Naples - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Naples


Italy's third-largest city thrives on the chaos that prevails amid its busy streets. This is the place where pizza was invented, and its restaurants continue to serve some of Italy's finest cuisine.

Sheltered by the Bay of Naples and dominated by the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, Naples is imbued with the best of nature's bounty. The city is somewhat schizophrenic in its juxtaposition of superb museums, Renaissance and Baroque churches alongside crumbling tenement blocks and squalor. Noisy markets sell a collection of items, from high-quality fresh produce to fake designer goods. Roads are characteristically hectic with gung-ho moped drivers weaving wildly through the streets and frustrating traffic jams clogging the city's arteries. Despite these less refined elements, Naples is a fascinating destination and a great base from which to explore the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The city's transport hub is located around the immense Piazza Garibaldi, on the east side of Naples. The area's growing African population has imbued the streets with the flavours of its immigrants. Southwest from here is the Piazza Bovio, and branching to the left of it, the Piazza Municipio and nearby Piazza del Plebiscito. On the watery edges are the Molo Beverollo and the Stazione Marittima, the point of departure for ferries. From the reaches of Spaccanapoli one can explore the historic part of Naples with its numerous palaces and churches.

Information & Facts


The Mediterranean climate of southern Italy is milder and sunnier than the north, with Naples being characterised by dry summers and wet autumns and winters. The average temperature in summer (June to September) is 72°F (22°C), and in winter (December to March) it's about 48°F (9°C).

Getting Around

Naples has a public transport network consisting of buses, trolleys and a subway, which is complicated to use but preferable to taking on the city's notorious traffic jams in a hired car or taxi. Tickets for all forms of transport are uniform, and can be obtained at stations and kiosks that advertise the 'Gira Napoli' (Naples Pass). The city's ANM buses are fairly frequent, most departing from the Piazza Garibaldi. There are two metro lines, the 'Metropolitana' line being the one that serves downtown (where most sights are located). Funicular railways run up the Vomero from stations at Piazza Montesanto, Amadeo and Augusto. There are taxi ranks in most piazzas, but using a taxi can prove expensive because of traffic congestion.

The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureaux de change. ATMs are widespread. Travellers cheques can be exchanged with ease in the large cities, not so in the smaller towns. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates than casas de cambios.

An emblematic tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is reason enough for any visitor to Naples to make the short trip across to the island of Capri. A world-famous sea cave, the Blue Grotto is perpetually filled with brilliant emerald light, caused by sunlight entering through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater from beneath. The cave also contains a smaller opening right at the level of the water-line, through which bright sunshine pours, and through which tourists are admitted by row-boat. Gaze in wonder at the spectral water, more light-filled than the air in the cave, and be sure to dip your hands and watch them glow an eerie silver-blue. Since row-boats entering the cave can only take a maximum of three passengers, you are ensured of a private and truly unforgettable experience in the Blue Grotto, one which you will treasure for the rest of your life.

Capri's beauty captured the imagination of the Roman Emperor Augustus in 29 BC, and continues to draw admiring crowds to its picturesque banks. Ferries and hydrofoils transport travellers from Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Naples to its embarkation point at Marina Grande. From here, a funicular runs to the town's Piazza Umberto. The island's main attraction is the Blue Grotto. This sea-cave is illuminated a fantastic neon blue, caused by the interplay of light and water. The ruins of Villa Tiberiocan be explored following a 45-minute trek up the nearby hill. Legend has it that Tiberius tossed those unfortunate enough to anger him off the precipice; though, luckily, walking down is an option nowadays. On the descent along the path one can take a short detour to the Arco Naturale. This weathered stone arch on the island's eastern cliffs provides the perfect perspective from which to contemplate the vista that stretches to Paestum. Another interesting villa to explore is the Villa San Michele(in Anacapri), the magnum opus of Swedish author and physician Axel Munthe. Henry James described it as 'the most fantastic beauty, poetry, and inutility that I have ever seen clustered together.' It is open in summer between 9am and 6pm, and in winter from 10am to 3pm. Still in Anacapri, take the 12-minute chairlift to the summit of Monte Solaroto experience the breathtaking views stretching to the distant Apennines and Calabria mountains.

The Chapel of San Gennaro is accessed from the south aisle of the Cathedral of Naples. This 13th-century Gothic building is dedicated to the patron saint of the city. Tradition tells the story of how two phials of San Gennaro's congealed blood liquefied in the bishop's hand after his martyred body was transported to the church. Legend has it that disaster will strike if the blood fails to liquefy on specific festival days - the first Saturday in May, on September 19 and December 16. The liquefaction ceremony, known as the Miracle of the Blood, takes place during a special Mass in full view of the congregation. The first chapel on the right upon entry into the cathedral is dedicated to San Gennaro (also known as Saint Januarius) and holds the famous phials of blood and a silver reliquary containing his skull. Beneath the Duomo are the excavations of well-preserved Greek and Roman roads that stretch beneath the modern city. Special tours of the excavations can be arranged.

This world-class museum houses the Farnese collection of antiquities from Lazio and Campania and the incredible treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Notable among these collections are the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull, the largest known ancient sculpture. On the mezzanine level is the Alexander Mosaic and at the furthest end of the mezzanine floor is the Secret Room (Gabinetto Segreto). The fascinating collection contained here showcases erotic material found in the brothels, baths, houses and taverns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The top section of the museum houses the Campanian wall paintings, well-preserved creations attesting to a mysterious past world. These are supported by a range of artefacts, in the form of glass, silver, ceramics, rope and even foodstuffs surviving from the Campanian cities of yesteryear.

This museum occupies a restored 18th-century palace perched on the city's hills, and its artworks are arranged by collections and not chronology. The Farnese and Bourbon rulers amassed impressive collections of Renaissance paintings and Flemish masterpieces that can be viewed along with other great works. Notable amongst these are Masaccio's Crucifixion, Filipino Lippi's Annunciation and Saints, Raphael's Leo X, Bellini's Transfiguration, Michelangelo's Three Soldiersand Breughel's The Allegory of the Blind.

The well-preserved Greek temples of Paestum are arguably the best of their kind in the world, easily rivalling those of Sicily and Athens. The city was founded by its Greek colonists in the 7th Century BC, and later fell under Roman rule (until it was no longer commercially successful and its inhabitants fled for greener pastures). The north-south axis of the city is marked by the paved Via Sacra and most guided tours begin at its southern end. A guide to the excavations and Archaeological Museum can be bought at any of the roadside shops. Notable amongst the remains are three Doric temples, the best-preserved of their kind in the world. Built without the use of cement or mortar, these remarkable structures comprise the Basilica, the Temple of Poseidon and the Temple of Ceres. Heading north along Via Sacra will take one to the Roman Forum gymnasium and amphitheatre. Finally, Paestum's Museum contains a fascinating collection of pottery and paintings found in the tombs of the area.

In the year 79 AD Mount Vesuvius' fiery temper erupted in volcanic lava, burying the Roman city of Pompeii. The most evocative testimony to its victims is the 'frozen people', plaster casts of the victims whose anguished contortions and facial expressions reveal the horror of their untimely deaths. The excavation of Pompeii, which started after its accidental rediscovery in 1749, is an ongoing process and every decade has brought to light new finds that provide insight into daily Roman life. A comprehensive tour of Pompeii's attractions will take approximately five hours. Guided tours are available but are pricier alternatives to doing it alone. There is an informative 'How to Visit Pompeii' guidebook for sale outside all the site entrances. Pompeii is Italy's most popular tourist attraction, seeing nearly 2.5 million visitors every year.

For anyone with even the smallest interest in human history, the Sassi de Matera - located in the region of Basilicata, about 156 miles (250km) east of Naples - are a stone-cold must-see tourist attraction. The unbelievable cave-dwellings of Matera were inscribed in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1993, and have been astonishing visitors to the region ever since. Dug into the tuff rock of the region (rock comprised of consolidated volcanic ash), the 'houses' are often little more than caverns, and remain as testament to a troglodyte population believed to be the first human settlement in Italy. Some of the streets of present-day Matera double as rooftops to the underground dwellings, and beneath the surface, a network of labyrinths and caverns once traversed by the prehistoric civilisation can still be observed. As has been noted, the inhabitants of Matera's Sassi are the only people who can claim to live in the same houses as their ancestors did 9,000 years ago - making these amazing structures compulsory viewing for all tourists to Italy who are keen on historical sightseeing.

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