According to our guide Vincenzo, this has been the warmest August in 40 years! Our tour took us above and below this iconic Italian seaport, which has long been a major center of Italian culture for centuries and is best known for its pizza. In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples. A baker named Esposito made them a pizza named in the queen’s honor. The pizza mirrored the Italian flag: red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil. This margherita pizza has become synonymous with Napoli.
The National Museum of San Martino (formerly a convent) stands high above the city and provides a timeless landmark.
Naples has the dubious distinction of being the most bombed Italian city in World War II. Nonetheless, there are some beautiful buildings in Naples, such as those that mark a sweeping public square. The San Francesco di Paola Church, reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, and the Royal Palace with statues of all the kings of Naples keeping watch over the square.
Naples also boasts two historic castles. The Medieval Castel Nuovo is one of the primary architectural landmarks of Naples.
The Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) is a seafront castle located on the Peninsula of Megarde. Legend has it that the poet Virgil placed a magical egg in the castle’s foundation, which, if broken, would have meant destruction of the castle and disaster for the city. It is said to remain there to this day, along with Virgil’s remains.
Naples also has many beautiful fountains, such as those in front of City Hall at Palazzo San Giacomo and the Fontana El Carciofo (Fountain of the Artichoke.)
Volcanoes dot the skyline around Naples, and although the day was hazy, they can be seen as reminders of both the destruction and benefit they produce. The city of Pompeii was destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., but volcanoes also produce lava rock which has served as an important building material in and around Naples for centuries.
We later escaped the afternoon heat by touring the lesser-known Bourbon Tunnels deep below the city. Originally built by the Greeks in the fourth century B.C., they were later used by the Romans as aqueducts. As our tour reflected, they also served as life-saving air raid shelters during World War II.
They have discovered so much of what it must have been like during the war, including a birthing area and toilets that offered little privacy.
Over the years, the abandoned tunnels became a dumping ground for old cars, motorcycles, Vespas, and other artifacts. Recent efforts to preserve the tunnels have resulted in a massive clean-up, during which many of these remnants of the past have been placed on display.
And no visit to Naples would be complete without a taste of Margherita pizza!
As we sailed away from Naples, we passed the lighthouse with fond memories of a beautiful day in the region where my father was born.