"Napoli is like a woman you fall in love with by mistake. First, it attracts you by its magnetic passionate force, but once you experience the bad manners of the Neapolitans, you cool off."
This is how Marina, my personal tour guide, summed it all up while we were walking in the narrow streets of Naples, her hometown.
I was always curious about Naples. I promised myself that the next time I would be in Italy, I would go and see Naples, even just for a day. The opportunity knocked on my door on Mid September.
I wanted to make sure that once I visit Naples, I would do it with a local. There is no better way to experience a place than through a local's (preferred photographer or an Artist) eyes and experience. There is no doubt that Marina, a proud Neapolitan woman, was the best choice. It was great watching her walking in the streets of the old city, knowing every corner, every courtyard, every building and hear her great stories about her family and her city.
You cannot stay indifferent to Naples. You either love it or hate it. There is no "in between." You are either drawn to its paradox of love, loss, sex, religion, superstition, birth and death or you are running away from it.
I felt its magnetism immediately.
Here are some highlights of my trip and some places worth visiting once in Naples. Bear in mind, it is even more beautiful in real.
Ospedale della Bambole
A magical tiny store which operates as a hospital for dolls from all over the world. I was fortunate to meet Titiana Grassi, a 4th generation in the family business, which was established in 1890. The founder, Luigi Grassi, was making marionettes for Teatro Di San Carlo in Naples, and he had a small laboratory with hanging marionettes. Back then, dolls were made by porcelain and were easily breakable. They were mostly bought by Aristocratic women, as they were expensive. With time, these women found and heard about Luigi Grassi, and asked him to fix their dolls. Due to the high demand, Luigi decided to continue with this tradition and passed these skills to the next generations.
This is a charming place and a magical journey to discover the great toys of the past.
Ospedale della Bambole, Via San. Biagio dei Librai, 46, Napoli
Giuseppe Marco Ferrigno
After I left Titiana's store, Marina took me to another dolls' related store, but this one was one of the most known for its Neapolitan terracotta traditional characters. Started also as a family business since 1838, Ferrigno family passes the mastering of traditional terracotta figures from one generation to another. The store is packed with hand-made icon graphic figures of Neapolitan script and Marina told me that before Christmas time the store is over crowded with visitors and clients who buy these terracotta figures to decorate their homes.
Giuseppe Marco Ferrigno, Via San Gregorio Armeno 8, Napoli
Known also as Largo Corpo di Napoli, got its name from the statue of the Nile God. The Piazzetta is located in the Historic center of Naples, which is considered the first historic core of the city. (Naples was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1995). The square was established in the 15th century and the area was known as a trade center during the Greek and Roman ages. This is one of the REAL authentic squares of Naples.
Church of Gesù Nuovo
Church of Gesù Nuovo (New Jesus) is considered as the most important church in Naples. Located in the Gesù Nuovo Square, the church was originally a Palace built in 1470 for Roberto Sanseverino, Prince of Salerno. In the 1580's the Palace was sold to the Jesuits (members of the Society of Jesus) and they turned it into the current church. (constructions last from 1584-1601). The church façade in bugnato style, (a style that was especially used during the Italian Renaissance) remained from the Sanseverino Palace. It is a beautiful church inside and out. Don't miss its interiors as well, although the exterior is incredible.
Gesù Nuovo Church, Via San Sebastiano, 48 Naples
The Market Square is located in the historic section of Naples. Today it is one of the largest squares in the city, but in 1647 the square was the site of battles between rebels and royal troops during Masaniello's revolt. Later, in 1799, it was the scene of the mass execution of leaders of the Neapolitan Republic. The area - including parts of the church premises - was heavily bombed in World War II and still shows the scars of the devastation.
Next to Piazza Mercato, you can notice the Church of the Holy Cross with its yellow green Dome. The church was severely damaged during an earthquake in 1980 but it is still impressive and a testimony to the Medieval city it used to be. During Summer times, around 6-7pm, there is a beautiful golden light hitting the Dome. I'm talking by my own experience. Great for a shoot!
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine is located on the other end of Piazza Mercato. It was founded in the 12th century by Carmelite monks driven from the Holy Land in the Crusades. The old monastic grounds next to the church now serve as a shelter for the needy and homeless of the city. You can't miss the church even from afar.
San Francesco di Paola Church
San Francesco di Paola Church is located in Piazza del Plebiscito, which is one of the largest squares in Naples. The Church was constructed as an imitation to the Pantheon in Roma and was built as a tribute to Napoleon. It is one of the elegant monuments in Naples.
I just adored the huge space and the glass ceiling of Galleria Umberto. It is located across from Teatro di San Carlo and despite its modern look, I was surprised to find out that it was built between 1887-1891. The Galleria was named for Umberto I, King of Italy at the time of construction. It was meant to combine businesses, shops, cafes and social life -- public space, with private space in the apartments on the third floor. Don't miss it! The architecture is breath taking all year long.
Galleria Umberto, Via San Carlo, Naples
Naples is also known for its Pizza. No wonder Julia Roberts went all the way to Naples to have a relationship with her pizza it in the movie 'Eat, Pray, Love'. If you want to see the location of the scene, visit L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele.
Even though it was a short visit, it left a great impression on me and a desire for more. I would go back in a heartbeat.