An astonishing walk in the heart of a hidden Naples. With Marco Perillo, a young writer that makes us discover folk anecdotes and unusual ways.
RIONE SANITÀ: BEYOND THE HEAVY FAME
Even though the sad fame of degradation, the area Rione Sanità is a treasury of history. It is as a “suburb in the very center of the city”. With a very peculiar history: in the XVII century noblemen and wealthy citizens settled in the area and built beautiful and opulent baroque palaces and churches. The area was also usually crossed by the royal procession going to the Royal Palace of Capodimonte. But the path from the center to the royal palace was tortuous and narrow. So it was decided to build the Napoleon Course, an overhead road that would have made quicker the journey of the royals. Work began at the beginning of 1800 under king Giuseppe Bonaparte. But the result for the area was in some way disastrous: the bridge created a progressive isolation making the neighborhood unsafe.
A new rebirth
The abandonment involved also monuments and historic buildings. Even the cloister of the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute was demolished; due to the construction of the new road. However, in the recent years, the local government has tried to solve this stagnant state of degradation. With many restoration and enhancement of the grand cultural heritage. And, more in general, through the adoption of a completely different attitude than the neglect and guilty abandonment of the past. For these reasons, if you want to know Naples deeply, you have to take a walk in this area.
An entire underground city lies in the bowels of the neighborhood. The catacombs of Naples: San Gennaro, San Gaudioso, San Severo. They were witnesses to the primary diffusion of Christian religion among the city walls. And they represent the incredible religious mix of the city; where eastern worships melts with the Christian ones.
Via Capodimonte 6
Tel: +39 081 744 3714
An unmissable destination: in spite of the comprehensible initial shiver of suggestion. The Fontanelle cemetery is an open-air graveyard. In ancient times it was a site dedicated to the extraction of tuff. But in the 17th century it started to host the remains of plague and cholera epidemics victims. What made this place famous is the tradition of the “cult of the souls”: every citizen used to adopt an abandoned skull in exchange of graces. The care consisted in cleaning the skull, periodically looking after it, and praying for it. To the prayers that accompanied this ritual, the latter corresponded the most varied graces. Like the winning numbers of lotteries.
Cimitero delle Fontanelle
Via Fontanelle 80
Tel: +39 081 795 6160
Orari: 9.30 – 16.30
Borgo dei Vergini: the hypnotic staircase of the Spagnuolo Palace
In the Borgo dei Vergini we come across some of the highest examples of Neapolitan Baroque: a style that has found in Naples its most characteristic shape and opulence. The Palace of Spagnuolo was built in 1730. The building was designed by Ferdinando Sanfelice for the family of the Marquis Moscati. Looking at the monumental stairs from the courtyard, they seem to wave: it is an optical effect, emphasized by the vivid colors of the decorations: green, yellow and gold.
Palazzo dello Spagnuolo
via Vergini 19
Tel: +39 081 795 1111
Aperto ogni giorno dalle 9.00 alle 19.00
The soul of the damned in the Vincenziani Church
The XVIII century building, with its pure Baroque facade, is considered the masterpiece of the architect Vanvitelli. Inside, the Chapel of the Relics has recently been opened to the public. It is famous for the presence of a bottle containing the blood of the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro. But this is not the only surprise: there is also the so-called “Damaged soul picture”: a painting with uncertain origins that’s wrapped in the legend. The painting has two weird fingerprint of burning hands at the bottom of the Christ depicted in it. It is said that it was a prematurely disappeared noblewoman to leave these marks on the painting: to tell her husband to stop praying for her soul. Since she had already been condemned to eternal damnation.
Chiesa della Missione ai Vergini
Via Vergini 51, 80137 Napoli
The Museum – SanSevero Chapel
In the heart of the historic center, the Sansevero Chapel Museum displays its Baroque richness. The rooms of the museum contain, among other treasures, one of the most beautiful wonders of the entire city: the sculpture of the Veiled Christ. The commissioner of the sculpture was Raimondo of Sangro. At the beginning he had entrusted the execution to Antonio Corradini. But the death of the latter caused the assignment to another young sculptor: Giuseppe Sanmartino. The work was completed in 1753. The details of the sculpture are incredible: from the inexplicable lightness of the marble veil, to the nails of the stigmates on the body of Christ. A really unmissable attraction in Naples.
Museo-Cappella di Sansevero
via Francesco de Sanctis 19/21
Tel: +39 081 551 8470
Aperto dalle 9.00 alle 18.30
A traditional pastry
Just a few steps away from Sansevero, there’s another unmissable attraction. But this is a gastronomic one. One of the legendary “snowflakes” of Poppella Pastry Shop will give you a break of real pleasure. You can enjoy it while walking through the narrow streets of the area. You will pass by the humble birthplace of Totò, the renowned Italian actor. At 109 of Via Santa Maria Antesaecula there’s also a commemorative plaque.
Via Arena della Sanità 24, 80137 Napoli
Tel: +39 081 455 309
Aperto dalle 7.30 alle 20.30.
Chiuso il lunedì.
FORCELLA AREA: the mystery of the hidden fresco
Behind the altar of San Giorgio Maggiore Church there are two master paintings of Alessio d’Elia: an artist linked to the school of Francesco Solimena. One represents Saint Severus, while the other St. George. But hidden behind the latter there is a remarkable fresco by Aniello Falcone, dating back to 1645. In the fresco Saint George rides a white horse and brandies a spear to kill the dragon. It was discovered only in very recent times and the colors are still very vivid. The painting is visible because the overhanging painting has been placed on a moving platform that can be moved through a long rope. You must ask the custodian to move the painting, and you’ll see the beautiful fresco.
Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore ai Mannesi
Via Duomo 237/A, 80138 Napoli
Tel: +39 081 287932
And the secrets of the best fried pizza in Naples
After the stroll, you need a regenerating break. Nothing better than a stop in the historic “De’ figliole” pizzeria. The venue was established in the middle of the XIX century. Here you can enjoy the best fried pizza in Naples. The dough is made every morning following an ancient recipe that’s secretly kept by the family that owns the place.
Pizzeria De’ Figliole
Via Giudecca Vecchia, 39, 80139 Napoli
Tel: +39 081 286721
Aperto dal lunedì al sabato dalle 10.00 alle 21.00 (il sabato fino alle 23.00)
The Early Christian Basilica of St. Giovanni Maggiore
Closed for decades, due to various archaeological restoration and deepening operations, the basilica of San Giovanni Maggiore was reopened only in 2012. Located in the historic center, between Largo Giusso and via Mezzocannone, legend tells that its construction was Commissioned by Emperor Constantine. Probably erected during Byzantine domination, in 300 AD, he had to undergo numerous renovations, under Norman domination and Angevin domination. Dionisio Lazzaro, who restructured it in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of 1635, was, for example, the creator of the “half dome” project, placed between the transept and the central nave. The interior of the basilica is characterized by a remarkable opulence, and is also used for concerts and performances, offering an unbeatable and evocative stage.
Basilica San Giovanni Maggiore
Rampe S. Giovanni Maggiore, 80134 Napoli
The Spina Corona fountain, or “the Zizze”
While walking on Corso Umberto, next to Federico II University, you will find yourself in a very picturesque corner. On the outer perimeter of the XIV century of St. Catherine Church, there is an ancient fountain, whose name does not leave any doubt. “Zizze” (“boobs“) alludes to the fact that water buffers come out directly from the breast of the carved figure. They are there “to mitigate the ardor of Vesuvius” (as written on a marble plate, now lost). It is a portrait of the Goddess Parthenope, a copy of a sculpture now kept in a museum in the city.
Fontana delle Zizze
Via Giuseppina Guacci Nobile, 80138 Napoli
The excavations of San Lorenzo Maggiore: the ancient “macellum”
It could be defined as the heart of ancient Naples, San Lorenzo Maggiore: the roots of today’s complex date back to the Neapolis of the Greco-Roman period. Here, in the 6th century, the early Christian basilica of San Lorenzo arose in the midst of the ancient general markets (the so-called “macellum”). During 1200 the basilica was replaced by the monumental complex still visible today, whose works started under King Charles I of Anjou, who entrusted them to French workers. Which explains how the present complex is a unique find in the vast artistic and cultural heritage of the city.
Complesso di San Lorenzo Maggiore
Piazza San Gaetano 316, 80138 Napoli
Tel: +39 081 211 0860
Aperto tutti i giorni dalle 9.30 alle 17.30
The open air Roman theater in Via San Paolo
It is open to the public only on Saturdays, thanks to the further intervention of enhancement and recovery of the ancient treasures of the city: the Roman Theater of Neapolis, between Via Anticaglia and Vico Giants, is an hidden jewel. Guided tours lead into the midst of the vast work site, which is gradually bringing to light an enormous monumental complex used as a place for representations of the most varied nature. Between ancient ambulances, wedges and caves dating from at least the 1st century BC, professional archaeologists can guide you into the cradle of a millennial tradition. The visits take place on Saturdays from 9.30 to 12.00.
Informazioni: +39 3488009274
Ingresso: via S. Paolo dei Tribunali 4
WHERE TO EAT IN RIONE SANITÀ
Upnea Bistrot offers traditional Neapolitan food. The motto of the restaurant is “so you must do it”: it refers to the fact that every dish is made through the original recipe of the tradition. Pasta with meat sauce, pork filet, tuna and eggs are some of the proposals. But for a quicker meal they offer even sandwiches or plates with salami, ham and cheese (the mozzarella is the freshest you can find!). Without neglecting desserts: deliciously home made.
Via San Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli, 34/35
Tel. +39 081.19364649
WHERE TO SLEEP IN NAPLES
The Decumani Hotel de Charme is inside the 17th century palace that belonged to Sisto Riario Sforza: the last Archbishop of Naples. It dates back to the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. When Naples was the capital.
In 2008 there was a major refurbishment of the building, and the hotel has now been fully restored and equipping with all the modern conveniences. A wide lounge, with golden stuccoes and mirrors, shows the illustrious past of this residence.
The Decumani Hotel de Charme is located, as the name says, in the Decumani: the very heart of the old city.
Decumani Hotel de Charme
Via San Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli 15
Tel. +39 0815518188
Before leaving Naples
You can’t leave the city without a scamper ritual, as in the deeper Neapolitan tradition. Passing by Via dei tribunali, you’ll find a bronze hanging mask of Pulcinella, a character of Neapolitan Comedy. The sculpture has been made by the artist Lello Esposito and to touch its nose is a good luck tradition. The bronze tassel is slowly consuming; as in the best tradition of objects ranked as lucky charms for tourists and simple passers-by.
Piazza San Domenico Maggiore
Tel: +39 081 551 4171
A BOOK THAT’S A TRIBUTE TO THE HIDDEN NAPLES
“Mysteries and Secrets of the Neighborhoods of Naples” is a guide into the guts of the city. It shows the mysteries that make Naples so fascinating. With an aura of seductive mystery. Ten different routes, that touch every neighborhood. From Rione Sanità to Forcella, from Fuorigrotta to Montecalvario: routes made of folkloric anecdotes, unseen mysteries, legends and historical facts.