Not unless you’ve tried one in Naples.
And if you have tried one in Naples then what are you doing reading this? You’ll already be Naples now, and be as in love with the city as nearly everyone else who has ever been there.
I say ‘nearly everyone’.
Naples is chaotic. It’s a mess. You’ll wince when you see three teenagers whizz past you on a Vespa without helmets. Then you’ll wince when you see them cross six lanes of traffic in a two lane road.
But what tends to happen is that the vibrancy and life gets under your skin. The contradictions on every street corner keep you searching for more. Naples will pick you and shake you about. You feel yourself getting addicted to the buzz and you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Perhaps it’s because Naples loves to party.
As well as huge pizza festivals, jazz festivals, and film festivals, you will find the wonderful Maggio dei Monumenti (the May of Monuments), which is a month-long festival to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Naples. Throughout the month many of the city’s artefacts and monuments, usually closed to the public, are displayed. It is a special time during which the secrets of Naples are revealed to the world.
Perhaps it’s because you can’t get enough of the cuisine.
Where was I? Ah, yes, the perfect pizza.
The world famous Margherita pizza, representing the Italian flag using the colours of basil, tomato, and mozzarella, is named after Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni who visited the city in 1889. In Naples, the ‘Margherita’ is packed full of intense flavour, with tomatoes often picked from the slopes of Vesuvius, and is frequently one of only two varieties on offer at some of the city’s oldest and most exclusive restaurants.
There’s no getting away from it. This city is crammed full of pizzerias which themselves are crammed full of locals and tourists tearing slices of piping hot pizza off the plate and eating them with their hands. Don’t let this fool you into thinking they don’t respect it. This nation’s unsurpassed dish is, in fact, so respected that the Ministry for Agriculture has regulations that determine how an authentic Neapolitan pizza should be made.
Naples instils a passion for food in its inhabitants. As one of Naples’ most famous exports, Sophia Loren, once said: ‘everything you see I owe to spaghetti’.
Perhaps it’s because Naples is so ancient.
Unlike Naples, not every city can claim to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was founded by the Ancient Greeks over 2800 years ago, and the historic centre is the largest in Europe, protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. This centre boasts a vast number of impressive monuments, and the atmosphere which comes from such a mix of architecture and sea has attracted poets and writers and artists for over 28 centuries.
With a population of 960,000, triple that of Florence, you shouldn’t come here unless you want life. And lots of it. Southern Italy’s largest city is like a ‘four seasons’ pizza: Baroque, medieval, and modern architecture sit side by side. It is everything you could want from Italy, all served in one dish.
In other Italian cities a great deal of the attraction lies behind the walls, in galleries and cathedrals. In Naples, you can experience the majority of the beauty by watching, eating on the streets, and listening.
Quite simply, just immerse yourself. Walk, talk, eat, listen –the chances are you will be hooked.
That’s not to say that Naples doesn’t have its fair share of beauty behind closed doors. The city’s 448 historic churches make it is one of the most Catholic places in the World, down to the sheer number of places to worship.
As for art, Caravaggio fled Rome to live in Naples, and left a lasting legacy here. Pio Monte della Misericordia holds one of his most well-known paintings. Other works hang in the Capodimonte Museum.
For a break from the buzz, head out on one of the frequent ferries to some tranquillity nearby at Sorrento, Amalfi, Capri, or Ischia, to name but a few idyllic islands and towns. Just don’t miss the chance to see a snapshot in time by stopping off at Pompei on the way down the coast.
Two other places to unwind and enjoy the views that Naples has to offer are Via Caracciolo and Lungomare di Napoli. From these spots you can people watch, and take in the incredible pastel coloured homes, all precariously balanced on top of each other in the folds of the cliffs.
Alternatively, there is a silent and ancient lost world underground. 40 metres below the city you will find extensive caves. The rock was originally excavated by the Greeks in 470 BC to build Neapolis (New City), which became ‘Naples’. Every period of history has left its marks on the walls here, from early Christians using it to bury their dead, to those in World War II needing an air raid shelter.
The transport links in Naples help people navigate their way around the thirty different zones, each with its own style. Did you know that the funicular in Naples one of the longest in the world, carrying 28,000 passengers daily? It is also easy to travel to the nearby Pompei and Vesuvius, a trip not to be missed.
It’s a not all about the past, though. Over the past decade or so, Naples has been greatly regenerated. Modern Art in the subways, Arts festivals, and the pedestrianisation of Piazza del Plebiscito. It’s a place which continually earns its name of ‘new city’.
In Naples you will find one of Italy’s finest opera houses, San Carlo, which is also the oldest in Europe. If you don’t have the time or inclination for a show, it is worth a visit for the grand design and decoration alone. At night you can enjoy a sunset over the Bay of Naples with countless others who never tire of this romantic view, sitting spellbound, staring at Vesuvius, and contemplating the fragility of life.
With most other places you can find somewhere else to liken it to. Not with Naples.
In Naples, the pizzas are thinner, the history is older, and the sounds are louder.
In Naples, you feel more alive than in any other city in Italy.
Text: Lucy Williams