A treasure trove of historical, cultural and gastronomical delights welcomes visitors to Naples. Find out what awaits you when you land...
One of the oldest cities in the world, the first Greek settlements sprung up in the area during the 2nd millennium BC, with these settlements formalised as a city around 600BC. Indeed, the word 'Naples' is itself of Grecian origin, stemming from the Greek word 'Neapolis', meaning 'new city.' Since its formation, the city has passed through Greek, Roman, Gothic and Norman rulership before its present incarnation as the capital city of the Campania region of Italy. This varied heritage means Naples maintains a quite different feel to the rest of Italy; the city even has its own language, 'Napulitano', although this is not universally recognised to be a separate language and the official language of the city is Italian. Visitors to the city can easily get by with a basic knowledge of Italian and the Neapolitan people are largely friendly, always eager to accommodate and assist foreign speakers.
Just as the original Neapolitan language has survived, so a number of significant historical sites remain standing today, in spite of numerous wars in and around the area and the subjection of Naples to extensive bombing during World War II. These sites include within their number an incredible 448 historical and monumental churches, one of the most popular of which is the iconic Duomo. Naples' main church, the Duomo holds within it two ornate chapels and is built on top of the remains of a Roman settlement, which has recently been excavated. Other fascinating churches include the New Jesuite Church, which is easily one of the most extravagant Baroque churches in the world and San Lorenzo Maggiore, a carefully carved medieval church which was also built on top of the Roman city, the remains of which can be explored by visitors today.
Aside from its stunning churches, Naples is also home to a number of fascinating castles and several major galleries and museums including the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, the Neapolitan national art gallery which displays a wide selection of important works by major Renaissance and Baroque artists and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, famed as the largest collection of Roman artefacts and exhibitions in the world. Particularly worth a visit is the 'Secret Room', which holds many of the surviving artefacts from the lost city of Pompeii, which was buried after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, preserving many of the city's inhabitants and remnants of their lifestyles within layers of lava and volcanic ash.
One attraction of Naples which is truly unique to the Italian lifestyle is the piazza culture. All Italian cities have their own piazzas, large squares where Italians gather in the hot afternoons and warm evenings to walk, gossip or simply sit watching the world go by over a glass of wine or a meal.
When it comes to food, Naples undeniably lives up to its reputation as the pizza capital of the world. A far cry from the bafflingly lengthy menus of Italian restaurants in other corners of the globe, the majority of Naples' pizzerias pride themselves on just two types of pizza: pizza margherita, topped with tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese; and pizza marinara, topped with tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil. Here, pizza chefs prefer to focus their guests' taste buds on the simple elegance of finely prepared fresh produce rather than overloading them with cheap, unnatural toppings as is the fashion in international 'Italian' restaurants. That said, don't be afraid to try more exotic pasta and seafood sauces, which are almost always just as fresh and just as delicious!