Naples, Italy’s most unlikely masterpiece

Overlooked by the still-active Mount Vesuvius, Naples has a reputation as gritty, dirty and abrasive. But there’s beauty to be found among the chaos – the city boasts top-class museums, galleries packed with neoclassical antiquities and grandiose piazzas perfect for people watching. Lets take a look at the unique collection of sights that make Naples so worth a visit.

Castle Ovo

Along the waterfront, at the historic gateway to the Mediterranean and the world, you can get a feel for this vibrant city. Naples harbor is divided into separate docks and basins by a series of piers and breakwaters, and is always bustling with activity. The Lungomare is a beach promenade that follows the shore for about 2.4 kilometers along Via Partenope and Via Francesco Caracciolo in the Chiaia neighborhood, with beautiful views across the bay to Vesuvius and plenty of cafés and ice-cream shops. Stroll here, enjoy the views and lively atmosphere, and sample Naples’ contribution to food history—margherita pizza.

Via San Gregorio Armeno

Located in the city’s historic district, this street is the best place in Italy for “presepi,” Italian nativity displays. Using wood or clay, street artisans create manger scenes here that range from the traditional to the deeply personal, often crafting figurines to represent family members or people from popular culture. While the Neapolitan style of presepi began in the 18th century when Charles III commissioned woodcarvers to depict the royal family, the tradition dates back to a time when the street was home to a Greek temple to Ceres where devotees offered figurines made of clay.

Bourbon Tunnel

Definitely one of the most unusual things to do in Naples is exploring the unfinished underground passage known as the Galleria Borbonica—the Bourbon Tunnel. It was begun in the 19th century, on the instructions of King Ferdinand II, as a way for him to escape from the Royal palace to the safety of the military barracks on what is now Via Morelli. It was never finished, but the carved tunnels were later used as an air raid shelter and emergency hospital during World War II.

Real Teatro di San Carlo

The Real Teatro di San Carlo in Naples holds the title as the oldest continuously active opera house in Europe. Built by King Charles of Bourbon, the red-and-gold theater is connected to the Royal Palace. Completed in 1737, the opera house established a standard that subsequent architects would strive to follow. Six tiers of box seating surround the horseshoe-shaped orchestra seats, with an extravagantly decorated royal box jutting out in the rear of the house. A multi-million dollar renovation of the theater was completed in 2010.

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