Intriguing City near Mount Vesuvius
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The city of Naples has an intriguing history. A past eruption of Mount Vesuvius sowed death and destruction in Pompeii. Humans responded by constructing a new city; Naples. It's a remarkably vibrant city, nestled beneath the looming Mount Vesuvius. In this article, you'll find more information about the numerous attractions in and near Naples.
The city nestles beside one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. It houses an array of museums steeped in the turbulent history, with relics discovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Scientists are gradually unravelling the horrific history, which is far from reassuring. In Naples, one can witness how the local inhabitants cope with the presence of an active volcano in their lives. Moreover, the city is a splendid shopping destination and, of course, the ideal place to indulge in delicious Italian food and beverages.
The National Archaeological Museum is an absolute must-visit for anyone who has journeyed to Pompeii and/or Herculaneum. Naples is undoubtedly the place to witness all the discovered treasures of art. It's also the place to observe firsthand how Italians live today, with the threat of Mount Vesuvius looming just nine kilometres away. If you truly want to experience the fear (as well as the respect) of the volcano, you need to climb the mountain. Only then will you gain a real understanding of the feelings of the Italians living around the area.
A significant proportion of all archaeological finds have vanished over the centuries due to plunder. Consequently, a portion of the treasures is kept in the museum, serving as a strong deterrent against further theft. And to protect the fragile pieces, which includes the world-renowned double portrait, the most personal drawing of all. While some scholars argue that it depicts Terentius Neo and his wife, others confidently assert that it portrays Paquius Proculus and his wife. Additionally, for instance, some unearthed documents from Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum are on display.
The Duomo di Napoli is a magnificent cathedral situated on the Via Duomo. This striking white church hails from the 13th century, commissioned by Charles of Anjou, a son of King Louis VIII of France. The fascinating aspect is that Charles of Anjou worked existing Christian structures into his design. As a result, the remnants of the Santa Restituta, a basilica dating back to the 6th century, can be seen in the left wing.
The baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte also stands tall, holding the title as the oldest baptistery in the western world. Scholars assertively trace its roots back to the era of Constantine the Great, who existed from 280 to 337 AD. Richly decorated with various mosaics over the centuries, these Christian mosaics, owing to their antiquity, hold immense importance. The church takes great pride as it houses the congealed blood of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, within the Cathedral, thereby upholding its famed reputation.
The Castel Sant'Elmo dates back to the 16th century. It was constructed under the directive of Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, a Spanish Viceroy of Naples. Today, it stands atop the remnants of a 14th-century castle. The instigator of that castle was none other than Robert of Anjou, the King of Naples of that time.
He passed away in 1343, the exact year the castle was completed. The Certosa di San Martino monastery was later built against the fort. Today, this immense property serves as an art museum: the Museo di San Martino. It's situated on Via Tito Angelini, atop the eponymous Sant'Elmo hill. From both the castle and the museum, you're blessed with a splendid view over the city, the Bay of Naples, and Vesuvius.
The name Castel dell’Ovo, which translates to 'Castle of the Egg', doesn't refer to the shape of the castle but is rooted in legend. It's said that the Latin poet Virgil hid an egg within this castle. The reasons for this remain a tantalising mystery. Legend has it that the fate of the castle hinges on the egg. The castle perches determinedly on a craggy islet in the Bay of Naples. The existent castle dates back to the 15th century and was constructed under the banner of the (Spanish) Kingdom of Aragón.
Indeed, scientists have determined that this site was home to a Roman villa in the first century AD. Furthermore, it was completely later transformed into a fort. This is also precisely the place where Romulus Augustulus was held captive. Let us not forget that he was the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, dethroned in 476. The approach to the site is exceptional, featuring an over 100-meter-long footpath through water. This castle stands as a popular marriage location for lovers.
Castel Nuovo is the crowning glory of Charles I of Anjou. When he ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Sicily (which, back in the latter part of the 13th century, also encompassed the south of Italy) in the late 13th century, he made the bold decision to shift the capital from Palermo to Naples. There, he commissioned the construction of this magnificent castle. Today, the only remnant of the original castle is the awe-inspiring Cappella Palatina. Nestled within the courtyard lies the church of Santa Barbara, adorned with frescoes by the renowned Giotto.
The current name, Castel Nuovo (New Castle), was boldly given by Alfonso I of Aragon in 1443 when he commissioned its renovation. Ahead of his triumphant entry that year, the striking Arco di Trionfo, a gateway of white marble, was constructed. It dramatically contrasts against the castle's grey volcanic rock and five imposing towers. The castle notably hosts the Museo Civico Filangieri. All the art pieces from the castle are on display, encompassing a remarkable collection of sculptures and paintings.
Stabiae was a small town located on the Bay of Naples. Approximately 5 km from Pompeii, it is particularly famous for the luxury villas discovered there. Like Pompeii, Stabiae too was engulfed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, buried under approximately two meters of ash. Research has shown with certainty that this part of Italy has been occupied since the 8th century BC, likely by the Etruscans.
A city trip to Naples is becoming increasingly popular. Or a road trip through the south, where of course you also visit Naples. You can stay in the city in cosy hotels, convenient apartments and cheap hostels. Most of them are located in the centre or just outside. Just make sure to book in time, so you still have choices. This is also often when prices are lower.
Incidentally, the city of Naples was also struck by the volcanic eruption of 79, yet it remained relatively unscathed. For centuries, this city on the Gulf of Naples played a significant role. However, its favourable location has led to a turbulent past, as Greeks, Romans, Lombards, Vikings and Garibaldians attempted to annex it. Nowadays, the city is primarily associated with the mafia.
The area surrounding the crater has now been declared a National Park. The volcano is home to a multitude of unique plants and animals. Locals refer to the volcano as a wolf in sheep's clothing. Interestingly, as the facts from the past are unveiled, the fear of a new eruption increases. In other words, what are the present dangers for the population? This time, it's not just thousands, but millions of people living on the volcano's slopes. And the last eruption was in 1944.
You typically fly into Naples, or specifically, the airport located five kilometres north of the city. It's straightforward to rent a car and take a short trip to Vesuvius, just 10 kilometres away. If you continue driving, you'll find the excavations of Pompeii just a few kilometres further on.
And just another 15 kilometres away lies the famous Amalfi Coast with its villages cascading on the cliffs along the coast. You could cover all this in two days, but it would be far more enjoyable to allocate a week for this journey. To truly discover everything.
The city of Naples is perfect for a city break. The city is easily reached by plane. The airport is just 6 kilometres from the city centre. Hire a car and explore the extraordinary surroundings of Pompeii and Vesuvius. Take the time for this part of Italy. It is incredibly rich and diverse.
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