The origins of Naples come from the legend saying that a city had been founded where the corpse of the siren ‘Partenope’ had been discovered; according to the Greek myth, the siren devastated by the Ulysses refusal committed suicide throwing herself into the sea. She was transported dead to the small island of Megaride, where after centuries Castle dell’Ovo was built. What seemed to be just a legend, without historical documentation, was supported by the archaeological discovery of a necropolis and of a prehistoric town in Via Nicotera, close to the Pizzofalcone hill. The discovery made possible to locate the origins of the city back to the VI century A.D., when the Cumans went South in the Gulf of Naples founding the city called Partenope. It’s still not clear why after one century the city was moved a couple of chilometres east and was called Neapolis, meaning a new town, to distinguish it from the old town. Neapolis was build approximately in the area of the historic center of the modern Naples. It was a very important commercial port, dominating the gulf and imposing taxes on every commercial ship. At this time the town presented the typical Greek plan, made of plateiai and stenophoi (romans decumani and cardines), in other words perpendicular streets that generated regular blocks; this town planning is called Ippodameus system, as it was created by Ippodamus from Mileto, a Greek architect of the VI century BC.
The walls of the first fortification can still be seen at Piazza Bellini, Piazza Calenda (this square was created in order to keep visible the walls, found during the restoration of the city of the XIX century) and at Piazza Cavour.
The ancient Neapolis spread from North to South, between the Hospital of the Incurables and the gardens of the State Archives and from West to East between San Paolo a Majella and the Castle Capuano. Half way down the decumano maggiore, today called via dei Tribunali, was the old Greek square or agorà, that then became the Roman forum. Today this place is known as Piazza San Gaetano where in the I century, there was the Temple of Dioscuri, whose facade (destroyed by an earthquake in 1688) became part of San Paolo Maggiore Church built in the VIII century to celebrate the Neapolitan victory over the Saracens.
In this area we can find the main access to the caves and passages of the Underground Naples, dug in the tufa stone, where the Roman aqueduct is visible. In Piazza San Gaetano opens also the Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore (middle of the XIII century) from the Angevins, an example of French Gothic architecture in Naples. The church has a corridor along the abs with a series of chapels disposed in a circle. In the underground of the church there are Roman ruins, a market, shops, offices and a number of buildings along a 50 meters long road.
From San Lorenzo’s Church starts Via San Gregorio Armeno where is the traditional market of hand made statues for the nativities, made using traditional techniques. They help to trace the contemporary history of the city through the introduction of updated characters.
Going West we find the Bell Tower of Pietrasanta, built on the ruins of the temple dedicated to Diana. Some of its remains were used as the bases for the construction of the bell tower. The Eastern part of Via Tribunali is also very important, the Church of Pio Monte of the Misericordia is there, and hosting the masterpiece by Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio), the Seven Works of Misericord.
Along the Decumano Superiore, today known as Via Anticaglia (so called because of the antique arches visible there) it is possible to see a well-kept Roman arch and in the foundations of a building, the old theatre of Neapolis was found.
The Cathedral of the Assunta known as Duomo of Saint Gennaro, is located where the temple dedicated to Apollo once stood and from which a lot of stones were used for its construction.
The Duomo is the result of construction of three different churches.
After the advent of Christianity, around the VI century AD was built the Basilica of Santa Restituta with five naves divided by colonnades and the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, the most antique Christian baptistery of the Western Europe, having octagonal structure and a dome with mosaics representing a cross and some evangelical scenes.
The Duomo was built only in the XIII century for the will of Roberto D’Angiò, and it included part of the Basilica of Santa Restituta, whose entrance is today along the left nave of the main Cathedral. Inside the Duomo, along the right aisle, there is the baroque chapel with the Treasure of San Gennaro, the patron of the city, containing the Saint remains and the ampulla with the coagulated blood of the martyr collected at the moment of his decapitation. The liquefaction of the blood (which happens three times a year: on 19th September, 16th December and the Saturday before the first week of May) is an important event that attracts thousands of Neapolitans. The blood does not always liquefy, and when this happens Neapolitan believes that the city will go through terrible fortunes.
At the end of the 1960s, some restoration works brought to light a vast archaeological area going from the Greek period to Mediaeval times in the foundation of Santa Restituita. We can see there walls and part of a street from Greek times, some rooms probably used as inns, fragments of mosaics with large tiles and geometrical lines that remember the patterns used from the V century AD, terracotta pipelines under the floor inducing to think about the presence of thermal baths, and traces of other rooms probably used for religious proposes, witnessing the millenary use of the area as a place for devotion and religious practices.
The decumano inferiore, today via Benedetto Croce until San Biagio dei Librai, called Spaccanapoli, is rich in historical and artistic remains. Along this road it is possible to find the Church of Gesù Nuovo built in 1597 and whose facade is made of diamond shaped stones (bugnato).
The Church of Santa Chiara with a single nave in Gothic style have a marvelous cloister at the back, decorated with beautiful majolica tiles from the XVIII century. The cloister leads to the remains of another thermal bath from the IV century AD.
The church and the Convent of Saint Domenico Maggiore were built for the will of Charles II d’Angiò and in the opposit Saint Domenico square there’s obelisk built by the Neapolitans in 1657 as an ex voto after the terrible epidemic of the previous years. At Piazzetta Nilo it is possible to see a statue of Roman times representing the river Nile represented like an elder lying down and surrounded by Egyptian objects and a horn of plenty. This statue is called ‘Body of Naples’ and the Neapolitans think it brings good luck to the city.
The most important peculiarity of the historic center is the stratification of architectures and the fact that the area never ceased to be active from the time of the first Greek colonists to nowadays. The existence of this stratification is also visible in the variety of styles, traditions, and way of life of the people, in a few words “in the Neapolitan culture”.
Tour Price: 60 €/hour (minimum 2 hours)
Tour type: Archaeology and History tour; Private tour; Walking tour.
Duration: minimum 2 hours;
Running days: Every day
Maximum travelers: 14 (a small group guarantee a service of better quality) Tours for larger groups can be arranged on demand.
Main attractions: Gesù Nuovo Church, Spaccanapoli (the Decumano Inferiore), Santa Chiara’s Church and its tailed cloister, Piazza Bellini with its Greco-Roman walls, San Severo’s Chapel with the extraordinary sculpture of the Veiled Christ, Via San Gregorio Armeno with its artisan old shops of statues for the traditional Christmas nativity scene, San Lorenzo’s Church and its underground archaeological site. We will walk through via dei Tribunali (the Decumano centrale of ancient Neapolis) with a stop at the Pio Monte di Misericordia, where it will be possible to admire the extraordinary work by Caravaggio called: “Le Sette Opere di Misericordia”. In the end we will visit the Duomo, with the Chapel of San Gennaro’s Treasure, Santa Restituta and, if possible, the baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte with its underground archaeological site.
The visits to Santa Chiara’s tailed cloister, to San Severo’s Chapel, to San Lorenzo archaeological area, to the Pio Monte di Misericordia, and to the underground archaeological area in the Duomo, will be charged an entrance fee and, therefore, they are on demand.
What’s not included: ticket (5,50€)
Transportation (It can be arranged with Mercedes Limousine, Mini Van or Bus; Hotel pick-up or drop-off)
Kid Friendly: Yes
Disable friendly: Yes
I can arrange an itinerary for people with reduced mobility.
tel: +39 3284134719