History lurks in every corner of Naples Historic District, the Centro Storico, where ancient ruins live in harmony with old, vintage and new. The aroma of Neapolitan caffè fills the air of these chaotic, cobbled alleys and a “slice” is always close at hand. Naples is after all, the birthplace of pizza.
Start this stroll off with a steaming hot shot – of caffè that is – served from a vintage machine, at the Caffè del Professore (à figlia do cafettiere, Via Duomo, 150), before making your way across the street to Naples Cathedral (il Duomo). If you love jewels, San Gennaro and religious iconography, stop into the Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro next door. Behind the cathedral (east on Via dei Tribunali) find Cosimo Fanzago’s 17th century Spire of San Gennaro. One of three votive obelisks in Centro Storico, it was erected in gratitude for the Saint’s protection of the city during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1631. A few meters east of here is one of Naples most precious treasures, Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy at Pio Monte della Misericordia.
Returning back to Via Duomo, stop by the Girolamini across the street, then head west on Via dei Tribunali and into the characteristic alleys of Centro Storico, a UNESCO world heritage site. Walking along the grid pattern street plan laid down by the Greeks, continue west along Via dei Tribunali to Piazza San Gaetano. Sample a slice or a fried bite along the way at either Dal Presidente or Antica Pizzeria e Friggatoria Di Matteo, or better yet, try something from both.
The statue looking up toward the heavens is your clue that you’ve reached Piazza San Gaetano. This was the epicenter of ancient Neapolis and it remains a fulcrum of activity today. Two columns of the pagan Temple of the Dioscuri decorate the facade of San Paolo Maggiore. Just below the surface lay the remains of a Greco/Roman aqueduct system and Naples ancient marketplace (the Greek Agora/Roman Forum). There are two gateways into the Greco-Roman city here: a guided tour of the aqueduct with Napoli Sotteranea or explore the marketplace on your own beneath San Lorenzo Maggiore.
Linger in Piazza San Gaetano a bit and you may hear the sweet sounds of Alfredo Imparato, a street singer who plies his trade outside San Lorenzo Maggiore. The sweet and savory scents coming from Pasticceria Rosticceria San Gaetano di Ippolito Nunzio and Antica Pizzeria i Decumani will entice you to grab a snack and sit a while. Before continuing on, sample some of Naples famed limoncello at Limonè on the west side of San Paolo Maggiore.
The narrow alley that sits at the southern end of this “T” shaped piazza is Naples famed Via San Gregorio Armeno. One of the prettiest cloisters in the city sits behind an iron gate at the first corner (Vico Giuseppe Maffei). If you see the gate open, wander up and have a peek. The cloister is part of the San Gregorio Armeno complex; entrance to the church is at the other end of Via San Gregorio Armeno. The bell tower you pass under was once a bridge that connected San Gregorio Armeno to another convent across the street.
When you turn onto Via San Biagio dei Librai (take a right in this case), you’ll be stepping onto the so-called Spaccanapoli, the city splitter (head up to Castel Sant’Elmo in the Vomero to see the swath the street cuts across the city). Look for the statue of Nile on your way to Piazza San Domenico Maggiore where you’ll find the second obelisk in Centro Storico, the Spire of San Domenico and the San Domenico Maggiore church. Just a few hundred meters behind the church, see one of the city’s most important works of art, the Veiled Christ at the Sansevero Chapel. Don’t leave Piazza San Domenico Maggiore without trying a sfogliatella at one of Naples favorite pastry shops, Scarturchio.
Continuing along the Spaccanapoli you’ll pass by Palazzo Venezia – a great jazz venue – before arriving at the western end of Centro Storico and the last two churches on our stroll – Santa Chiara first, then Gesù Nuovo in the piazza of the same name and the third of Centro’s obelisks – the Obelisk of the Immaculate One.
– It’s best to start this stroll early in the morning as most churches close by 1:00 p.m. for pausa.
– Dress appropriately when visiting Naples churches. Enter in shorts or sleeveless shirts and you may be asked to leave.
Naples in 48 hours…a weekend of art, food and leisurely city strolls.
Naples Island Hopping: a Spa Day on Ischia…soak up the thermal waters of a volcanic island.
Naples Netherworld…if Hades existed, its entrance was surely here.
Pompeii Sites…ancient cities lost and found.