Naples between sacred and profane. The historic centre in half a day

My journey begins in Viareggio, I get on the Intercity train that will take me from the Versilia “capital” to Naples. With my mind free of all preconceptions but full of the desire to discover and learn, I can only think: “Welcome to Naples! The Italian city with more stereotypes and clichés! Home of pizza, Totò, coffee and Pastiera. Famous for the camorra, the “trash”, the traffic, the contempt for rules, the black market and many other things. Commonplaces are wasted. But is it really going to be like that or are they just legends?

The station of Naples is like all big stations: chaotic, crowded, noisy. The soldiers wander around and street vendors approach waiting customers. Among them, a couple of ladies sell lucky red croissants (a cliché, I know) and lighters. I expected sock sellers, and instead nothing (a “non-clich, too bad, because I would have needed them).

After a few minutes my friend Rosaria, with a Neapolitan but Caserta adopted blood, arrives and takes me to discover the historical centre of Naples, the real one, which goes from dei Tribunali street to dell’Ovo castle..

dei Tribunali street
The way of pizza, cribs and spritzers

Rosaria drags me among the people, she moves fast, she knows these cobbled streets well. She tells me that it was the viceroy Don Pedro of Toledo who transported the five tribunals to Capuano castle, from where the street starts (dei Tribunali street, precisely) which ends in Bellini square, where we go next, she adds.

From time to time you have to stop and wait for me. I am too distracted to keep up with him, I get lost looking at the cloths hanging from balcony to balcony connecting the buildings, the coloured geraniums at the windows, the women screaming and gesticulating and the smell of pizza and fried food invading my nostrils. Rosaria shows me in succession gothic, renaissance and baroque buildings that leave me speechless. The value is inestimable!

But it’s not only the outside that fascinates me, inside, in fact, they contain and guard treasures. Like for example a Caravaggio in the chapel of the Pio Monte della Misericordia (which unfortunately I didn’t see because I didn’t know! Damn me!)

At a certain point of dei Tribunali street I find Duomo street (spoiler), where there is just (surprise) the cathedral of San Gennaro, inside which the bones and blood of the martyr are kept. I honestly thought that everything was exposed and clearly visible, instead it is safe in the reliquary. Blood is particularly important because (they say) three times a year it changes from solid to liquid: a miracle, precisely. Anyway, I was disappointed because I imagined the ampoules of blood and the bones put in a pile… and instead nothing!

Madonna con la pistola Bansky

Diversely sacred but equally important is the “Virgin with a gun” a gift from Banksy to the city of Naples. This graffito, now kept under a shrine in Gerolomini square, seems to be the only recognised work in Italy, although the artist had made another one in Benedetto Croce street, now lost.

This perhaps explains why a street-art work, which should remain free, has been enclosed in a glass cage. You who see this picture may not know it, but the ““>stress” is not limited to the golden plaque: it is also illuminated at night! In short, it seems that the Neapolitans weren’t satisfied with the thousands of little altars (Padre Pio, Jesus, Our Lady, and company) on the street corners: not even Our Lady of Bansky was spared.

And then, all of a sudden, I started to see cribs, huts,our ladies, miniatures of little men working crafts of yesteryear… I ended up in San Gregorio Armeno street, which contains the famous crib art workshops! Here too my ignorance made me look like a barbarian: I thought, in fact, that cribs were only displayed at Christmas time.

Alas, never has a mistake been more sensational: cribs don’t take breaks or holidays! So they will also be there on August 15th! Apart from the astonishment of the cribs in the historical centre, one thing that amused me is that in the Neapolitan cribs not only the classic and canonical figures are depicted, but also important characters. For example, I managed to find Dalla, Renato Zero, Malgioglio and various politicians. I don’t know who would want Trump or Berlusconi in their crib, de gustibus…


Naples is just that: sacred and profane are mixed and confused. I have gone from the sacred and venerated Saint Gennaro to the provocation of Bansky and I can already smell carnival in the air, all in a handful of steps. In fact, in Vico Fico Al Purgatorio there is the statue of Pulcinella and a crowd of people taking pictures in the style of Juliet in Verona… but instead of touching the boob they touch the nose! Maybe there was an explanation of why they touch the nose rather than I don’t know, the hat, but I forgot it. Anyway, Rosaria and I take a Spritz for 2 euro and get closer. The crowd in front of the statue was impossible, but we didn’t get discouraged and we pulled out the the “Neapolitan behaviour” that is in us and we jumped the queue! (perhaps I could not say this…) A toast to the carnival!

“Pizza nonexplains: it’s on!”


Christmas, churches….. What to eat? But pizza, of course! Naples is swarming with pizzerias, you just have to kick one in a bush and one comes out. Obviously, they’re not all the same! There’s Sorbillo‘s pizza, the undisputed queen, and then all the others in a row. But in my opinion with pizza in Naples you always fall on your feet, in the sense that the worst Neapolitan pizza will still be better than the best pizza beyond Vesuvius.

Pizza di Vesi

With the intention of eating the best pizza, Rosaria and I try to go to Sorbillo since they say eating there is a mystical experience. Unfortunately, the queue was huge, I am nowand waiting!

But it doesn’t hurt to try: we scampered all the way to the entrance, named the waiter and went for a ride. We also left the name to Vesi, another equally good pizzeria, and went to see Vincenzino (see below). After an hour or so we went back to Sorbillo to see if it was our turn but nothing, the queue seems to have quadrupled. We shrug our shoulders and abandon the mystical experience. We then go to Vesi, where I eat a pizza Margherita (because we always start from the base) and Rosaria a pizza Diavola. There are no words, as Rosaria says The Neapolitan pizza cannot be explained: it’s a long time ago!

Slightly afterwards Lucia, Rosaria’s friend, joins us and together we go for a nice coffee. First, however, we go back to greet Vincenzino: the statue of Vincenzo Bellini where, Rosaria explains, the young people gather and from there the evening starts.

Art stations

Stazione dellarte

West of Vincenzino is the underground Dante, with the square of the same name. Take it and get off at Loreto. Not because it is far away, but because Toledo station is among the most famous and awarded “Art Stations“. This artistic complex is made up of 15 underground stops, each one of which is specially embellished. The aim is to combine functionality and beauty and judging by the Toledo station, they really succeeded! Look at the photo and say if you don’t feel like you are entering the sea! The blue tiles, in fact, give the feeling of being in the abyss and the escalators allow you to climb up to the surface.

Galleria Umberto I e1520182153330
A photo under the dome is a must

and we are fascinated by the street artists and the “sparkle” of the shop windows. And I realize that I have turned left and I have entered a gallery only when I lift my nose and I am under a giant glass dome! I ended up in Umberto I gallery, the twin of the Vittorio Emanuele II gallery in Milan. Here, apart from the usual shops, there is a MC Donald’s. I think it is noteworthy because it is one of the few survivors. With all due respect, but how can you go to Mc Donald’s when everywhere in Naples everything is better and cheaper?!

The Professor’s Coffee

Coffee, like pizza, should not be taken at random. There are places and places, bars and cafes. Curiously enough, they all bring you a glass of water, which, they teach me, should be drunk before coffee so that it cleans your mouth. The first attempt is the Gran Caffè Gambrinus, a place full of baroque and glitz, here too there is a kilometric queue so let’s scrounge the bathroom (oops) and change cafeteria. Lucia takes us to the Caffè del Professore, where there is just as much crowd but much smoother. When we manage to earn money at the counter we order two regular coffees and one hazelnut. I tried to ask for a long coffee, but I got an elbow in my ribs… it seems that certain blasphemies are punished automatically. The coffee was super tight and very bitter! Love me, I’m used to American coffee!

But it doesn’t end there, I wanted to take the cup out to sip it, as soon as I proposed it they looked at me very badly (the same look that the waiters in Versilia give the Germans when they order cappuccino for dinner) and so I gobbled it up like a shot of tequila. One, two, three, down! I burnt my palate and throat, but it was worth it (they say, at this point I lost the right to contradict them).

The legend of the horses in del Plebiscito square

Following the flow of people we arrive in Piazza del Plebiscito, one of the most important historical-artistic attractions of the pizza capital. My cicerone, Lucia and Rosaria, challenged me to “walk blindfolded among the horses”. But not as real horses as I thought! Well, legend has it that nobody manages to cross the square walking in a straight line and then pass through the horses guarding the church. I accept the challenge, I am blindfolded and put in position. I start walking pretty fast thinking, alas, I’m going in the direction of the horses, and instead I draw a parable! I have come back and failed miserably in the test. Legend? Curse? Bumpy ground? The fact is that crossing the square with your eyes covered is an impossible feat.

Piazza del Plebiscito
Rosaria in the middle, me on the left and Lucia on the right. Behind us the horses and the church of San Francesco of Paola, while in front of us the Royal Palace.

We leave the square and go to the coast. In front of us the Vesuvius in all its splendour. We walk along Cesario Console street because the view is something unique, then Nazaro street, and then surprise! dell’Ovo castle!

dell’Ovo castle

Legend has it that the egg (ovo, in fact) was put there by Virgil, and on it stood the castle. Will it be true? I looked for the egg but had no luck. Be careful though: if the egg is destroyed, a series of catastrophic events will strike Naples. All in all, it is perhaps better to leave it where it is, you never know…

Castel dellOvo
Here the Castle was photographed from Caracciolo street
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