Naples; a City of great Contradictions
“Napoli is like a woman you fall in love with by mistake. First, it attracts you by its magnetic passionate force, but once you experience the bad manners of the Neapolitans, you cool off'”
This is how Marina, my personal tour guide, summed it all up while we were walking in the narrow streets of Naples, her hometown.
I was always curious about Naples. Was it because I am always drawn to the genre of Mafia movies, or maybe because ever since I started my photography project ‘Intimacy Under the Wires’ I was constantly told to go to Naples and shoot laundry. Therefore, I promised myself that the next time I would be in Italy, I would go and see Naples, even just for a day.
I wanted to make sure that once I visit Naples, I would do it with a local. There is no better way to experience a place than through a local’s (preferred photographer or an Artist) eyes and experience. There is no doubt that Marina, a born and raised proud to be a Neapolitan woman, was the best choice. It was great watching her walking in the streets of the old city, knowing every corner, every courtyard, every building, and hear her great stories about her family and her city. If you happen to visit Naples, I highly recommend to contact Marina.
My main agenda was to shoot as much laundry as possible, better in areas I wouldn’t be able to go by myself, but also to learn about the city and see different parts of it, even though I was only visiting for one day.
“There are places that you go and once in enough…and then there is…Napoli”
I couldn’t agree more with John Turturro‘s words, in a clip he did for his movie Passione, dedicated to Naples and its musical tradition. (please promise me to watch this movie to understand the real essence of Naples). And even though I watched the movie after my visit to Naples, it was similar to the way I experienced it. You cannot stay indifferent to Naples. You either love it or hate it. There is no ‘in between’. You are either drawn to its paradox of love, loss, sex, religion, superstition, birth and death, or you are running away from it.
I LOVED it. The city MAGNETIZED me.
Here are some highlights of my trip and some places worth visiting once in Naples. Bear in mind, it is even more beautiful in real.
Ospedale della Bambole
A magical tiny store which operates as a hospital for dolls from all over the world. I was fortunate to meet Titiana Grassi, a 4th generation in the family business, which was established in 1890. The founder, Luigi Grassi, was making marionettes for Teatro Di San Carlo in Naples, and he had a small laboratory with hanging marionettes. Back then, dolls were made by porcelain and were easily breakable. They were mostly bought by Aristocratic women, as they were expensive. With time, these women found and heard about Luigi Grassi, and asked him to fix their dolls. Due to the high demand, Luigi decided to continue with this tradition and passed these skills to the next generations.
This is a charming place and a magical journey to discover the great toys of the past. Here is a movie about Titiana Grassi and her father, Luigi Grassi Jr.
Ospedale della Bambole, Via San. Biagio dei Librai, 46, Napoli
Giuseppe Marco Ferrigno
After I left Titiana’s store, Marina took me to another dolls’ related store, but this one was one of the most known for its Neapolitan terracotta traditional characters. Started also as a family business since 1838, Ferrigno family passes the mastering of traditional terracotta figures from one generation to another. The store is packed with hand-made icon graphic figures of Neapolitan script and Marina told me that before Christmas time the store is over crowded with visitors and clients who buy these terracotta figures to decorate their homes.
Giuseppe Marco Ferrigno, Via San Gregorio Armeno 8, Napoli
Known also as Largo Corpo di Napoli, got its name from the statue of the Nile God. The Piazzetta is located in the Historic center of Naples, which is considered the first historic core of the city. (Naples was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1995). The square was established in the 15th century and the area was known as a trade center during the Greek and Roman ages. This is one of the REAL authentic squares of Naples.
Church of Gesù Nuovo
Church of Gesù Nuovo (New Jesus) is considered as the most important church in Naples. Located in the Gesù Nuovo Square, the church was originally a Palace built in 1470 for Roberto Sanseverino, Prince of Salerno. In the 1580’s the Palace was sold to the Jesuits (members of the Society of Jesus) and they turned it into the current church. (constructions last from 1584-1601). The church façade in bugnato style, (a style that was especially used during the Italian Renaissance) remained from the Sanseverino Palace. It is a beautiful church inside and out. Don’t miss its interiors as well, although the exterior is incredible.
Gesù Nuovo Church, Via San Sebastiano, 48 Naples
The Market Square is located in the historic section of Naples. Today it is one of the largest squares in the city, but in 1647 the square was the site of battles between rebels and royal troops during Masaniello‘s revolt. Later, in 1799, it was the scene of the mass execution of leaders of the Neapolitan Republic. The area – including parts of the church premises – was heavily bombed in World War II and still shows the scars of the devastation.
Next to Piazza Mercato, you can notice the Church of the Holy Cross with its yellow green Dome. The church was severely damaged during an earthquake in 1980 but it is still impressive and a testimony to the Medieval city it used to be. During Summer times, around 6-7pm, there is a beautiful golden light hitting the Dome. I’m talking by my own experience. Great for a shoot!
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine is located on the other end of Piazza Mercato. It was founded in the 12th century by Carmelite monks driven from the Holy Land in the Crusades. The old monastic grounds next to the church now serve as a shelter for the needy and homeless of the city. You can’t miss the church from far.
San Francesco di Paola Church
San Francesco di Paola Church is located in Piazza del Plebiscito, which is one of the largest squares in Naples. The Church was constructed as an imitation to the Pantheon in Roma and was built as a tribute to Napoleon. It is one of the elegant monuments in Naples and as you can see by the picture, is constantly being restored and maintained.
I just LOVE the huge space and the glass ceiling of Galleria Umberto. It is located across from Teatro di San Carlo and despite its modern look, I was surprised to find out that it was built between 1887–1891. The Galleria was named for Umberto I, King of Italy at the time of construction. It was meant to combine businesses, shops, cafes and social life — public space, with private space in the apartments on the third floor. Don’t miss it! The architecture is breath taking all year long.
Galleria Umberto, Via San Carlo, Naples
Gran Caffe Gambrinus
There are few things I am addicted to; One of them is Coffee. Where ever I travel, I look for a good place to drink my daily cup(s) of coffee. I’ve heard about Caffe Gambrinus before but preferred to try it out myself. The place is known as one of the most important Literary cafes in Italy and a meeting place of cultural Elite in Italy and in Europe. The interior is an Art Nouveau style and the coffee mugs are well decorated. I took my time to take pictures of the mug right after I drank my (overpriced) coffee. Rumors say that Oscar Wilde and Bill Clinton were among the well known figures who have graced the place.
Caffe Gambrinus, Piazza Trieste e Trento, Naples
Gay Odin, Best Chocolate in Town
Another thing I am addicted to and always looking for while I travel, is dark chocolate. I have this habit of searching the streets of a new place I’m visiting, looking for a good Chocolatier. I’ve been eating good chocolates in different places in the world but Gay Odin is by far, the BEST chocolate I’ve ever had. When I got into the store, I asked one of the guys for their most popular taste, and he handed me the La Foresta one. Words and pictures cannot describe the devine taste. This is a must-stop place when in Naples.
Gay Odin, Via Vetriera 12, Naples
Naples is also known for its port. It is one of the largest Italian seaports and one of the largest seaports in the Mediterranean Sea.
Naples is also known for its Pizza. No wonder Julia Roberts went all the way to Naples to have a relationship with her pizza it in the movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. If you want to see the location of the scene, visit L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele.
As I mentioned in the title of the post, Naples is a city of great contradictions. Even though it was a short visit, it left a great impression on me and a desire for more.
I would go back in a heartbeat.