Naples is an informal city. No need to dress up. No need to stand on ceremony. Yes, it has its glamour and glitz, but for the temporary visitor there is no need to put on a show. Naples has all types, and takes all types, and all swirl together in a multicoloured mlange. In the great hall of the Castel Nuovo or Maschio Angioino, which dominates the centre and the port, the local government sits and conducts its business. At the same time the door is open, guarded only by a couple of chain-smoking municipal police, and anyone can wander in and observe the proceedings. Outside, visitors and officials, attendants and petitioners, children and adults all crowd indiscriminately, almost oblivious of the astonishing surroundings. Beyond the walls, on one side is the bustling ferry port, and on the other rises the Palazzo Reale, with its 18th-century Bourbon riches, adjoined by the San Carlo opera house. Few cities can boast such a range of spectacular architecture and history so close together.
Thanks to the brooding presence of Vesuvius, no city anywhere can claim such a close connection with the past. Vesuvius last blew red hot magma into the sky in 1944, but in AD 79 it sealed the fates of both Pompeii and Herculaneum, by smothering the former in cinders and by engulfing the latter in hot mud. In Pompeii you can wear yourself out pacing the rutted streets and examining the interiors of well-to-do villas. Herculaneum is altogether more concentrated, but here there are second floors to some of the buildings and the various bath complexes are almost intact, with amazing detail in the decoration.
There are many other visible traces of the Roman empire in the Naples area. At Pozzuoli there is a magnificent amphitheatre; on Capri there is Tiberiuss infamous villa, from which unfortunates had to leap to their death for his entertainment; and at Baia there are extensive ruins, some of which are under the sea and can be viewed from glass-bottomed boats.
Within Naples, under other celebrated sights such as the Castel dellOvo and the churches of S. Chiara and S. Lorenzo Maggiore, intriguing remains of the ancient settlement of Neapolis can be found. Also, for the more determined tourist, there are two access points to the fascinations of subterranean Naples. Forty metres under Piazza S. Gaetano you can go back to the fourth century BC, and, at about the same depth under the elegant Bar Gambrinus on the edge of Piazza del Plebiscito, you can follow history from the 16th century through to the air raids of the second world war.
Public transport in Naples is improving all the time. You can purchase tickets for all the buses, trains, trams, funiculars and metros at tobacconists, newsstands and metro stations and, if you are brave, you can get almost anywhere reasonably quickly. Traffic can be alarmingly dense, but most of the public forms of transport will get you to your destination, although dont be alarmed if the entire tram network breaks down it wont last long.
However, when in the centre of the city the best way to appreciate the flavour and life of the place is on foot. Stroll up and down the amazing Spaccanapoli, once the decumanus inferior of the ancient city grid plan, or Via dei Tribunali, the decumanus maior. These narrow streets split the city from side to side, and are lined with churches, bars and crowded botteghe selling everything from multi-coloured pasta shapes to live octopi. They are dark, mysterious, noisy, scary, lively, bustling and dirty, and youll never be bored or hungry.
For the serious sightseer, the art lover, the dedicated tourist, there are, of course, major sights as well. It is now possible to obtain a museum and public transport pass which lasts for 60 hours (see City beat page 21). Places to see are the archaeological museum, which houses many of the finest Roman mosaics from Pompeii as well as some of the most famous classical statues in the world; and the Capodimonte art gallery, with works by Raphael, Titian, Botticelli, Correggio, Caravaggio and Bellini, as well as El Greco and Bruegel. On the Vomero hill, next to the impressively restored Castel S. Elmo, is the Certosa di S. Martino, a beautiful building with spectacular views, which also houses a fine art gallery.
In the centre of town there are the turreted Maschio Angioino, the Palazzo Reale and, finally, Castel dellOvo, the original place of habitation in Naples, rising on an islet in the centre of the bay, supposedly built over an egg (hence the name) that Virgil buried here. And when you have tired of all this art and history, you can settle down at a table in one of the restaurants by the waterside (Zi Teresa or Ciro being two of the best) and enjoy the very best of Naples good food, excellent wine (try Falanghina) and the play of sun on water. And you dont need a jacket.