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Basic information

  • Area: 117.27 km² (45.3 sq mi)
  • Calling Code: +3981
  • Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
  • Population (EST): 963,357
  • Official language: Italian
  • Time Zone: CET (UTC+1)

Naples – Overview

The history of Naples is written in its architecture; every monument is a piece of history, a link to one of the many dynasties that have governed here. UNESCO has declared the urban value of Naples to be "heritage for humanity". It is a grand heritage, running from the 7th century BC to the present. Besides the museums, castles, ancient city gates, fountains and parks, the more than 200 churches, alone, contain thousands of precious and beautiful works of art.

The historic centre of the town deserves particular attention, since it is practically an open-air museum. It is an architectural and artistic overview of 25 centuries, beginning with the Greco-Roman founding and the ancient walls, the ruins beneath San Lorenzo Maggiore and the Greek method of dividing the city into a grid of cross-streets, the Decumani and Cardini; the panorama of history then sweeps through centuries of construction of churches, grand houses for the aristocracy, monasteries and fountains. The layout of the historic centre of Naples is ancient and founded on two main axes: roads running east to west (the Decumani) were crossed at precise right angles by the north-south roads (the Cardini), forming rectangular blocks (the Insulae).

The Upper Decumanus takes its name from two walls, dated to the second century, B.C., built to support the Teatro Romano, ruins of which are still visible today in the modern city street, Via Anticaglia. Along this axis stand ancient churches such as San Giovanni a Carbonara, Santa Maria di Donnareggina, and the "Hospital for the Incurables", where there is still a chemist's shop, a remarkable work of art from the 1700s.

The Central Decumanus corresponds to today's Via dei Tribunali, so called because it ends at Castle Capuano, premises of the municipal courts since the 1500s. There is an extraordinary concentration of buildings and churches along this axis, truly a stratification of cultures: the ancient Greco-Roman ruins beneath the church of S. Lorenzo Maggiore and the Duomo; the monastery of the Girolamini; the music conservatory S.Pietro a Maiella; and the Pio Monte della Misericordia with its famous art gallery, which today displays works from the Neapolitan school of the 17th and 18th century.

The centre of Naples shows its historic importance in the large buildings that were once the homes of Neapolitan aristocracy. Palazzo Carafa di Maddaloni, Palazzo Marigliano and Palazzo Filomarino are but a few examples. Waling along these streets, it is difficult not to peek beyond the mammoth entrances and into the beautiful courtyards of these buildings, which are mostly from the 1500s. Naples is also characterized by the hospitality of its inhabitants; bright and shrewd, they are always ready with advice for those who ask. Yes, to be in Naples means to be totally overwhelmed by the chaos that rules here, but that is what makes the city a colourful and living metropolis; each moment in the daily routine has its own hectic charm to it.

Parthenopean cuisine is related to traditions of old. It is based strictly on local products grown only in this region, under this sun, in this temperature, and in this particularly fertile soil! Neapolitan creativity at work on these typical products has given us an elaborate array of tasty Mediterranean dishes. Look at the countless ways to prepare bread, pizza, and tomatoes; look at the typical mozzarella, and where else can you get friarielli, fried with oil, garlic and red peppers? Last but not least are typical pastries: from the pastiera, babà and sfogliatelle to the traditional pastries of Christmas.

The recent urban upgrade to accommodate tourism is evident. In the streets between Piazza Bellini and Piazza del Plebiscito you can now see a town rising from poverty. Night life lasts into the wee hours. Cafés, bars, pubs, restaurants, and fast food places are all open and full. And when they get too full for you, you can wander down to the sea-side haunts at Borgo dei Marinari sit outside in the mild air, have a drink, or treat yourself to a caponata or impepata di cozze.