Naples (Napoli), Italy

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Naples is situated in southwest Italy, in its own bay between the Gulf of Pozzuoli and the Gulf of Salerno. To the east of the city is the dormant volcano Vesuvius. Naples is the capital of the Campania region, and is an important centre of industry and commerce.


The city was founded around 600 BC by Phoenician traders and Athenian Greeks. They named the early settlement Neapolis (the new city). It rapidly prospered as a centre of Greek and Roman culture. Roman emperors favoured Naples as a winter residence. In AD 79 the eruption of Vesuvius destroyed the surrounding towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae.

In the eighth century Naples declared itself an independent republic and was self-governed until the twelfth century when a succession of noble families took over the city. The original Lombard rulers were replaced by the Normans, who were in turn overthrown by the Hohenstaufens in 1139. The Swabian dynasty of the Hohenstaufens, which lasted until 1266, ordered the construction of many new institutions including the University. The Angevins under Charles I, having taken Sicily, and defeated the last of the Hohenstaufens, made Naples the de facto capital of their territories. After a period of uprisings and civil disorder, Naples came under the rule of the Spanish house of Aragon. Alfonso V introduced new laws and a modern justice system to support them. He was also an enthusiastic patron of the arts and sciences.

In 1503 Naples and Sicily were absorbed into the Spanish Empire. From this point on a series of Spanish viceroys ruled the city in a highly autocratic fashion. Despite several popular uprisings, viceregal rule was only brought to an end by Austrian occupation in 1707. In 1734, under the leadership of the Spanish Bourbons, Naples was established as the capital of a large kingdom, consisting of itself, Sicily and much of the southern peninsula. This was a period of prosperity and much cultural activity.

From 1806–15 Naples was occupied by France, but after Napoléon’s demise the Bourbons were reinstalled as the rulers of Naples. They retained power until 1860 by which time popular opposition to their complacence and despotism assisted Garibaldi’s Italian unification movement in gaining control of the city. Naples was eventually rejected as a potential choice for the new nation’s capital, and went into a decline which was compounded in the twentieth century when it was heavily bombed in World War II. The struggle to rebuild the badly damaged city is thought to have contributed to the post war boom in organized crime. The city suffered a major earthquake in 1980 and the close proximity of Vesuvius continues to threaten the city.

Modern City

The present municipal government has undertaken an ambitious restoration programme of the city’s cultural treasures. This, combined with the success of an ongoing programme to reduce crime, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the city’s tourist industry. Other important industries include food-processing, winemaking, textiles, petroleum refining, electronics and steel.

The city is served by regional, national and international trains and most of them arrive and depart from the Stazione Centrale. Intercontinental buses arrive and depart from the front of the Stazione Centrale. National and international air services operate from Capodichino Airport which is situated 5 km north of the city. Naples has a network of buses, trains, metro and funicular ATAN (city buses and trams). Ferries and hydrofoils serve Capri, Sorrento, Ischia, Procida, Forio, Casmicciola, Palermo, Cagliari, Milazzo and the Aeolian Islands.

Places of Interest

The national archaeological museum was created by Charles of Bourbon in the eighteenth century to display the collection of antiquities he had inherited from his mother, Elizabeth Farnese. The museum also houses the Borgia collection of Etruscan and Egyptian relics. The Farnese collection includes the famous Farnese Bull and remnants from Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The National Museum and Gallery of Capodimonte houses another celebrated Farnese family collection. The gallery features works by Titian, Goya, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Masacchio and Lippi. The museum includes collections of arms, ivories, bronzes and porcelain (including over 3,000 pieces from the palace’s own porcelain factory).

Following the course of an old Roman road, Decimanus Maximus, through the oldest part of Naples, Spaccanapoli refers to a maze of ancient streets with numerous churches, dilapidated palaces, small craft studios, cafés and shops. The three main streets are Vi Benedetto Croce, Via San Biagio dei Libri and Via Vicaria Vecchia. The streets trace the city’s history from Graeco-Roman times to the present. The area is popular with tourists.

The Certosa di San Martino was built in the fourteenth century as a Carthusian Monastery and was subsequently rebuilt in the seventeenth century in Neapolitan Baroque now houses the Museo Nazionale di San Martino. The Baroque interior of the monastery’s church contains works by Caracciolo, Guido Rein and Simon Vouet.

The royal palace was built at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Domenico Fontana. Its museum is housed within the royal apartments and has a large collection of Bourbon furnishings, tapestries, statues and paintings. The Palazzo Reale also houses the Biblioteca Nazionale, which contains more than 1.5 m. volumes.

The Teatro San Carlo is the largest and one of the most distinguished opera theatres in Italy.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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