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My Trip to Italy ~ Travel in Naples

After our Rome trip, we took the train south to travel in Naples. It was a sweaty day of lugging mass amounts of luggage around unknown streets in foreign cities, but we made it. We used AirBNB and booked an apartment across from the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Our building had been had been converted in an apartment building from what was one huge villa – huge wooden doors three times the size of people and all.

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Our view from our apartment building – Naples National Archaeological Museum is the left building

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Walking into our apartment building

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The view of our apartment building from our room

After a long day, we just wanted some of the pizza Naples is famed for producing. Fortunately, we were within walking distance of some renowned pizza joints, so we went traipsed through narrow and unpredictable streets of the historic center. It felt like we stepped back at least a few centuries as walked through the narrow cobble streets lined with aged building towering above. Everything was crowded and busy, but it was much more easy-going than Rome. It is obvious that there was less money and there was a much simpler atmosphere about the place. Maybe it is due to the fact that Naples receives less tourists than Rome, maybe not. Regardless of the reasons why, I loved it.

After getting lost a bit and discovering a man playing his violin through his open window, a leather workshop, a printing shop and crowded piazzas and churches steps around every corner, we found Gino Sorbillo. It is constantly vying for the spot of #1 pizzeria in Naples and it did not disappoint. We got there right as they opened, so we were sat right away and our pizzas were delivered to us within 10 minutes of ordering them. However, 30 minutes later the entire two floors of the pizzeria were filled and waiting customers were forced outside to wait in the streets while avoid passing cars and vespas.

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We ate what we could and were all too happy to take leftovers home. We stopped by the famed cioccolateria, Gay Odin. I got pistachio and dark forest chocolate while my boyfriend chose a milk chocolate bar. We finally went home and went to sleep after our neighbor had sang opera for an hour.

Since I am Classics nerd and we were staying right by the Naples National Archaeological Museum, it was our first stop on our first day. This museum houses many of finds from Pompeii and other surrounding sites. They also have the Farnese collection, which includes many one-of-a-kind finds along with well-preserved Egyptian artifacts. I was in paradise there.

We started in the main room and loved viewing many Roman copies of Greek statues from the Farnese collection. My favorite view was of the staircase.

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We moved onto the Egyptian collection, which is confined to one small room, but the finds are spectacular. A mummy, several jars, weapons and more are here in great condition. Many finds are from the Ptolemaic Period (305-30 BC).

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We then moved onto a room that spotlighted the Farnese collection. There are far too many gems to show in this post, so I am only highlighting a few.

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marble reliefs from the Hadrianeum (Temple of Hadrian) in Rome

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Apollo with lyre, porphyry, 2nd century AD

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panther, Pavonazzo marble, Imperial Rome

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One of my favorites – kneeling barbarian, Pavonazzo marble, Imperial Rome

We then moved in a room with the giant Farnese marbles. These statues tower over you at around 10 feet tall and their magnitude is easy to feel.

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Roman copy of Warrior with child/Achilles and Troilus, 3rd century AD

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Roman copy of Hercules at rest/Farnese Hercules, 3rd century AD

Here you can find the single largest work of art from antiquity that has ever been recovered. Whether it is a Roman copy or the original Greek sculpture is uncertain, it is certain that the Farnese Bull was carved from a single piece of marble.

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Group with the torment of Dirce/Farnese Bull

We moved onto the hall of busts and statues, where mostly politicians and their family members were represented.

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I personally love the angry busts of Caracalla.

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Caracalla, 212-217 AD

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Roman copy of Pergamene votive offering, 2nd century AD

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a cool sarcophagos

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the provocative Venus Kallipygos, Roman copy from the 2nd century AD

We saw tons of other Greek and Roman sculptures ranging from busts of philosophers and royal women to mythological relief scenes. There is just too much to talk about. We headed upstairs past the Farnese Lion and the statue of Ferdinand I to see artifacts recovered from Pompeii.

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Tons of mosaics depicting several images and motifs from various homes and rooms of home are here. They are so cool to peruse and enjoy.

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The most famous mosaic is of course depicts the battle of Issus (333 BC) where Alexander the Great decidedly defeated Persian King Darius III. It comes from the House of the Fauna in Pompeii. It dates to about 100 BC and is believed to be a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original. It is important, because it is the only certain depiction that we have of Alexander. This alone made our travel in Naples worthwhile for me.

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I loved this mosaic of Medusa and I had to included the famous Faun that lends its name to the House of the Fauna in Pompeii.

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We then headed to a secret room with erotic, adult art that was recovered from Pompeii. I chose only a few tasteful ones to show here.

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We then went to the top floor where I encountered one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen in person. The ceiling art is now my most favorite piece of artwork.

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Max enjoyed finally getting a seat to rest on and the gigantic canvases Biblical and mythological art that surrounded him.

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Meanwhile, I admired the sundial that was built into the wall and onto the floor along with the statue of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.

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We then meandered through a collection of frescoes from Pompeii. I found the these of theater masks and a ship to be interesting.

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I wish I knew more about this one, but sadly, I do not. It is nonetheless lovely.

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We finally made it to the top floor which houses finds from the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum. It is named after the papyri discovered there that totaled over 1800 writings on philosophy. It was carbonized during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Right when you walk in, you can see some of the famous papyri.

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Many marbles and bronzes were also recovered from the Villa of the Papyri and are houses in the museum as well.

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Bronze of Hermes

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Bronze Drunken Satyr

After a few hours,w e still had not seen everything in the museum, but Max was more than ready to leave and I was more than ready for food. So, we wandered the streets of Naples into the historic center for coffee and pastries before hitting our next tourist stop.

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We stopped by Angelo Carbone, a pasticceria and got some pastries and cappuccinos.

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We headed south to the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore. This lovely church, the Basilica di San Paolo Maggiore is right across the street.

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The Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore is famous for the ancient remains of a Roman forum/Greek agora found below, which is referred to as the Macellum of Naples. The marketplace and now the church are at the center of ancient city plan of ‘Neapolis’ when it was a Greek/Roman city.

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Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore monastery and courtyard fountain

Before heading underground, we were brought into a chapel with gorgeous ceilings.

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Then we walked underground to find remains of bakeries, fish stalls, dry cleaners and more.

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A bakery

After the tour, we wandered through the church museum and discovered artifacts dating back several centuries.

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Some of the rooms themselves were works of art.

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And the view from the top floor was dingy, but beautiful.

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Afterward, we walked into the actual church of San Lorenzo Maggiore whose exterior is under renovation. Nonetheless, I had to get a photo of the amazing design on the doors. The church is Franciscan and dates back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi himself.

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Afterward, we walked home. All around Naples, you see an abundance of graffiti and small cars struggling to park. Here is a bit of both.

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That night, we went out again for pizza. We went to Gino Sorbillo again, but took a different route. Of course, we got lost, but we found some beautiful open church and fountains dating back centuries.

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On the following day of our travel in Naples, we headed to the southern part of the city near the bay. We stopped by Mangi e Bevi for some quick, insanely cheap but delicious lunch. Although we could not read the menu, we managed to order scrumptious dishes. As we walked east, we stumbled across a church with open doors. I could not pass it up and so we explored the 16th century Church of Pietà dei Turchini. It was empty, but full of art dating back to the 17th century.

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We then continued to the Castel Nuovo, which dates back to the 13th century. Unfortunately, it was closed off to visitors for a private event, but we were able to check out its architecture from the outside and entrance.

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Most people miss this above the door as you exit. Since it was all we got to see there, we stayed and stared for some time.

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We stopped by the shopping mall, Galleria Umberto, for some gelato, pastries and shopping. I loved the building itself. No mall looks quite like this in America.

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We walked a bit further west to the Piazza Plebescito, where the Basilica di San Francesco di Paola sits west side and the Palazzo Reale on the east side.

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Unfortunately, the external facade of the Royal Palace is getting a facelift, so my photos were all quite ugly. However, the inside was beautiful.

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the grand staircase

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the theatre

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the throne room

My favorite item there was a colorful clock that featured Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.

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Mary Stuart clock, porcelain, 19th century

I loved the designs of the balcony shutters as well.

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royal-room-palazzo-reale-napoli-italiaAfterward, we had to take our daily break for pastries and cappuccinos. I opted for the tiramisu this time.

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We then took a bus far north to the Catacombs of San Gennaro. Comprising hundreds of tombs on two separate layers that do not overlap, this is the largest Christian catacomb in southern Italy. They catacombs date back to the 2nd century AD and possibly earlier. There are a multitude of frescoes over wealthy family tombs as well as on the walls and ceilings of the catacombs. It was quite an unexpected find during our travel in Naples.

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Afterward, we had to check out the church above the catacombs, the Basilica dell’Incoronata Madre del Buon Consiglio/Basilica Uncrowned Mother of Good Counsel. It is the youngest church in Naples built in the 20th century. Its presence looms over the area, though, with its large size and hilltop location. The interior of the church was the biggest and most beautiful that I saw in Naples.

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After a long day of walking and bussing, we finally headed home to rest. We only went out for pizza and gelato that night. We rested and went to sleep early, because we headed out to Pompeii and Herculaneum the following day (that post will come next). The day after, we took it easy, because we walked all over kingdom come the day before at Pompeii and Herculaneum. So, we only hit up one site that day.

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Just walking around our neighborhood

We went to the Bourbon Tunnel. Max was happy that it was not ancient and I was happy to do something a little different. The tunnel has a history dating back to days of Magna Graecia when it was used as a cistern. It continued to be used as such through the succeeding centuries. During the Bourbon rule, King Ferdinand II began construction between the Royal Palace and an army barracks, but this was never completed. When World War II came to Naples, the cisterns were filled in and the people moved down underground for safety. Some stayed only during the bombings, others began to live down there. Some even stayed after the war was over. Nowadays, there are items left behind in the Bourbon Tunnel from its WWII inhabitants as well as discarded cars, motorcycles and even a massive shattered fascist statue of Aurelio Padovani. Unfortunately, they do not allow photos on the tour of the Bourbon Tunnel except at the very last stretch. So, I was only able to snap these few.

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We walked outside to the seashore – it was the first time we had seen the shore since we had been in Italy.

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We walked along the shore seeing a castle jutting offshore in the distance. It was the Castel dell’Ovo/Egg Castle. Its odd name comes from its legend. Virgil supposedly laid a magical egg in its foundation to support the castle; if the egg were ever to break, then ruination would have fallen on the castle and the entire city of Naples. The spot has a long history having been settled in the 6th century BC and it has a history as a villa prison (housing the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus after he exiled) before becoming a castle was built in the 11th century. It is the oldest castle and fortifications in Naples and it continued its function as a prison until the 19th century.

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We just walked by and enjoyed the dusk with others who did the same, including a cat.

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I wanted to get a good photo of Mt. Vesuvius from the bay, but this fountain, the aptly named Fontana del Gigante/Fountain of the Giant caught my attention instead. It was designed for the Royal Palace of Naples in the 17th century to be placed beside a colossal ancient statue, but it has been moved several times and now calls the bay home.

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We also passed this massive mound, which clearly has a brick structure underneath it, but I could not and still cannot figure out what it is. I wish I knew!

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I loved the name of this place, which strangely enough, only had Italians dining there.

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As we walked the streets, we also came across a protest or the remnants of one.

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Finally, we hit the the Piazza Trieste e Trento and took the bus north toward home.

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We did not want to go out again, because we were exhausted, so we stopped off at the Piazza Dante and walked to Gino Sorbillo yet again before going home for the night. I know it is a bit crazy to go to the same pizza place night after night, but it is unbelievably delicious and we were more than happy to eat the leftovers in the morning for breakfast.

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The following morning was our last in Naples. We left for the Amalfi Coast in the afternoon. We only had time to make one more stop and we chose the catacombs of San Gaudioso in the Church of Santa Maria della Sanita. The church dates to the 17th century and is home to earliest depiction of the Madonna and Child in southern Italy. The church incorporates and 5th century chapel, which sits upon the catacombs.

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Madonna and Child

We headed down into the catacombs where there were many frescoes, some well-preserved adorning the walls and ceilings. This catacomb is named after a North African priest who fled the Vandals to Naples and found refuge here in the 5th century. The catacomb dates from this period and the saint after which the catacomb is names was once interred here.

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Fresco St. Catherine of Siena

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frescoes on the wall (left) and ceiling (right)

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saint

The tomb of San Gaudioso

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This catacomb used “cantarelle”, these chambers shown here. Bodies were placed in these chambers where they would decompose. Eventually when decomposed enough, they could be placed in something like a bucket and the heat would be plcae in the top recessive portion in the chamber until the body full decomposed.This process obviously took several years to complete. Afterward, they bones would be interred with the family tomb. I know, it is quite gross. It was the weirdest thing I saw during our travel in Naples.

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The entrances to the various family tombs were marked by the skull of a family member whose body had been decomposed in the “cantarelle”. Frescoes were added in a creepy fashion to denote just who the people were.

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the garb of the fellow on the left indicates that he had the intellectual occupation of a judge

After being thoroughly creeped out, we left and walked the streets of Naples one last time. We saw some of their renowned nativity scenes along with groups of people gathering in the streets just to spend time together. We saw neighbors bringing food to each other through window, women beating rugs and one woman throw used bucket water onto the streets from her narrow centuries-old door. I felt sad to leave what seemed like a cozy neighborhood that eluded modernity.

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Sadly though, we had a train to catch. We had already missed it once from Rome and after than expensive mistake, we could not afford another. So, we took our few trinkets, admission stubs and weight gain from pizza and headed to the train station. It was a lot less hectic as we left, because we finally knew our way around. We jumped on the train and took off for Salerno.

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