Cultural highlights of Naples

Nothing you have experienced in well-visited cities like Florence and Venice can prepare you for your first visit to Naples. This isn’t a place that rolls out the red carpet for tourists, but its effortless authenticity only makes it all the more thrilling. The nearby ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum draw plenty of through traffic. But among the narrow, cobbled alleys lined with shops selling everything from religious relics to football shirts—which amount to the same thing to football-mad Neapolitans—there are several cultural treasures.

  • Museo Archeologico Nazionale

    Naples’ vast National Archaeological Museum is probably Italy’s best-stocked repository of ancient artefacts, displayed inside a grandiose Bourbon-era palace. Its nucleus is formed by the finds from Pompeii. There are not only bronzes, statues, friezes and fragments—there is also lots of Roman wall art preserved for centuries under the volcanic ash, as well as the original mosaics from the House of the Faun. The museum’s Farnese collection includes statues taken from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla, including a giant Hercules and the Farnese Bull.

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  • Naples’ Churches

    Just Naples’ Centro Antico has more churches than you could hope to visit in a month, many of them sporting elaborate names that betray ancient roots. The Cathedral is dedicated to San Gennaro, whose blood miraculously liquefies each year at Naples’ most sacred festivals, in May, September and December. Santa Chiara houses the tombs of Bourbon rulers of Naples from Ferdinand I to Francis II, and the Gothic funerary monument to Robert of Anjou. Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio is decorated with baroque sculptures and reliefs of skulls; it was built by a cult dedicated to the souls in Purgatory. At Pio Monte della Misericordia, Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy (1607) was commissioned specially for its octagonal chapel.

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  • MADRe

    It’s a total change of direction from “old stuff” at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina Napoli (you can see why everyone calls it MADRe for short). The permanent collection has paintings and installations by Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor, and others, and the venue also stages challenging contemporary exhibitions. Recent shows have included works by Brian Eno, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Rauschenberg.

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  • San Lorenzo Maggiore

    The Franciscan church at ground level is an atmospheric example of French Gothic architecture, but the world below San Lorenzo Maggiore really makes this place worth the admission fee. The church was built on top of what was the Greek Agora then the Roman Forum. The first level down is the remains of a medieval palace, but deeper still is an entire, fairly intact Roman street complete with covered market, bakery ovens, a dyers’ workshop, laundry, and shops with fragments of their mosaics intact.

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  • Certosa di San Martino

    The view from the terrace, across the Bay of Naples as far as Capri and over the rooftops to Mount Vesuvius, is almost too stunning to take in. The Certosa di San Martino is a vast complex with treasures all over the place: the Apocalypse told in a series of intarsia wood panels in the abandoned Sacristy; Giovanni Antonio Dosio’s Great Cloister planted with fruit trees; baroque stucco, frescoed chapels, and a naval collection that includes a ceremonial barge crafted for Charles of Bourbon; and the Cucinello crib, a giant Christmas tableau carved in the 1870s and installed in the former monastery kitchens. You could spend hours here.

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  • Accommodation in Naples

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