The friendliest people, beautiful artworks able to paralyze you, Pizza Margherita (the one and only), antique treasures and mosaics, a Roman town preserved by a volcano eruption, sun and sea. There is so much to say about you! About your story, your quarters, the strange relationship of your people with the dead, your rites, legends and wonders. Right now I just want to be close to you and make note of how I met you for the first time. Let us never part, Naples!
Had I read my Goethe more attentively, I would have known: Vedi Napoli e poi muori! (See Naples and then die!) No, not a curse, rather: You have seen the most beautiful there is on earth and no more to see! I do not know where it happened, when or how. I struggle with aspiration and research attacks, I want to know everything about you. I listen to the Cicerinella every evening. Can I really be in love with a city?! Maybe it was a Neapolitan or the bus driver or someone who helped me find my way without having been asked. It must have been the passionate Neapolitan who showed me his restaurant and the view onto the Gulf of Naples! It seems that every individual I met and talked to wanted to win me over to love Naples.
Arriving and getting lost in Naples
At night you are dirty and loud. That I notice after having been spat out onto Piazza Cavour by Linea 2 after a long train ride from the north. I am looking for a large, yellow building, but with street lighting all buildings look yellow. I give up finding the street name and concentrate on crossing the street, with its traffic light broken. I simply wait until a Neapolitan crosses the street. After a short time of waiting I loose my awe towards Naples‘ traffic. Drivers constantly expect pedestrians and making eye contact and waiting for a reaction seems to be working. I gesticulate to thank everybody for the save passage. The noticeable dirt layer on the streets reminds me of persistent dirt on my camera lens, that says nothing about the lens but creates a shadow on the picture.
On the next morning I am without a precise destination, since I have already arrived, here in Naples. I want to walk through the historic town centre to visit the many churches there. The soft underbelly of the city swallows me quickly. I loose my orientation in the tangle of market stands in alleyways and just go with the flow. At Piazza Carlo III. I am spat out again and escape into a café to study my map.
The day is young. With a zest for action I decide to climb up Capodimonte, passing the botanic garden and Topographic institute always following Salita Moiariello. With every step and every drop of sweat I arrive in Naples even more. The park with the Capodimonte Museum with its view onto the city seems an oasis when I arrive. As the Museo di Capodimonte is closed on Wednesdays (had missed that information earlier!) I hike down to the St. Gennaro catacombs.
Our guide from La Paranza association is very young and explains patiently the meaning of the contemporary art on display inside the catacombs dealing with transcendence. They are replies and analogies to legends and mythical beliefs of the Neapolitans and an interpretation is highly in order. She manages to make the weirdness of this place go away, with her patience and an uncomplicated permission to take pictures.
Today all mortal remains are located in the Fontanelle Cemetery that I plan to visit later during my stay. For now I jump on the bus which takes me down to the Museo, the National Archeological Museum of Naples. It is huge as is my hunger. Only 30 minutes later I have to interrupt my tour to search for something edible (only non-functioning machines in the Museo – well, I tried one). I run into the arms of Mario who is collecting hungry tourists from the steps at the museum entrance to take them to the Pizzeria of his cousin right around the corner. I am easy prey and rush ahead of him to the tables ready for a delicious Pizza Margherita. Afterward I return to the relaxing Hercules, Pompeii mosaics such as the Battle of Alexander the Great, the secret chambers with erotic scenes and the Farnese Atlas in Sala Meridiana.
Gulf of Naples
On my second day in Naples I travel on the water. I meet friends on Ischia island to celebrate my friend’s birthday, drink wine, fool around, take tons of photos and to see Naples from the gulf. And Vesuvius.
Pompeii is alive
Day three in Naples. Use the Circumvesuviana train for time travel to 79 AD. Vesuvius buried its surrounding towns like Pompeii and Herculaneum and conserved the last minutes of people having remained in the town, their buildings and art. Pompeii was rather empty at the time of eruption as it had been destroyed by an earthquake 17 years earlier. However, around 2,000 people met their fate when Vesuvius erupted.
Despite the tragedy of the event (and the tourist influx) I hurry through the ruins of Pompeii in a cheerful mood. I am tracing life in this town. Graffiti, wall paintings, pavements high above the streams of the town’s sewage water, stone beds and inspirational drawings for Lupanare’s clients – Pompeii is alive!
Tears and marble, Ars Nova, Capodimonte and my walk to the Fontanelle cemetery
Day four is my last day in Naples. Partly due to exhaustion, partly to sadness for leaving the city again I am sentimental. My first goal: a walk through the historic part with its churches, first and foremost Capella Sansevero.
This Baroque chapel is the former private church of the Sansevero family. Raimondo Sansevero, an inventor, alchemist and free mason refurbished the church in the 18th century. It remains his most accessible legacy as the results of his research were destroyed by himself shortly before his death and later by his descendants to avoid excommunication. That is why it is still unclear how his anatomical machines, two skeletons with complete and intact blood vessels, were made. (A recent study invalidates the most macabre theories.) Arrived at the chapel I just want to dissolve in tears. It is this perfect and beautiful, the marble sculpture Cristo Velato, Veiled Christ. The covered body looks so real as if death had arrived to it yesterday and had turned into marble by a touch of magic. I have to get out into the sun and end up on Piazza Gesù Nuovo.
On Via Capitelli I can see Mount Calvary. Then I hear music, singing and an excited crowd. I encountered Ars Novo, performing Cicerenella!
Cicerenella (piccolo cece, “small chickpea”) is an old Neapolitan folk song the audience seems to know well, as every one is singing along, clapping their hands. It is an energetic Tarantella, animating to dance instantly, which was its original intention, apparently to sweat out the poison of a spider bite. This is what it sounds like:
Full of energy I continue my walk toward Capodimonte to finally see Caravaggio. As the bus driver sees my bright orange-yellow DeAgostini city map together with my wondering glance he invites me into his bus: yes, it is going up to the National Museum Capodimonte. I had assumed the bus was going to its depot, was out of service or on a break because it was empty and no one else had boarded. Shortly after I enter Capodimonte, highly satisfied, that three floors full of treasures seemed to belong to me alone.
After the Museum I have two hours left to spend in Naples before heading to the airport. So what, why not try to find the Fontanelle Cemetery to prepare for my next visit? This cemetery is the home of all the bones of Napel’s catacombs and many more of which some had been adopted by Napolitans (to talk to them and take care of their souls) until the king banned this tradition. I take the elevator down to Sanità district. It is quiet, only the usual traffic and I give way to parked motorcycles and laundry racks on the sideway. The smell of freshly washed laundry accompanies me all the way. It disseminates domesticity and turns me into an intruder.
After two turns I start to doubt and I already feel observed. Three men at the corner wave at me friendly and advise me to continue straight on to the cemetery. When I arrive around 5 pm Fontanelle Cemetery is closed already for an hour. Two staff come out of the gate and invite me to come back tomorrow morning. Alas! Tomorrow I am long gone and away from paradise, back in the cold and snowy north, sitting in my wooden house, counting my money!
Good Bye Naples!
You, my treasure chest, Naples! Furbished in many places and golden, with some dirt in the corners. Your embellishment so numerous, that it seems impossible to furbish you completely. Your abundance reaches deep inside you, created from passion, wisdom and faith, forming your vibrancy and forbearance. Hope to see you soon!