Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Castles of Centro

Last week, a few friends and I did a Castle Day in downtown Naples. We had an ambitious plan of visiting the three main castles: (1) Castel Nuovo [New Castle], (2) Castel dell'Ovo [Egg Castle], and (3) Castel Sant'Elmo. We were immediately thwarted by our walk down Via Toledo, Naples' main shopping drag, with large "Saldi" [Sale] banners in every window. We just had to do a little bit of browsing, and it was on our way. After a few side trips, a stop for sfogliatelli and cafe [traditional Neapolitan pastry and coffee], and another stop for Snickers gelato at my new favorite gelateria, blogged about here, we made it to Castel Nuovo.

I love that Castel Nuovo is called New Castle in order to distinguish it from the castle Naples already had nearby...and yet, New Castle was built in the 1200s. Of that original castle, only the Palatine Chapel is still standing - the rest is add-ons and renovations. For example, the beautiful, carved archway you might be able to see in the photo (it's between the towers) wasn't even built until 1443, the young whippersnapper! Inside the Palatine Chapel, we looked through a small exhibit of gorgeous jewelry, and I spent some time studying this beautiful Madonna and Child sculpture, carved by Domenico Gagini, who studied under Donatello and Brunelleschi. The castle also has a small art gallery and panoramic terrace overlooking the sea and the hulking Mt. Vesuvius.

From Castel Nuovo, we headed off in search of lunch. We'd hoped for sushi at one of the two Japanese restaurants downtown, but it turns out the one we went to is only open for dinner. Instead, we lunched on delicious pizza and salads at a restaurant along the Lungomare - Naples' long street by the sea. Castel dell'Ovo was right nearby, but we took a leisurely lunch before strolling over to it.
The Egg Castle supposedly got it's name because the poet Virgil buried an egg under the castle, proclaiming that when the egg breaks, the castle and Naples will fall. Castel dell'Ovo was built in the 1100s, making it the oldest castle in Naples, and thus, the reason the New Castle got such a boring name. What I find more interesting is that the castle sits on a former island, and this site is where the original settlers (coming from Cuma, the place near my house I've written about so much) settled the town that would become modern Naples. And even better than that little tidbit is this one: Remember the story of Ulysses and the Sirens? The Sirens sang such beautiful songs that they lured sailors to shore, where their ships were dashed against the rocks. Ulysses desperately wanted to hear such lovely singing, so he had his sailors lash him to the mast, then plug their own ears with wax while they passed the cliffs of the Sirens. One of those sirens, Parthenope, was so distraught at her failure to lure Ulysses to shore that she threw herself off her cliff...and washed ashore here, on the island that is now the site of the Egg Castle. While pondering this information, we were able to look out on one of the clearest views of Mount Vesuvius I've seen in our 11 months here.
With both our bellies and our minds full, we called our Castle Day to a halt and headed home, hoping to return another day to visit Castel Sant'Elmo and the Certosa di San Martino located next door to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment