To experience the true essence of Naples, you need to explore the Centro Storico, an unforgettable neighborhood that is the heart of old Naples. This is the Naples of peeling building facades and hanging laundry, with small alleyways fragrant with fresh flowers laid at the many shrines to the Blessed Virgin. Here the cheapest pizzerias in town feed the locals like kings, and the raucous street carnival of Neapolitan daily life is punctuated with oases of spiritual calm. All the contradictions of Naples—splendor and squalor, palace and slum, triumph and tragedy—meet here and sing a full-throated chorale. But the Centro Storico is not simply picturesque. It also contains some of Naples's most important sights, including a striking conglomeration of churches—Lombard, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. There are the majolica-adorned cloister of Santa Chiara; the sumptuous Church of the Gesù Nuovo; two opera-set piazzas; the city duomo (where the Festa di San Gennaro is celebrated every September); the Museo Cappella Sansevero; the greatest painting in Naples—Caravaggio's Seven Acts of Mercy altarpiece—on view at the museum complex of Pio Monte; and Via Gregorio Armeno, where shops devoted to Presepe crèche (Nativity scene statues) make every day a rehearsal for Christmas. And even though this was the medieval center of the city, the city's flagship museum of modern art, the Museo Madre, is here and night owls will find that many of Naples's most cutting-edge clubs and bars are hidden among its nooks and alleys. For soccer fanatics, there is even a shrine to Diego Maradona.
This area is best explored by starting out at its heart, the Piazza del Gesù Nuovo (approachable from all directions but easily reachable from Via Toledo by heading eastward from Piazza Carità through the pedestrianized Piazza Monteoliveto and then up Calata Trinità Maggiore), then heading east along the Spaccanapoli street to the Duomo, then back along Via dei Tribunali.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Museo Civico Gaetano Filangieri
Housed in a 15th-century palazzo, this museum was opened in 1888 by Gaetano Filangieri, prince of Satriano, to house his…Learn More >
The Madonna and Pistol
There is now just one piece by controversial street artist Banksy in Italy (a second, in nearby Santa Chiara, was…Learn More >
San Lorenzo Maggiore
One of the city's unmissable sights, with a travel-through-time descent to Roman and Greek times, as well as the grandest…Learn More >