It’s been a week and a half since we’ve been in Naples and we finally got around to taking our first trip downtown.
This trip was completely spontaneous and we winged every site we saw and alleyway we walked through. We took the bus that takes us to and from the Navy bases, then hopped on the
Knight Bus Alibus that stops at 3 different places downtown. I’ve mentioned this before, but I will say it again, the people drive crazy. I felt like we were on the Knight Bus (Harry Potter reference) because the driver was weaving in and out of lanes and even managed to speed through a toll booth! I couldn’t believe the odds of him not scraping the sides of the bus or crashing my precious cargo! It boggles my mind how there were no accidents from the reckless driving we witnessed. Motor scooters were practically touching the side of the bus, pedestrians were walking IN traffic and bustling streets, and cars like this –
used every inch of space to get by.
We got off on the third stop at Porto di Napoli – the port of Naples, because we figured the deeper we went into town, the more we would see. And that we did! We landed directly in front of Castel Nuovo.
Castel Nuovo, also known as Maschio Angioino (Angevin Stronghold) by Neapolitans, was originally built in 1279-1282 by Charles of Anjou (king of Naples and Sicily). The “new castle” served as a royal residence and fortress for Angevin monarchs. By the 15th century, the Angevins were carried out by the Aragonese and Alfonso of Aragon renovated and reconstructed the castle to be massive and provided everything needed in times of war. During this period, the Arch of Triumph (pictured above left) was erected to celebrate Alfonso I arrival in the city of Naples; a beautiful example of early Renaissance architecture and one of the best elements of the castle. The castle now houses the Museo Civico (Civic Museum of artwork from the 15th-18th centuries) cultural events, and businesses.
We toured the courtyard, the Barons Hall, the Armoury Hall, the Civic Museum, and viewed the Palatine Chapel through [closed] glass doors.
Leilani stood awestruck in the center of the courtyard because we were inside of an actual castle. It looked like a scene out of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or to Leilani, Disney’s Brave. After we took in the 360 degree view of this enchanting fort, we climbed up a 15th century staircase that was once walked on by monarchs, sovereigns, and nobilities. The staircase led us to the Barons’ Hall (the main hall)- named after the barons who were arrested here for conspiring against King Ferrante in the late 15th century. The dome vault (pictured top right) is a masterpiece of french architecture made of keystone and 16 vaulting-ribs that took on the form of a star. The hall is now used for meetings of the city council.
Below the Barons’ Hall was the Armoury Hall. What we thought would be a display of weapon artifacts, turned out to be archeological finds of the Roman era that can be seen through glass floors! We were standing above the remains of the settlements that existed long before the Angevin castle. It was a necropolis of adult and children skeletons, buried with personal objects. There was also a large bath and ceramic materials scattered around the site. It was probably the most unexpected thing we saw on our personal tour of the castle. I’m sure we will be running into a lot of these moments during our time in Italy – no complaints here!
Across the Armoury Hall, opposite the courtyard, was the Civic Museum. In the room before the museum, displayed against a wall, was The Bronze Door (pictured above, second to last). This was the original door at the entrance of the castle in the mid 15th century. It was made to commemorate the Aragonese of their victory over the Angevins. The six projections on the door depict significant events of the war. The third and fourth bas-reliefs are of Troy being taken and the battle of Troy. In the bottom left panel there is an iron cannon-ball embedded in the door due to a sea battle in Genoa, Italy when the door was being shipped to France; the Genoese sent the door back to Naples.
In the Civic Museum were several works of art that were centuries years old. Most of the paintings were of oil based, religious works dating from the 15th to the 18th century. The details of these paintings are so intricate, it makes me appreciate such perfect works of craftsmanship that have been preserved for me to see all these years later.
Castle Nuovo was something out of a movie. I became eager to see what else we’d discover on our free spirited trip…
Like, GALLERIA UMBERTO I, perhaps!?
Ok, maybe I was a little bit too excited about a shopping center. But, when CJ had told me we were moving to Italy several months ago, the first thing Leilani and I did was scour the web to learn about Naples and it’s historic sites. Galleria Umberto I was one of the first photos that came up in our search. When we turn the corner off of a side street and up a few steps, passing several pillars, Leilani becomes curious and runs ahead. I am a few feet behind her when she jumped, looked at me and squealed, “[pointing vigorously] Look, mommy! It’s that place we saw online!” Once she said that, I knew it had to be something great. I froze and soaked it all in. The Galleria had confirmed that we were here. We are really in Naples.
The Galleria was built in the 19th century and is lined with upscale shopping, restaurants, cafe’s and apartments on the 3rd floor. The architecture was absolutely stunning. It was a cross between an old train station and a church. There is a (glass) dome that also had 16 ribs like the Barons’ Hall of Castel Nuovo, 4 glass-vaulted wings that resemble a cross, and inlaid marble flooring. At the center of the Galleria were polychrome tiled mosaics of the zodiac signs. Galleria Umberto I was massive and breathtaking – I look forward to our next visit by night.
We continued onto a street that eventually led us to Piazza del Plebiscito – a very large square that acted as a playground for children playing futbol and a pass-thru for pedestrians with the church of San Francesco di Paola and Naples Royal Palace as its backdrop. Ya know, maybe I should just start acting casual and expecting such majestic sites everywhere I turn; save myself the embarrassment of my jaw dropping facial expressions and gasps because this is becoming a regular occurrence! Unfortunately, we were there for all of 10 minutes because our thundering bellies interrupted our exploring. It’s not like we’ll never go back, haha. Next time I plan to take an audio guided tour of the Royal Palace and snap photos closer to the monuments.
Our final destination was at a restaurant chain called Rossopomodorro. Of course we had pizza, pasta, and a ton of bread. Oh God, the pizza. The pizza is a post in itself. This was the second time we had Neapolitan pizza and it didn’t fail to disappoint. Our first time we had pizza was with Matt’s family (we didn’t fall asleep this time). It was from a pizzeria down the street from base which completely set the bar! I can eat this pizza every day and never get tired of it. It is that good. We were too busy stuffing our faces to take pictures but I promise to do so next time (like tomorrow). This will be the sole reason you visit Naples!
After we finished up dinner, we were homeward bound. On the bus ride back, I reflected on what a wonderful day we had. We were successful at navigating through parts of downtown Naples without a map or recommendations. We went wherever the wind took us and landed in some of the most fascinating aspects of Naples. If we stumbled upon all of this in just a couple of hours, I am eager to see what else we’ll find in other parts of Italy. I am growing to love this little city and am so happy to call it my home.
This weekend we will be visiting my brother in law, David, in Gaeta (2 hours north of Naples). He is also in the Navy and stationed here for a couple of years. Leilani is excited to visit her Uncle David and will probably be glued at his hip this weekend – she just loves him. I look forward to visiting this hidden gem and will post photos in a couple of days.
Our peaceful weekend with family begins in 3…2…1…