Everyone has heard of the saying ‘See Naples and Die’ (or: Vedi Napoli e poi muori) and this memorable phrase has to be one of the truest ever spoken. Whilst the camorra or Mafia connections with Naples may have introduced a darker connotation, the original meaning becomes absolutely clear to everyone who visits this amazing place. This magnificent city is one that everyone should visit in their lifetime.
Naples is an ancient city, founded as a Greek colony in the 9th or 8th century BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Its original name Neapolis meant ‘new city’ and its Hellenistic influence made it revered by the Romans but its geographical situation ensured it would have little peace in subsequent centuries. Naples’ turbulent history is what gives the city its rich cultural legacy and perhaps accounts for it being a city full of interest and so many contrasts.
Situated on the Amalfi coast, Naples is a bustling city boasting some of Italy’s most magnificent art and architecture in its churches, museums and historical buildings, especially in the centro storico or historical centre of the town. Many of these date back to the 12th or 13th centuries and were once the palaces of Neapolitan aristocracy. There is also an underground city around which guided tours can be taken as well as large catacombs and a system of tunnels which served as air raid shelters during World War II.
It would be almost impossible to visit Naples without taking a trip to nearby Pompeii or Herculaneum, the two cities destroyed in their entirety in 79 AD by volcanic lava from Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii is now one of Italy’s most popular and spectacular tourist attractions and a day tour of its ancient cobbled roads is an absolute must.
Vesuvius can be seen quite clearly from Naples and stands as a solemn reminder of its powers of destruction, while to the west of Naples lie the Phlegraean (or burning) Fields, a 13 kilometre wide volcano, the mythological domain of Vulcan the Roman god of fire. Perhaps it is these ever-present natural threats that contribute to some of the more unsavoury aspects of Neapolitan life which add to the thrills and pleasures of a visit to this incredible, colourful city.