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A Walk Through Naples

“Naples, my city, founded on legends of sirens and ragged gallantry”

“Signurì, il Napoli ha vinto, la Juve ha perso, il sangue di San Gennaro si è squagliato: questo caffè lo offro io!” 

(“Miss, Miss, Naples won, Juve lost, the blood of San Gennaro melted; this coffee is on me!”)

Attanasio’s bartender, standing behind the counter, smiles at me. The old-fashioned mirrored display cabinet behind him–crammed with bottles of bitters, charming trinkets and incongruous testimonies of devotion to Naples’ soccer team–takes my thought to Manet’s “Folies Bergère,” but the next question “riccia o frolla signurì?” (“curly or shortcrust, Miss?”) brings me right back to Naples. A fragrant shell-shaped Sfogliatella pastry, together with an espresso, is tossed right in front of me.

Naples, my city, is founded on legends of sirens and ragged gallantry, exasperatingly cunning and disinterested kindness, sooty alleys and baroque golden light.

Naples, with its majestic noble palaces eroded by the ramshackle of the street; Naples, where the sparkling scent of the gulf meets the sticky scent of open-air frying; Naples, in whose silent cloisters the cries of the young boys are echoed and carried onto the street by the wind. 

To truly experience Naples, one must start from its original glories: the National Archaeological Museum in the 16th Century Palazzo degli Studi and, overlooking the city and Mediterranean sea, the imposing Royal Palace of Capodimonte. In their cool rooms, lose yourself in reverent reflection for hours, observing magnificent fragments of crystallized civilization.

A little further down, the pulsating artery of the city, the lower streets called Spaccanapoli by the locals, unfolds in front of us.

The stage of both grandeur and city misery, Spaccanapoli, like a drop of amber, encloses the soul of Naples: the church of Gesù – formerly  Palazzo Sanseverino – with its majestic ashlar facade; the 14th Century Basilica of Santa Chiara, an austere sepulcher of the Angio family; the “rival” Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore, a golden enclave of the Aragonese nobility; and the sinuous mystery of the Veiled Christ – preserved among worthy counterparts such as the horrifying  alchemical experiments of the Prince of Sansevero, the black soul of the populace.

But also can be found are the Bar Nilo, with its neon altar for the “Pibe de Oro” Diego Armando Maradona; the kaleidoscopic Via di San Gregorio Armeno, where the virtuosos of the Nativity scene compete between the sacred and the profane with Bergoglio and Ciro Immobile; and Michele ai Tribunali, where under a blackened arch, for no more than 5 euros, you can receive what the locals call “the 3 C’s: Comm Cazz Coce”: crocchè, omelettes, cod and vegetables, wrapped in greaseproof paper, fried on the spot and, it goes without saying, hot.

A few steps from there, we are welcomed by the Pio Monte della Misericordia, guardian of one of the great masterpieces of modern art, which by style and subject is well suited to our city: Caravaggio’s The Seven Works of Mercy.

The heterogeneity of Naples also comes out in the kitchen: from the Pescheria Azzurra to the Pignasecca Market, where between one rival fishmonger and the other, it is possible, on shaky tables and with the scent of brackish water, to enjoy an amazing “cuoppo di mare” (a masterpiece of Neapolitan street food), as well as spaghetti with clams and crumbled tarallo (the parmesan of the poor!); at Concettina ai Tre Santi, the patron Ciro Oliva is revolutionizing the world of pizza; at La Taverna dell’Arte, where the the most important Neapolitans lunch, Genoese and Neapolitan ragù are revolutionized by the twist of chef Marco di Martino.

If, at the end of the day, you feel like a spritz, the soul of Naples welcomes you: we arrive at Borgo Marinari, the ancient fishermen’s ghetto that stands at the foot of the Castel dell’Ovo. Here, among the tourist restaurants, the Barcadero Cafè still rests in what was once a cave for goiters. It is here – behind the chatter of the fishermen who lovingly repair their nets at the end of the day and a small votive shrine in Santa Lucia entirely built of shells – that the rocking of the boats and the pink sunset accompany us into the evening.

(And if you need somewhere to stay, Casa D’Anna ai Cristallini, Primo Piano Posillipo, Atelier Inès and Artemisia Domus are four fantastic options.)