I took a tour yesterday through the base of an area called Vomero, located on a hill over the center of downtown Naples. The tour was led by Aldo, a fantastic guide who has put together several, wonderful tours of the area. Our bus dropped us off in Vomero, which was once a wealthy playground for the elite, a hilltop paradise of villas and gardens looking over the sea. The gardens have been razed and Vomero, while still an exclusive area, is now made up of large apartment buildings, several stories high, built on those former green spaces and on top of the fancy villas.
A castle sits up there, Castel Sant' Elmo, the star castle, so called because of it's star shape - the points helped keep out invaders. The view is supposed to be spectacular. I wouldn't know because the terraces were closed due to high winds. I don't believe I've ever lived in a place as windy as this one. We're constantly having sustained high winds. We were able to enjoy a beautiful view over Naples with Vesuvius in the background. You can clearly see that Naples really is the most densely populated city in Europe.
Since the castle didn't work out, we visited a cameo factory next door for a little shop around (the center of the world) for cameos carved out of shell is here in Naples, in a little area at the base of Mount Vesuvius) while Aldo checked into getting us tickets for Chiesa di San Martino. In hindsight, I am so grateful the castle was closed or we would never have visited this amazing church and museum. The church is just a confection of inlaid marble covering the floors and walls, with a vibrant, frescoed ceiling. In the rear of the church, behind the altar, is the choir area where the monks sang - they could not have contact with the public, so they were hidden. Something I'd never seen before is the choir echo chamber - underneath the choir's singing area is a large, specially shaped room, and in the choir area is a huge grate. As the monks sang their chants, the echo chamber would allow the music to fill the church. Attached to the church is a museum with a variety of exhibits...
|A peaceful cloister|
|And a huge presepe - I love the flying angels above this one.|
Following our quick peek into this gem, we walked down over 400 steps to the Spanish Quarter (Quartieri Spagnoli) in centro. This area was built to house Spanish troops in the 1500s and is now an area where the working class live. It's vibrant and busy and a slice of real life. Streets are narrow, about 10 feet wide at the most), and apartments open directly onto the street - no sidewalks. I read that this area now has some of Europe's highest rates of youth crime, unemployment, and respiratory disease (from Wikipedia). This area, very near to where my language school was last October, is full of things to see.
We're preparing right now for our spring visitors, who begin arriving this weekend, and I'm having a hard time developing a tour plan between the incredible museums (three major ones, and at least one "don't miss" minor one), the castles, the glass-roofed mall, the churches with their incredible art and marble works, Christmas alley...the list goes on. Balance that with the pure, overwhelming chaos of traffic and people and trash that is downtown Naples and you can get a small idea of this city. I wonder if, over the three years we live here, I'll get to a point where I think I've seen "enough" or "everything" there is to see in Centro.