For many years, cultivated people would fondly quote the sentiment, ‘See Naples and die’ as it continued to reflect the belief that Naples was the ultimate in a beautiful locale and that once you had visited the city and its bay, there would be no place more spectacular so there was no need to go on living. In fact until 1861, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the wealthiest and most industrialized of the all the Italian states, Naples was the third most populous city of Europe (after London and Paris), and certainly one of the most opulent.
No one today would probably make such a dramatic claim – for one thing, millions of people now have the opportunity to visit equally splendid locales – but Naples does remain to this day as one of the most sought-after and rewarding of destinations.
Naples also serves as a base for visiting the nearby Amalfi Coast and the islands of Capri and Ischia, Mt. Vesuvius and the two cities it once buried – Pompeii and Herculaneum – or even the magnificent Greek temples at Paestum. If not ‘to die for,’ Naples is well worth a visit in one’s, lifetime.
Route 1: Discovering Naples
As Italy’s 3rd largest city with some one million inhabitants, Naples is a bustling modern city and seaport, a commercial and industrial center, but what visitors come to see and enjoy are the grand old buildings and public spaces, the stage-set atmosphere of the crowded neighborhoods, the museums and churches, and the fabulous great Bay of Naples best viewed from the upper slopes that ring the city.
When you reach Naples you are overwhelmed by the vitality of its atmosphere and its stunning bay under the shadow of the volcano Vesuvius overlooking the islands of Ischia, Procida and Capri. Naples offers a wide range of cultural activities, from a unique historical experience of the city and its surroundings, to high end shopping for tailored and hand crafted products, combined with some of the best culinary traditions in the world.
Sea Promenade (Lungomare Di Napoli)
Get a first glimpse of the city by strolling down the bay for a view of the gulf, Vesuvius and Castello dell’Ovo – one of the city’s landmarks sitting on the small island of Megaride (legend says that it was once inhabited by the mermaid Parthenope). Take a walk along Via Caracciolo, the famous coastline of Naples, and undoubtedly one of the most fun leisure activities in the city. This long and wide pedestrian marina makes it a perfect path for walking and enjoying the sea breeze, while offering a wide range of local restaurants.
Historic Center & Naples Underground
The historic center of Naples is the heart of the city, but also a world treasure. Being the largest historic center in Europe, it extends an area of 1700 hectares and encompasses 27 centuries of history. For those exact reasons, since 1995 this area has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The uniqueness of this area also lies in the fact that it has maintained the original urban structure of the ancient Greeks. The center of Naples reflects the historical and artistic evolution of the city, from the Greeks of the 8th century BC (the oldest part being by the seaside of the city), through the Spanish ‘baroque’ (the western extension of the city, now the posh areas of Posillipo and Vomero) – all these architectural influences are exhibited in many aristocratic residences, palaces and villas built for the cultural elite of the 1800s. The historical center is framed between the Piazza Dante (West), Piazza Garibaldi (East) and Piazza Cavour (North).
From Via Dei Tribunali you’re only a few steps away from the main church in Naples. The Naples Cathedral, or Dome in Via del Duomo – also known as Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta or Cattedrale di San Gennaro – is devoted to the Assumption of the Holy Virgin and was built in honor of Saint Gennaro, the city’s patron saint. This Roman Catholic cathedral is the main church of the city and the seat of the Archbishop of Naples. Structured in the shape of the Latin cross, due to its many renovations it is characterized by both baroque and gothic features.
From the city center, grab a taxi or take a walk back towards the sea for the impressive Royal Palace of Naples. The main of four royal residences of the city, it was used by the Bourbon family during the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies: the other three palaces were the Royal Palace of Capodimonte located north of the Old Town, the Royal Palace of Caserta outside of Naples, and the Palace of Portici near Vesuvius. The Royal Palace of Naples overlooks the majestic monumental area of Piazza del Plebiscito and is surrounded by other important and impressive buildings, such as the Salerno Palace, the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola, and the Prefecture’s building.
Just next to the Royal Palace is Castel Nuovo, also known as Maschio Angioino, yet another landmark and symbol of Naples. With its triumphal arch entrance, this medieval castle was ordered by Charles I of Anjou and due to its strategic location by the sea, the ‘new castle’ not only featured the characteristics of a royal residence, but also those of a fortress. Since its initial construction, the castle was called ‘Castrum Novum’ in order to distinguish it from the older ones of dell’Ovo and Capuano. During the reign of Robert of Anjou, the castle became a center of culture that hosted artists, doctors and writers such as Giotto, Petrarca, and Boccaccio.
Castel dell’Ovo (The Castle of the Egg, from Castrum Ovi, in Latin) is the oldest castle in the city of Naples and what stands out most in this castle is the famous view of the gulf. Its name is derived from an ancient legend of the Roman poet Virgil, where in the Middle Ages a magician was believed to be secretly hiding a magic egg that kept the entire fortress standing. Without the egg the castle would collapse and also cause a series of disasters to the city – hence Castel dell’Ovo!
Following the coastline is the Donn’Anna Palace, situated at the beginning of Via Posillipo, a monumental building of the 17th century and one of the most famous ‘palazzi’ in Naples – home of the Cultural Foundation Ezio De Felice. This building remained unfinished, yet it has the spectacular charm of an ancient ruin, often confused to be among the remains of the neighbouring Roman villas, which characterize the coast of Posillipo. Of great interest is the inside theater, which opens to the sea offering a beautiful view of Naples.
The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, one of the earlier established museums of Europe, boasts one of the richest and most valuable collections of works of art and artefacts of archaeological interest in Italy. Originally belonging to the royal dynasty of the Bourbon family, who were the founders of the museum, the museum houses over three thousand objects of exemplary value in different thematic sections and hundreds of thousands of artefacts dating from prehistory to the late antiquity. The museum is divided into two main areas: antiquarian (inherited collections from the Farnese, Borgia, and Bourbon families) and typological (objects found in excavations in the cities buried by Vesuvius, the sites of the ancient Magna Graecia, and ancient Italy). Be sure not to miss Canova’s statue of Ferdinand I of Bourbon in the middle of the monumental staircase of the museum.
For a modern art experience visit the MADRE museum of contemporary art, and check out the current exhibitions and the permanent collections of the works of internationally renowned artists, among which you will find: Andy Warhol, Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, and Robert Mapplethorpe.
If you find yourselves with some extra time, be sure also to visit the Cappella di San Severo for the breathtaking artistic work of the Cristo Velato in the Museum of San Severo (Via F. De Sanctis), the Museo del Mare (Museum of the Sea, Via di Pozzuoli 5), the PAN-Palazzo delle Arti di Napoli (Vi dei Mille 60), and the Museo del Tesoro di San Gennaro (Via Duomo 149).
Route 2: Pompeii & Ercolano
The sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercolano) offer an unparalleled glimpse into the daily life of the ancient Roman Empire. Both cities were in fact buried in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Since the eruption, it was only in the 18th century that excavations led to the opening of the site for public visits. The destruction of Pompeii and the nearby coastal town of Herculaneum is undoubtedly history’s most told natural disaster, since the ancient Roman cities were buried under layers of volcanic rock and ash, frozen in time until their rediscovery and exploration.
The site of the city of Pompeii is quite simply amazing! You have the opportunity to visit an entire city organized with an ideal urban structure including public offices, a Basilica, private homes and villas, theaters, shopping streets, a gym and a wellness center, a brothel, and even a laundry shop! Private and public walls decorated with frescos, jigsaws and even the first examples of political campaign advertising are also present.
The main entrance to the site is Porta Marina, one of the six doors-entrances into the old city of Pompeii; the others are Porta Ercolano, Porta Vesuvio, Porta Nola, Porta Sarno, and Porta Stabia. A long walkway will provide a springboard for arriving into the heart of the excavations. One of the great things about the archaeological site of Pompeii is that it’s not a ‘museum display.’ Since it is still being excavated and researched, it’s easy to run into fences beyond which geologists and archaeologists are digging, rebuilding, and restoring.
Entering from the main entrance, first on your right is the Temple of Venere, a temple that was said to be one of the most beautiful of Pompeii, consisting of a portico decorated in marble resting on a podium. Unfortunately its remains have been completely stripped, making any interpretation quite difficult. Following the main path will lead you to the Forum, the center of public life. Although it is now to the southwest of the excavated area, the Forum would have been surrounded by important government, religious, and business buildings of the city.
To the west side of the Forum is the Basilica, the most important public building of the city, and the place where justice was administered and trade was performed. North of the Basilica and on the western side of the Forum is the Temple of Apollo. This is one of the oldest temples of Pompeii, built in fact between 575 BC and 550 BC: many of its Etruscan items are now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Next you will find reconstructions of findings, vases, pots, and dishes, but most incredible are the casts of real people trapped from the eruption; casts of bodies found in their own homes or gardens, also including the cast of a dog. This experience is sure to leave you breathless. Moving ahead, you will find the House of Vettii, believed to have been the home of two brothers (Aulo Vettio Restituto and Aulo Vettio Conviva), who started off as freed slaves and became very affluent and popular. This house contains many stunning frescoes, including the ‘vestibule,’ and in other parts of the building are illustrations of couples making love, cupids, and mythological characters.
The exploration of Pompeii ends spectacularly with the Amphitheater and the Great Palaestra (Gymnasium). The Amphitheater is located in the most easterly corner of the excavated area and stands near the Sarno Gate entrance, which leads towards the river Sarno. Completed in 80 BC, it can hold approximately 20,000 people, while it is the earliest surviving Amphitheater in Italy and one of the best preserved in the world. The theater was used for gladiator battles or other sports and spectacles involving wild animals. Today, during the summer, plays and concerts are often held here.
Opposite the Amphitheater is the Great Palaestra (Gymnasium), whose central area, including a pool, was used for sporting and social activities. It was built during the imperial period to replace the previous one (Palaestra Sannitica) and holds a secret inscription that can be found on a column on the west side arcades: this is a cryptogram confirming the presence of the Christians in Pompeii.
Before you depart Pompeii, take a walk outside of the walls of the city for Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries) – a Pompeii favorite (and also a train station stop!). This magnificent villa was once a house with curious illustrations perhaps of women being initiated into the Cult of Dionysus, containing fine frescos as well as humorous ancient graffiti.
Found by chance as a result of excavations for the construction of a well in 1709, Ercolano or Herculaneum as it was known (stemming from Hercules) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is visited by over 300,000 tourists every year. Smaller and less opulent than its neighbouring Pompeii, this Etruscan city is notwithstanding a gem of its own.
Located on a promontory under Vesuvius, at the time of the great eruption in 79 AD Ercolano was a satellite center of nearby Naples and essentially a residential and commercial town. At the time of the eruption, unlike Pompeii, which was buried by a rain of ash, Ercolano was overwhelmed by a flood of mud and volcanic debris between 8 and 10 meters; this solidified and preserved the tops of the buildings and all of the organic materials, such as wood, fabrics, and even remains of food, all of which offer a unique insight into the private life of its citizens. Another interesting discovery is that of Villa dei Papyri, one of the largest and most lavish Roman residences ever explored. Excavated by order of Charles of Bourbon between 1750 and 1764, the villa contained a large library of papyrus with Greek and Latin texts.
For the adventurous types, do consider making the most of the lovely local climate and take a fascinating walk up to Vesuvius starting from Ercolano’s castle through the national park. Enjoy 12 kilometers (~7 miles) of breathtaking views of the entire gulf, passing by groves and vineyards where the exquisite wine Lachrima Christi is produced.
Part II: The World Renowned Amalfi Coast
Within driving distance from Naples lies the world-renowned Amalfi Coast. Situated along the south coast of the Sorrento Peninsula, forming the southern arm of the Bay of Naples, the Amalfi Coast is one of the most sought-after destinations in the world and one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Italy. Thirteen towns line this coast, most clinging to the steep mountain slope high above the shore. Its distinctive combination of rugged scenery and picturesque settlement has earned this coastline a designation since 1997 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but of course the Amalfi Coast has been drawing visitors for centuries before this.
Its name comes from the chief town of this wonderful seashore, Amalfi, which was founded by the Romans. By the 9th century AD, Amalfi had become a maritime power that rivaled such Italian cities as Pisa, Genoa and Venice. In fact, Amalfi’s maritime code was influential around the Mediterranean between 900 and 1500. However, in the 12th century it was first captured by the Normans and then sacked by the Pisans, and it never reclaimed its power.
Several fine buildings along the coast reward a visit, but most visitors to the Amalfi Coast are content to pop in and out of the towns, taking in the lush gardens and breathtaking views. Aside from the attractions of the towns and the scenery, there is the quite amazing Amalfi Drive, a 50-kilometer (~31 mile) road that winds from Positano at the western end to Salerno at the eastern end, for at least part of the way following a road laid down by the Romans. Twisting and turning high above the coast, with a sheer drop down to the sea on one side and sheer cliffs on the other, the narrow road often passes through tunnels and across viaducts and provides a most appropriate way to experience this unique coast.
Route 1: Exploring the Coastal Towns of Sorrento, Positano & Praiano
Celebrated by Pavarotti in the famous song ‘Torna a Surriento,’ this city is one of the most famous holiday resorts in Italy. Situated on a stretch of coast of incomparable beauty, surrounded by lush hills dressed by vineyards, olive and citrus trees of exquisite quality, its uphill position overlooks two marinas as if from a blooming terrace. Access to the sea is via stairs, passages, or elevators carved into the rock.
Start from the central Piazza Tasso and be amazed by Palazzo Verniero’s precious Arab-Hispanic decorations, and dig into the local history visiting the Correale Museum of Terranova, the Sedile Dominova, and Via della Pietà. Dive into Sorrento’s religious history visiting sites such as the Basilica of Sant’Antonio, the Church of St. Maria del Carmine, the Church of San Francesco d’Assisi, Sorrento’s Cathedral, and the Monastery of St. Maria delle Grazie.
Arguably one of most enchanting and romantic places in the world, from Roman times through to the 60s when it was considered a fashion spot, Positano is still today a jewel in the Mediterranean. Walk from the striking historic center in the highest part of the town through an infinite series of steps and steep winding roads. Be charmed by its streets full of upscale boutiques, artists’ ateliers, restaurants and cafes and the typical white Mediterranean houses surrounded by bougainvilleas and lemon groves. Visiting the Chiesa dell’Assunta or the cave La Porta, where Palaeolithic and Mesolithic rests have been found is definitely worth a visit, while the Li Galli islands with their underwater archaeological ruins are perfect for the most adventurous divers.
Don’t miss Positano’s most trendy beaches such as Spiaggia Grande and Fornillo, both accessible by foot, or venture off on a boat trip to La Porta, Arienzo and San Pietro Laurito – or even Capri! Learn about the local traditions by visiting the neighboring Vitri and its famous handmade tiles, or explore the beautiful landscape with an excursion around Punta Campanella with one of its last towers guarding against Saracen’s sea attacks.
Praiano is a picturesque small fishing village immersed in a peaceful landscape. Once the resort chosen by the Doge, it is still the best kept secret in the Amalfi Coast. Situated between Monte St. Angelo a Tre Pizzi and Capo Sottile, Praiano is a tiny area of land characterized by its dramatic scenery, where traditional crafts like the production of silk garments to embroidered pieces are still carried on by the women of the village.
This unique town offers an interesting selection of beautiful beaches, in particular Gavitella, in which due to its special exposure, the sun radiates from sunrise to sunset, unlike the rest of the Amalfi coast. Praiano offers a wonderful view of Positano and Capri, with a watchtower built during the Spanish time and a natural water basin, Fountain of the Altar, located inside a secret cave. Discover Praiano’s religious background and visit the parish Church of St. Luca Evangelista, which houses works of art from the 1500’s by Bernardo Lama, a relic of the Saint and a silver bust dating back to 1694.
Route 2: Exploring Amalfi and Ravello
From the legend of Hercules falling in love with a nymph called Amalfi, this ancient maritime republic is today one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and among the most admired locations in the world. Take a romantic stroll on the ‘lungomare’ and visit the 11th century Duome and famous Chiostro Paradiso yard. Follow the path of the ‘cappucini’ monks till its famous medieval monastery carved out of the rock and directly above the sea – today this monastery has been transformed to a hotel and restaurant.
No more than a village, Ravello is far from the intense life of the coast (or ‘costiera’) distinguished by an unusual peace, typical little streets, beautiful gardens, and Arab-Sicilian architecture reminiscent of the time when it was a commercial connection between Sicily and the East. Featured in Boccaccio’s Decameron and Wagner’s Parsifal, it’s also known as ‘the city of music’ due to its connection with the German composer; every July visitors can enjoy a calendar of classical music concerts with a breathtaking view of the sea. Also worth visiting are Villa Cimbrone, Villa Rufolo, and the Auditorium designed by Oscar Niemeyer. For a breathtaking ride, drive from Amalfi to Ravello as some the best views of the ‘costiera amalfitana’ are in fact across the coast mountains of these marvelous locations.
Part III: The Islands of Capri and Ischia
Two small islands that sit off the outermost curved arms forming the Bay of Naples provide not only alternatives to the hustle and bustle of Naples itself, but also environments that have long charmed visitors. In the case of Capri, its charm goes back thousands of years, for the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius adopted it as a retreat: Tiberius spent the last decade of his life on Capri, where he is alleged to have engaged in all manner of debaucheries, but he also built 12 villas there in honor of the 12 major Roman deities, with some remains to be seen to this day. In the Middle Ages, Capri fell under the sway of Naples; then in the 16th century under the Ottoman Empire; briefly (1806-1815) under Napoleon’s rule; then back to the Kingdom of Naples, which joined the newly formed nation of Italy in 1861.
Route 1: Experience the Beautiful Island of Capri
“Nowhere in the world are there as many opportunities for such a delightful quietness, as in this small island.”
Capri is an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the southern arm of the Bay of Naples. The town of Capri is the island’s main center, while the minor town of Anacapri is located high on the west hills. The island has two harbors, Marina Piccola and Marina Grande, which is also the main port of the island. Capri satisfies its visitors’ desire for timeless natural attractions. The island’s lush vegetation and its famous Blue Grotto (a sea cave), along with its two towns, Capri and Anacapri, more than satisfy those seeking livelier, up-to-date diversions. In fact, Capri is the locale that confirms the Italians’ saying, ‘dolce far niente’ or ‘how sweet it is just to do nothing!’ Norman Douglas’s 1917 novel, South Wind, probably recreates the atmosphere and texture of the decadent lifestyle that foreigners once imported to Capri, but today it is an atmosphere of robust tourism that characterizes the island.
Luxurious, charming and blessed by a mild climate, Capri offers an extraordinary entwine of history, nature, culture and beauty blending into a timeless legend that sees no comparison. As a pearl of the Mediterranean, and certainly the gulf’s most glamorous island, Capri has through the centuries seduced divas, artists, and sovereigns with its infinite beauty and charm.
Start from the center in Piazza Umberto I, also known as La Piazzetta – a small, most fashionable square and the heart of Capri’s social life. In addition to its elegant cafés and jewelry shops, the Piazzetta is home to Capri’s municipal offices. The most emblematic work of architecture in the Piazzetta is without a doubt the 17th century Torre dell’Orologio.
Admire the world-famous symbols of Capri, the Faraglioni, or the three natural stacks located just off the island of Capri that reach up to 150 meters (~500 feet) high; created by the erosive action of the wind and sea. The sunny southern coast of the island has been elected the favourite retreat of artists and writers from every corner of the globe, and it is here that a great number of Capri’s most exclusive hotels and elegant private villas are built.
Take a stroll by the Bay of Marina Piccola till its fashionable beach, or check out some of the world’s most luxurious yachts in the Marina Grande tourist harbour. Explore Villa Jovis, the most important of twelve imperial villas, built in the 1st century AD and discovered in the 18th century under the rule of Charles of Bourbon. Also worth visiting is the Rupe di Tiberio, Villa San Michele-Axel Munthe (Anacapri), Giardini di Augusto and Via Krupp, or if you happen to be around on May 14th you are in for a true traditional experience during the Festa di St. Costanzo (Patron of St. Capri), or similarly during the Festa di St.Antonio of Anacapri on June 13th.
No visit to Capri is complete without at least a few hours spent in the Mediterranean Sea. There are several beaches that can be reached by foot or car, yet don’t search for large sandy beaches, as you will be disappointed. The beaches in Capri are only pebble, and often only small coves. One of the nicest activities is to rent a boat to take you through Capri’s turquoise waters and explore some of the most beautiful parts of the island. In fact, many of the most enchanting stretches of Capri’s coastline are completely inaccessible by land, including the extraordinary natural cave Grotta Azzurra, whose incredible blue color originates from the sunlight that filters through an underwater window just below the 1 meter (~3 feet) gateway – the best hours to visit are between 12:00 and 2:00 pm.
Marina Grande offers the largest beach of the island, right next to the pier. Here the sun goes down in mid-afternoon and despite the proximity to the harbour the water is always clean. The best options around the Marina Grande are: I Bagni di Tiberio, Lo Smeraldo and Le Ondine. The beaches of Marina Piccola are among the most popular of the island and can be easily reached by foot down Via Krupp, and are also connected with buses. There are several beaches around that area, where it is possible to swim with the beautiful Faraglioni in the background. The only downside is that the sun goes down in the early afternoon. The two public beaches are located on either side of the Rock of the Sirens. Some good options around the Marina Piccola are also the Saracen Tower, La Canzone del Mare, Bagni Internazionali, Gioia, or Lo Scoglio delle Sirene (The Rock of the Mermaids).
Descending from the path from the Belvedere Punta Tragara you reach the cliff at the foot of the Faraglioni. Here there are two privately owned beaches available to the public (stabilimenti), both with restaurants – it is a true pleasure to spend the day here. If you’d rather not walk (especially on the way back!), do not worry since there is a frequent shuttle from Marina Piccola.
Route 2: Experience the Quaint Island of Ischia
Ischia, off the northern promontory, is noted for its mineral springs that attract people seeking a healthy retreat, and its verdant scenery has earned it the nickname of ‘The Emerald Isle.’ Larger than Capri, Ischia is in fact a volcanic island, but the last eruption was in 1301. With its 60,000 inhabitants — three times those of Capri — and some light industry, such as pottery and tiles, Ischia is not quite as tourist-dominated as is Capri, but even if its attractions are less intense, its appeal is that much more restful.
The location of the well-known movie “The Talented Mr Ripley,” Ischia is a gorgeous island where many ‘chic’ mainland locals own a house and people are friendly and hospitable. Still fashionable, but more low-key than Capri, Ischia is world renowned for its unique natural hydrothermal heritage and its international summer film festival. The island’s natural baths have been providing therapeutic water since the Roman times and to this day there is plenty of choice. The most exclusive spas in Ischia are the Negombo and the Poseidon, both featuring natural pools and showers of different temperatures, with the former being particularly worthy for its private beach and stunning botanic setting, while the latter for its beautiful view of Punta Sant’Angelo. Spa lovers will be tempted to try the wellness centers, indulging in a wide range of massages and beauty treatments. Most spas and local shops have developed their own beauty line produced with the island’s natural therapeutic water.
Don’t miss Ischia Ponte and the Aragonese Castle, stroll through the main streets of Ischia Porto, sunbathe on the beach of Maronti, and visit Sorgeto’s warm thermal springs right on the Mediterranean Sea. Regenerate with the thalassotherapy and make your own beauty mask with the area’s volcanic mud while enjoying an unforgettable sunset dip into the water. Discover the secret splendor of a lost age diving into the incredible turquoise waters of Cartaromana’s beach – now a marine archaeological site – and explore the ancient ruins of the once flourishing Roman city of Aenaria, which mysteriously disappeared into the sea after an earthquake. Take a stroll in the Garden La Mortella, a volcanic gorge turned into a tropical paradise, with over 3000 plants originating from different parts of the world. Finally, for the more adventurous, climb up the Epomeo, a 789-meter (2600 feet) volcano that offers a variety of beautiful walks in lush nature.
If you have an extra day at leisure, head to the fisherman’s island of Procida for a truly authentic experience. Procida – just a quick boat trip from Ischia (or even from Naples) – is known for its ancient maritime traditions and a unique slow pace atmosphere, as it was well depicted in the Academy Award winning film “Il Postino.” From the Marina Grande’s harbor, be sure to visit the Church of San Michele, the Borgo of Terra Murata, or the Castle and the Natural reserve of Vivara.
Southern Italy’s main city, a cradle of history leading back to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, located in an area where traditions and archaeological treasures meet with stunning natural landscapes, Naples is a site on which Bronze Age Greeks originally settled in the second millennium BC. In fact,until 1861 the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the wealthiest and most industrialized of all the Italian states, Naples was the third most populous city of Europe (after London and Paris), and certainly one of the most opulent. The Romans conquered it in the 4th century BC and held it until the Byzantine Emperor took it over in the 6th century AD. In 1139, the Normans, who had been ruling Sicily for 300 years, absorbed it and most of southern Italy into their kingdom, but Naples became part of the Holy Roman Empire under the influence of the Popes.
For the next 375 years Naples was fought over by successive French and Spanish rulers until the 1504-1505 treaties assigned Naples and Sicily to Spain. This hardly settled matters, though, and there followed another 235 years of turmoil as various Spanish and French kings continued to contest for ruling Naples. Finally, the Spanish Bourbon dynasty took over Naples in 1742 and ruled it as capital of the independent Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. For a brief period (1806-1808), Napoleon installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king of Naples. In 1860, Garibaldi and his army conquered Naples, while in 1861 it became part of the newly formed Italian Kingdom. It next entered the stage of history during World War II when the Allied forces heavily bombed the city; in September 1943 they landed at the nearby coastal town of Salerno, where the German forces held them for two weeks. Two weeks after this, the Allied troops entered Naples.
Across these many centuries, the people of Naples were forced to endure unimaginable deprivations and violence, yet they managed to maintain their sense of belonging to Italy, in particular with the Italian language as the root of their dialect. In return, Naples has given back to Italy a hearty cuisine, a school of classical music and popular song, and a pride in being a people who will persevere no matter what befalls them.