NAPLES

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

BOLD BUT BEAU­TI­FUL: The Naples streetscape is dense and fre­netic. Drivers ig­nore red lights; mo­tor scoot­ers weave in and out, mount­ing foot­paths to de­tour at any de­lay. Nar­row al­leys with wash­ing lines strung above them lace through the Old Town. On the streets, it’s ev­ery­one for them­selves. If this sounds like be­ing un­der siege, it’s worth ev­ery sec­ond. Walk­ing in an iso­lated street at night, my fel­low ex­plorer and I en­counter some women ex­it­ing a dark­ened build­ing; they have been to choir prac­tice, they tell us. They promptly link arms in a semi­cir­cle, de­liver a few soar­ing, oper­atic bars, warn us to se­cure our shoul­der bags and bid us good­night. Such mo­ments, plus sublime art, ar­chi­tec­ture and good food, are as vi­brant as the traf­fic. Note that busi­nesses close from 12.30pm to 3.30pm daily, but stay open late. More: vis­i­taly.com.au; vis­it­naples.eu/en.

FAST FEASTS: Naples is the cap­i­tal of lus­cious quick food, espe­cially the three Ps — pro­sciutto, pas­tries, pizza — but there’s also moz­zarelline. Hot­foot it to Il Cuoppo (via San Bi­a­gio dei Li­brai, 23) for deep-fried moz­zarella balls, pre­pared to or­der and sold in a brown-paper cor­net ($4.50) through an al­ley win­dow. Long queues are a clue at l’An­tica Pizze­ria Da Michele (via Ce­sare Ser­sale, 1, off Corso Umberto 1) and, if in the neigh­bour­hood, visit Salume­ria Ruocco (Corso Umberto 1, 257). Since 1922, this wel­com­ing lit­tle shop sells sa­lumi, for­maggi et vini (Lacryma Christi wines, tears of Christ, are pro­duced from the vol­canic soils of nearby Mount Ve­su­vius). Do not miss Gio­vanni Scatur­chio (Pi­azza San Domenico Mag­giore 19), the city’s old­est pas­tic­ce­ria (1905), for lus­cious baba (small rum and syrup-soaked yeast cake) and sfogli­atelle (puff pas­try clam shell filled with can­died citrus-stud­ded ri­cotta cus­tard), and cap­rese (flour­less al­mond and choco­late cake from Capri). Try cof­fee and cakes at el­e­gant, chan­de­liered Caffe Gam­bri­nus on Pi­azza Tri­este e Trento.

THET DARK ARTS: No other mur­derer on the lam could have left such an art-chang­ing legacy as Car­avag­gio. Disas­ter stalking his path, hav­ing killed a man in Rome, he sought refuge in Naples, where three of his most ex­tra­or­di­nary paint­ings re­main. The Seven Works of Mercy was com­mis­sioned for the Pio Monte della Mis­eri­cor­dia, a small oc­tag­o­nal church near the Duomo (Naples Cathe­dral); it hangs above the al­tar. The Flag­el­la­tion of Christ was com­mis­sioned for another Naples church, and now hangs in the city’s Museo Nazionale di Capodi­monte. The third paint­ing, The Mar­tyr­dom of Saint Ur­sula, was Car­avag­gio’s last, painted in the months be­fore his death in 1610. It hangs in the Gal­le­ria d’Italia Palazzo Ze­val­los Stigliano. Th­ese dark, brood­ing paint­ings pierced with gleams of light re­flect the artist’s own suf­fer­ings. Among the acts of mercy he de­picts are shel­ter­ing the home­less, vis­it­ing the im­pris­oned and feed­ing the hun­gry. More: pi­omont­edel­lamis­eri­cor­dia.it; museo­capodi­monte.beni­cul­tur­ali.it; gal­leried­i­talia.com/ it/napoli.

S SPIR­I­TUAL CALLINGS: You might hear sa­cred singing or see a wed­ding in progress, but Naples churches shel­ter more sur­pris­ing finds. A Greek agora, and a later Ro­man fo­rum, nes­tle among the foun­da­tions of Basil­ica San Lorenzo Mag­giore. A for­est of blue and yel­low ma­jolica col­umns and benches adorns Santa Chiara Clois­ter. A bizarre Museo del Pur­ga­to­rio ad Arco, “ded­i­cated to the cult of the Souls in Pur­ga­tory”, can be vis­ited at the church of the same name. Cer­tosa (monastery) e Museo di San Martino, apart from its mar­ble-in­laid, gold and painted walls and ceil­ings, show­cases the elab­o­rate Neapoli­tan art of the na­tiv­ity crib (pre­sepes). Said to have orig­i­nated in the 13th cen­tury, th­ese carved poly­chrome fig­ures came into full glory in the 18th cen­tury. Ex­traor­di­nar­ily de­tailed set­tings with ar­changels as­cend­ing to heaven nev­er­the­less re­flect early Neapoli­tan life. Af­ter the monastery, stop at Frig­gi­to­rio Vomero (via Ci­marosa, 44), where the Acunzo fam­ily fries bite-sized arancini, dough­nuts, and bat­tered veg­eta­bles; all siz­zlingly good and cheap as chips.

HOT SPOTS: Pom­peii, that unique win­dow on the daily lives of peo­ple in 79AD when vol­canic flowsf from Ve­su­vius en­tombed the city, is 24km south­east of Naples. From Naples Cen­tral, the Cir­cum­vesu­viana train on the Sor­rento line de­liv­ers you to Pom­pei scavi-Villa dei Mis­teri, the sta­tion near­est the en­trance. Her­cu­la­neum is on the same line, and sea­side Sor­rento at the end. Two, at least, are achiev­able in a day. The is­lands of Ischia and Capri are also eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, by ferry from Naples, but the lit­tle isle of Pro­cida is also rec­om­mended as the most beau­ti­ful and least vis­ited.

DIG DEEP: Museo Arche­o­logico Nazionale di Napoli possesses the stag­ger­ing Far­nese col­lec­tion of Ro­man an­tiq­ui­ties. Many of the trea­sures, arte­facts, mo­saics and sculp­tures ex­ca­vated in Pom­peii are here. The Gabi­netto Se­greto (Se­cret Cab­i­net), opened in 2005, houses fa­mous erotic paint­ings, fres­coes and arte­facts found at Her­cu­la­neum and Pom­peii, a col­lec­tion not ex­hib­ited pub­licly un­til 2000. More: museoarche­o­logi­conapoli.it/en/.

CAS­TLES IN THE AIR: Step into the feu­dal Nor­man world be­neath Cas­tel dell’Ovo’s im­pen­e­tra­ble walls and tow­ers. Arched stone pas­sages and sweep­ing shal­low-stepped curves lead the way. Il­lus­trated signs de­scribe 12th to 15th-cen­tury ar­mour, weapons and build­ings. From the top, gaze across the Port of Naples. Cas­tel Nuovo, “New Cas­tle” (also called Mas­chio An­gioino), was built in 1279, up­dat­ing the then an­ti­quated Cas­tel dell’Ovo in­hab­ited by Charles I of An­jou. Cas­tel Nuovo’s exquisitely dec­o­rated Pala­tine Chapel sur­vives from the orig­i­nal 13th-cen­tury build­ing, and is a stunning high­light. The cas­tle it­self un­der­went 15th, 16th and 17th-cen­tury changes. There are rem­nants of an­cient fres­coes, his­toric Neapoli­tan mu­seum col­lec­tions and the sump­tu­ously carved 15th-cen­tury Arch of Tri­umph of Alfonso the Mag­nif­i­cent, which slots in like a slice of iced cake be­tween the dark som­bre tow­ers.

REAL MEALS: The har­bour­side ta­bles of Zi Teresa (Aunt Teresa) fit right into the buzz of the worki ing port (via Borgo Mari­nari 1). Small colour­ful boats jos­tle in the wa­ter at your el­bow be­side plates laden with misto mare, fritto or griglia — whole, crusty fish, fried or grilled, with brown-paper cor­nets of prawns and other seafood, served here since 1890. In the cen­tre of the city, the out­door ta­bles at Moe­nia Caffe Lit­ter (Pi­azza Bellini, 70) are set amid cas­cad­ing green­ery. In the port of Cor­ri­cella on the is­land of Pro­cida, La Lam­para (Ma­rina di Cor­ri­cella, 88) and La Lo­canda del Postino (43) serve pasta with seafood in­clud­ing sea urchins, lemon salad, Falanghina wines and water­side am­bi­ence.

STROLLS AND SHOP: Spac­canapoli (“Naples split­ter”) starts at via Benedetto Croce, even­tu­ally be­com­ing via San Bi­a­gio dei Li­brai. Slic­ing through the orig­i­nal Ro­man city, it of­fers a feast of peo­ple-watch­ing and shop-brows­ing. Boho-chic Kasba (via San Bi­a­gio dei Li­brai, 6A) stocks heavy jew­ellery, asym­met­ric linen tu­nics and more. Bot­tega21 (vico San Domenico Mag­giore, 21) has leather satchels, bags and wal­lets, hand­crafted in nearby Sor­rento. OP­U­LENCE WITH A VIEW: Eurostars Ho­tel Ex­cel­sior is a re­fur­bished belle-epoque grande dame, opposite Cas­tel dell’Ovo on the wa­ter­front, with Ve­su­vius and is­lands views. Grande Ho­tel Ve­su­vio, with Mu­rano chan­de­liers and wall brack­ets, pot­ted palms and ori­en­tal rugs, is al­most next door, with slightly faded grandeur but full of char­ac­ter, and the same views; roy­alty and di­vas of ev­ery kind have stayed. For upto-the-minute glam­our and ex­tras in a his­toric palazzo in the cen­tre of town, try Sof­i­tel’s MGallery Palazzo Carac­ci­olo Napoli (pic­tured). More: eu­rostarsho­tels.co.uk; ve­su­vio.it; sof­i­tel.com.

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