered is....BORING!
Yes there are some bad points, but there are considerably many more good points than bad. The whole point of Naples is that the 'good' and 'bad' contrast each other to such an extreme it is breathtaking. The long, narrow, dusty, cobbled roads that can be found, especially in the historical centre (centro storico) can be found filled with washing hanging from balconies and washing lines, vespas constantly beeping their horns and scooting around, street urchins (or 'scugnizzi' as they are called) playing football in the street, stray dogs or cats rooting around the streets for food, and shady characters selling contraband cigarettes by the side of the road-but turn the corner or just happen to glance upwards from all the chaos and confusion and you could suddenly find yourself looking at the most beautiful church you have ever seen, or a view of the amazing Amalfi Coast and Vesuvious overlooking the sea.
You just never know with Naples. That is the beauty and the magic of it. Beautiful churches, museums and architecture are to be found all around the city, many forgotten about, because there are just simply so many. The city is full of history, culture and art. I once brought a friend to Naples, and she said she could 'feel' the history. This was such a great statement, as you really can feel the history; there is just so much art and culture around. Most of the buildings in the centro storico are the original buildings and palazzi which date back to the 12th or 13th century, with very high ceilings and original paintwork. Most original palazzi that used to belong to Neapolitan Aristocracy or Royalty are now just family homes or bed and breakfasts. There is also an underground city in Naples, (you can go on an organised tour) and some Greek ruins to be seen in Port'Alba (an area in Naples in centro storico that used to be frequented by poets and students, and is still quite bohemian), which there are still stories of people using this network for smuggling.
As mentioned before, it is the contrast of things which can sometimes be so amazing. For example shopping in the market in Via dei Tribunali which is deep in the historical centre, you notice the poverty, the chaos, the 'dustiness' of the city. Yet five minutes walk down the road you find yourself in Piazza Plebiscito; one of the most beautiful piazzas I have ever seen. Absolutely huge, with beautiful architecture, from which you can see the sea and 3 of the Italy's most visited tourist destinations; Sorrento, Ischia and the beautiful island of Capri... It is also next to the very grand Gran Caffe`Gambrinus, a very famous bar and restaurant thats been open since the 1860's, and used to be frequented by Oscar Wilde when he spent time in Naples in 1898 (he once had a vision of a ghost there). It also marks the beginning of the Chiaia district which is one of the most desirable districts of central Naples, with designer shops, bars and restaurants.
Another contrast that is very apparant is the people themselves. Neapolitans are very passionate and expressive people, and can talk like there's no tomorrow. They talk with their hands a lot and quite often raise their voices, which can be mistaken for arguing-but once you get to know the people, you will realise that what seems like an argument, is usually just a 'discussion'! (about football, or how to cook a certain pasta dish). As Naples (and indeed in the rest of Italy as many other countries with warm weather) has an 'outdoor' culture, you will often see many people, teenagers and children just 'hanging around' or having a walk or passeggiata, talking about things. You might see people arguing one minute, and then people singing the next so don't be alarmed!
Vedi Napoli e poi muori....discover for yourself!
About The Author
Juliana de Angelis is a travel writer about Italy...read more articles, travel guides and information about Italy, its people and culture.
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