Overview: Spaccanapoli is the informal designation given to the long, straight street running down the middle of Naples’s centro storico ... more »
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Overview: Spaccanapoli is the informal designation given to the long, straight street running down the middle of Naples’s centro storico ... more »(historic center). The name has also come to stand for the neighborhood surrounding the street, an area that’s chaotic, vibrant, edgy, colorful, noisy, mysterious, and very beautiful. In other words, it’s the essence of Naples. A walk along Spaccanapoli takes you past peeling palaces, artisans’ workshops, many churches and street shrines, stores of all sorts, bars, and people young and old. less «
Tips: Morning is the best time to make this walk—many of the churches are closed in the afternoon. The route is a mile and a half long; done... more » at a leisurely pace, with numerous stops along the way, it will take a full morning. less «
Opulenza and magnificenza are the words that come to mind when describing this floridly baroque church, the centerpiece of the Piazza del Gesù Nuovo. Its formidable diamond-point facade is actually a remnant of the Renaissance palace of the Sanseverino princes (1470), destroyed to make way, in 1584–1601, for a generically stupendous... More exercise in the full-throated Jesuit style, albeit one with an unusual Greek-cross plan. The dome has been rebuilt twice (this is an earthquake zone); the present version dates from the early 19th century. The bulk of the interior decoration took more than 40 years and was completed only in the 18th century. You can find the familiar baroque sculptors (Naccherino, Finelli) and painters. The gracious Visitation above the altar in the second chapel on the right is by Massimo Stanzione, who also contributed the fine frescoes in the main nave: they're in the presbytery (behind and around the main altar). In the chapel to the left of the main altar is a frescoed vault by the young Francesco Solimena, who became a leading baroque painter, and on either side is a wonderful gallery of reliquary portraits, each placed in its own opera box. Like many churches in Naples, much of the interior was undergoing restoration at this writing.
Address: Piazza Gesù Nuovo
Hours: Daily 7–12:30 and 4–7:30.Less
Across from the Gesù Nuovo and offering a stark and telling contrast to the opulence of that church, Santa Chiara is the leading monument of Angevin Gothic in Naples. The fashionable church for the nobility in the 14th century, and a favorite Angevin church from the start, Santa Chiara was intended to be a great dynastic monument by Robert ... Mored'Anjou. His second wife, Sancia di Majorca, added the adjoining convent for the Poor Clares to a monastery of the Franciscan Minors so she could vicariously satisfy a lifelong desire for the cloistered seclusion of a convent; this was the first time the two sexes were combined in a single complex. Built in a Provençal Gothic style between 1310 and 1328 (probably by Guglielmo Primario) and dedicated in 1340, the church had its aspect radically altered, as did so many others, in the baroque period, when the original wooden roof was replaced with a vault dripping in stuccos. A six-day fire started by Allied bombs on August 4, 1943, put an end to all that, as well as to what might have been left of the important cycle of frescoes by Giotto and his Neapolitan workshop: Giorgio Vasari, writing in the mid-16th century, tells us that the paintings covered the entire church. The most important tomb in the church towers behind the altar. Sculpted by Giovanni and Pacio Bertini of Florence (1343–45), it is, fittingly, the tomb of the founding king: the great Robert d'Anjou, known as the Wise. To the right of the altar is the tomb of Carlo, duke of Calabria, a majestic composition by Tino da Camaino and assistants (1326–33), and answering it on the side wall is Tino's last work, the tomb of Carlo's wife, Marie de Valois.
Around the left side of the church at Via Santa Chiara 49/c is a gate leading to the Chiostro delle Clarisse, the most famous cloister in Naples. It's clear here that we are not dealing with any normal convent; the benches and octagonal columns upholding the trellis of vine shading this privileged garden comprise a light-handed masterpiece of painted majolica designed by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, with a delightful profusion of landscapes and light yellow and green floral motifs realized by Donato and Giuseppe Massa and their studio (1742). Where the real vines leave off and the painted ones take over was once hard to say, but much of the cloister is now being replanted, so the complete effect is missing. The elegant 14th-century porch around the garden is enlivened by fading frescoes. In the back corner you can enter the Museo dell'Opera, built on the visible remains of an old Roman bath establishment and containing some interesting sculptural fragments from the damaged church (look for Giovanni da Nola's moving wooden Ecce Homo of 1519 on the upper floor) and objects illustrating life in the cloister.
Address: Piazza Gesù Nuovo
Admission: Museum and cloister €5
Hours Church: daily 7–12:30 and 4:30–6:30. Museum and cloister: Mon.–Sat. 9:30–5:30, Sun. 9:30–2.Less
One of the largest churches of Spaccanapoli, this Dominican house of worship was originally constructed by Charles I of Anjou in 1238. Legend has it that a painting of the crucifixion spoke to St. Thomas Aquinas when he was at prayer here. This early structure, however, was nearly gutted by a fire three centuries later and, in 1850, a neo-Gothic... More edifice rose in its place, complete with a nave of awe-inspiring dimensions. In the second chapel on the right (if you enter through the north door) are remnants of the earlier church—14th-century frescoes by Pietro Cavallini, a Roman predecessor of Giotto. Along the side chapels are also some noted funerary monuments, including those of the Carafa family, whose chapel, to the left of Cosimo Fanzago's 17th-century altar, is one of the most beautiful Renaissance-era set-pieces in Naples.
Address: Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 8/a
Hours: Mon.–Sat. 8:30–noon and 4–7, Sun. 9–1 and 4:30–7Less
Rightly one of the emblematic monuments of Naples in the popular imagination, this dazzling masterpiece, the funerary chapel of the Sangro di Sansevero princes, combines noble swagger, overwhelming color, and a touch of the macabre—which is to say, it expresses Naples perfectly. The di Sangros were renowned military leaders as far back as the Dark... More Ages, and they boast no fewer than six saints in their family (who are portrayed in the chapel's painted roundels between the windows). The chapel was begun in 1590 by Giovan Francesco di Sangro, the result of a vow to be fulfilled if he were cured of a dire illness. He lived for another 14 years, which was good for the building campaign, but the present aspect of the chapel is due to his descendant Raimondo di Sangro, prince of Sansevero, who had it completely redone between 1749 and 1770. (His tomb and portrait are halfway down on the right.)
Youthful portraits show this fascinating character with a pronounced pointy chin. Confident and sophisticated in his tastes, legendarily brilliant, and an important mover in Naples' Enlightenment, this princely intellectual, mad scientist, and inventor was accused of just about everything then considered base: atheism, alchemy, and Freemasonry. The last two are likely: he seems to have been a Grand Master of the Freemasons, and his claim to be able to reproduce the miracle of San Gennaro's blood got him kicked out of the Fraternity of the Treasure of San Gennaro. He left a personal touch in the basement, down the stairs to the right, where two glass cases house a pair of "anatomical machines," which are astonishing even if fake. Purporting to be an encyclopedic reconstruction of the blood vessels of an adult male and a pregnant female, they are supposedly based on two of the prince's servants, who fell victim to his curiosity when he injected them while still alive with what is conjectured to be a mercury solution that hardened their arteries.
Prince Raimondo is generally credited with the design of the splendid marble-inlay floor; he hired Francesco Maria Russo to paint the ceiling with a Glory of Paradise (1749) and also hired a team of up-and-coming sculptors, whose contributions remain the focal point for most visits here: the showpiece is smack in the middle of the chapel, Giuseppe Sammartino's Veiled Christ (1753). The artist was only 33 years old when he sculpted this famous work, which was originally meant to be placed in the crypt. It was too good to leave down below; the audacious virtuosity of the clinging drapery showing the wounds underneath is one of the marvels of Neapolitan sculpture. A taste for the outré and extravagant had already been demonstrated by other statues in the chapel, especially Francesco Quierolo's Disillusion, to the right of the altar, with its chisel-defying net making a spectacular transition to empty space. This Genovese sculptor also did the female statue representing Sincerity on the right and the commemorative Altar to St. Odorisio between the two Allegories. Antonio Corradini, who came to Naples from the Veneto region via Rome, is responsible for the allegorical statue to the left of the altar, Veiled Modesty (1751), widely considered his masterpiece; he also sculpted the funerary monument and allegorical figure of Decorum, on the inside of the front wall to the right of the exit. Francesco Celebrano contributed the stunning funerary monument above the front door, depicting Cecco di Sangro in of one of his most famous moments: believed dead in battle, he was set in a coffin, only to climb out again wielding a sword and ready to fight.
Address: Via de Sanctis 19
Hours: Mon. and Wed.–Fri. 10–5:10, weekends 10–1:10.Less
Lush and lavish, this baroque-era landmark is a must-see for anyone interested in Neapolitan decorative arts. As Spaccanapoli was home to both Naples' poorest and richest residents, the latter formed several charitable institutions, of which the Monte di Pietà was one of the most prominent. At the beginning of the 16th century, it... More constructed this palazzo (F. Cavagna, 1605), with a grand courtyard leading to the Cappella della Pietà, with gilt stuccoes and beautiful frescoes by Belisario Corenzio. Leading off the chapel are a number of salons, including the Sala delle Cantoniere, with inlaid marbles and precious intarsia woodwork. Since most Neapolitan residential palace interiors are private or have disappeared, this 17th-century enfilade of salons offers a rare glimpse of Naples at its most sumptuous. Concerts and theatrical performances are often held in the courtyard in summer. Today the palazzo is an office for the SanPaolo.
Address: Via Biagio dei Librai 114
Hours: Sat. 9–7, Sun. 9–1Less
One of the defining landmarks of Spaccanapoli, this octagonal church was built around the corner from the Duomo (practically in front of its constantly used side door) for a charitable institution founded in 1601 by seven noblemen. The institution's aim was to carry out acts of Christian charity: feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, nursing the ... Moresick, sheltering pilgrims, visiting prisoners, ransoming Christian slaves, and burying the indigent dead—acts immortalized in the history of art by the famous altarpiece painted by Caravaggio (1571–1610) depicting the Sette Opere della Misericordia (or Seven Acts of Mercy) and now the celebrated focus of the church. In this haunting work the artist has brought the Virgin in palpable glory, unforgettably borne atop the shoulders of two angels, right down into the street—and not a rhetorical place, but a real street of Spaccanapoli (scholars have in fact suggested a couple of plausible identifications) populated by figures in whose spontaneous and passionate movements the people could see themselves given great dignity. Along with other paintings in the church, the sculptures by Andrea Falcone on its porch refer to this commitment. The original church was considered too small and destroyed in 1655 to make way for the new church, designed by Antonio Picchiatti in 1658–78.
The extraordinary expressiveness and efficiency of the Caravaggio altarpiece can be judged by comparison with the church's other paintings, commissioned from Neapolitan painters after Caravaggio hit the road again (to Malta) to stay one step ahead of the law. In particular, in the painting to the left of the altar, St. Peter Rescuing Tabitha (1612), Fabrizio Santafede is clearly struggling to modify his Technicolor formalist style to suggest the dramatic impact of the altarpiece—but the figures here merely occupy the space of the painting, rather than animate it. Upon seeing Caravaggio's altarpiece, a number of artists changed their styles radically, although often giving a personal interpretation to one aspect of Caravaggio's style. The painting to the right of the exit door is a beautiful work by one of the best of the Neapolitan Caravaggesques, Giovan Battista Carraciolo, who was 29 years old when the slightly older artist came to town. Depicting the Liberation of St. Peter (1615), the composition is almost shockingly spartan, nearly all dark brown with contained blocks of white, red, and flesh tones. For more paintings of the Neapolitan Seicento, head up the staircase to the church's small Pinacoteca, a museum of 17th- and 18th-century paintings.
Address: Via dei Tribunali 253
Admission: €5, including audioguide
Hours: Thurs.–Tues. 9–2:30Less
The shrine to the paterfamilias of Naples, San Gennaro, the city's cathedral is home to the saint's devotional chapel, among the most spectacular—in the show-biz sense of the word—in the city. With a colonnade leading to an apse bursting with light and Baroque splendor, the Duomo's nave makes a fitting setting for the famous Miracle of the Blood, ... Morewhen the blood of the martyred San Gennaro liquefies (hopefully) in its silver ampule every September 19 before an audience of thousands massed in front of the Duomo's altar. San Genna, fa'o miracolo! Fa ampresso! Nun ce fa suffrì! yell the congregants during the ritual— "Saint Genna, do the miracle! Hurry up! You'll pay for it if you don't do it!" If St. Januarius (to use his ancient Latin name) doesn't cooperate, however, it's usually the city that winds up paying, or so the locals believe: eruptions of Vesuvius, cholera outbreaks, and defeats of the Naples soccer team have all been blamed on the saint when the miracolo has failed to occur.
The Duomo was first established by Charles II of Anjou, using imported French architects, on the site of a previous structure, the Cattedrale Stefania (AD 570), and next to an even earlier structure, the still-extant Basilica di Santa Restituta (4th century AD). Already restored in 1456 and 1484, it was largely redesigned in 1787 and 1837. The original facade collapsed in the earthquake of 1349, and the present pseudo-Gothic concoction is a modern (1877–1905) fake by Enrico Alvino and Giuseppe Pisanti, which, however, reemploys the doors—still majestic in spite of extensive damage—from the 1407 facade. The central door, by Antonio Baboccio, features a Madonna and Child by Tino da Camaino under its arch. Inside, the splendid nave welcomes all, with a gilt wooden ceiling (1621) and golden roundels painted above the pillars by Luca Giordano and his school depicting various saints. From the nave head to the right side of the church to see the chapel devoted to the city's patron saint.
The Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro, or Chapel of the Treasure of Saint Januarius, was built in 1608–37 by the Theatin architect Francesco Grimaldi to fulfill a desperate vow pronounced by city fathers during an outbreak of the plague (January 13, 1527), some 80 years earlier. The chapel honors San Gennaro (250–305), one of the earliest Christian martyrs; as bishop of Benevento, he was executed at Pozzuoli during the rule of Emperor Diocletian. The entrance to the chapel is marked by a heavy gilt-bronze baldachin gate (1668–86) by noted architect Cosimo Fanzago, who also designed the chapel's superb floor, and is flanked by statues of Sts. Peter and Paul by Giuliano Finelli. Inside, the elegant Greek-cross plan is decorated everywhere possible with gold, colored marble, bronze, and paint, but nothing could be too overdone for the home of San Gennaro's most famous DNA sample and the fabulous treasure of jeweled offerings bestowed by numerous sovereigns. The 40-odd brocatello columns, with their musty tones of dried roses, were sent from the quarries of Tortosa in Valencia, Spain. The high altar on the back wall (1689–90), designed by the painter Francesco Solimena, seems to swell as it tries to contain the opulence of the central relief, created in silver (circa 1692) by Giovan Domenico Vinaccia (who inserted into it a portrait of himself holding eyeglasses). Above the altar, against the wall, is a large bronze of St. Gennaro on his bishop's throne by onetime Bernini assistant Giuliano Finelli. Also behind the altar are two silvered niches donated by Charles II of Spain to house the reliquaries containing the blood of the saint (the right-hand one) and his skull. This latter reliquary consists of the famous gilded medieval bust done by three French artists (1305) set on a silver base from 1609, the actual repository of the precious vials of the saint's blood.
Note Il Ribera's San Gennaro in the Furnace (1647), on the right-hand wall—perhaps the most beautiful church painting in Naples. Dating from his early Neapolitan period, it clearly shows the influence of Velasquez in the figures on the left, and it's imbued with a Mediterranean luminosity that is rare in his work. The chapel, a veritable church-within-a-church, also has its own sacristy (sometimes closed), which contains a luxurious washbasin by Cosimo Fanzago. This room leads into a suite of rooms with frescoes by Giacomo Farelli and a splendid altarpiece by Massimo Stanzione; at the back are kept the 51 statues of the "co-patron" saints, displayed in the chapel proper in May and September and which accompany the reliquary of the blood on its annual procession to Santa Chiara.
The main altar sits in the resplendent apse redesigned in 1744 by Paolo Tosi and framed by two magnificent jasper columns found in a dig in 1705. A staircase on either side of the entrance to the presbytery (high altar area) descends to the Caraffa Chapel, better known as the Succorpo di San Gennaro, or, more simply, the crypt (1497–1506), a Renaissance masterpiece by Tommaso Malvito in the form of a rectangular room divided into three naves by rows of columns. Malvito also carved the imposing statue of Cardinal Oliviero Caraffa, who commissioned the chapel.
Coming back up into the nave and continuing in a counterclockwise direction, you find the Chapel of San Lorenzo, with highly restored frescoes by Lello da Orvieto (circa 1314–20). This chapel hides an elevator that ascends through one of the corner towers to the roof, which offers an intimate yet panoramic view of the historic quarter. Nearby is the tomb of Pope Innocent, sculpted in 1315 and redone in the 16th century by Tommaso Malvito. The sarcophagus to the left belongs to Andrea of Hungary, the unfortunate consort of Queen Joan I, who allegedly had him strangled in Aversa (at least the dogs at the foot of the deceased show a little sadness). Beyond the tombs of Pope Innocent XII and the late-Renaissance chapel of the Brancaccio family, a door leads to the Chapel of Santa Restituta. The Cappella di Santa Restituta is in fact the oldest church in Naples, dating from the 4th century AD and, according to tradition, built by order of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, on the site of a temple to Apollo. It was dedicated to Santa Restituta in the 8th century when the martyr's relics were transferred to the church. Outside the Duomo (on the south side) is the ticket booth for the various showpieces in the cathedral (entrance: €7). This includes entrance to the flashy but somewhat dry Museo del Tesoro di San Gennaro housing religious works by silversmiths over the centuries, the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte—a square room with an octagonal dome, built by Bishop Soterus in the middle of the 5th century, which still dazzles with its rare, gorgeous, and important early Christian mosaics, the Royal Chapel, and the underground archaeological site.
Address: Via Duomo 147
Phone: 081/449097 Duomo; 081/294764 museum
Hours: Daily 8:30–12:30 and 4:30–7Less
Set on Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street that is lined with Naples' most adorable Presepe—or Nativity crèche scene–emporiums—and landmarked by a picturesque campanile, this convent is one of the oldest and most important in Naples. The nuns (often the daughters of Naples' richest families) who lived here must have been disappointed with... More heaven when they arrived—banquets here outrivaled those of the royal court, hallways were lined with paintings, and the church was filled with gilt stucco and semiprecious stones. Described as "a room of Paradise on Earth" by Carlo Celano and designed by Niccolò Taglicozzi Canle, the church has a highly detailed wooden ceiling, unique papier-mâché choir lofts, a shimmering organ, candlelit shrines, and important Luca Giordano frescoes of scenes of the life of St. Gregory, whose relics were brought to Naples in the 8th century from Byzantium. From the convent's cloister (entrance off the small square up the road—buzz on the entry phone) you can gain access to the nuns' gallery shielded by 18th-century jalousies and see the church from a different perspective. Other areas off the cloister, such as the Salottino della Badessa—generally not on view, as this is still a working convent—are preserved as magnificent 18th-century interiors.
Address: Piazzetta San Gregorio Armeno 1
Hours: Mon.–Sat. 9–noon, Sun. 9–1Less
One of the grandest medieval churches of the Decumano Maggiore, San Lorenzo features a very unmedieval facade of 18th-century splendor. Due to the effects and threats of earthquakes, the church was reinforced and reshaped along baroque lines in the 17th and 18th centuries, and remaining from this phase is the facade by Ferdinando Sanfelice (1742) ... Morebased on the sweeping curves of Borromini's Filomarino altar in the Church of Santi Apostoli. Begun by Robert d'Anjou in 1265 on the site of a previous 6th-century church, the church's single, barnlike nave reflects the desire of the Franciscans for simple spaces with enough room to preach to large crowds. Numerous statues and paintings from the 14th century are indicative of San Lorenzo's importance during this period. In 1334, in fact, Boccaccio met and fell in love with his fabled Lady Fiammetta here, and in 1343 another great Italian poet, Petrarch, resided in the monastery next door. The transept is announced by a grandiose triumphal arch, while the main altar (1530) is the sculptor Giovanni da Nola's masterpiece; notice the fascinating historical views of Naples in the reliefs.
The apse was built by an unknown imported French architect of great caliber, who gives here a brilliant essay in the pure French Angevin style, complete with an ambulatory of nine side chapels that is covered by a magnificent web of cross arches. The most important monument in the church is found here: the tomb of Catherine of Austria (circa 1323), by Tino da Camaino, one of the first sculptors to introduce the Gothic style into Italy. The left transept contains the 14th-century funerary monument of Carlo di Durazzo and yet another Cosimo Fanzago masterpiece, the Cappellone di Sant'Antonio—cappella (or small chapel) being too diminutive a word, especially in this behemoth of a church. Outside the 17th-century cloister is the entrance to the Greek and Roman scavi, or excavations, under San Lorenzo, which are a good initiation to the ancient cities beneath the modern one. Near the area of the forum, these digs have revealed streets, markets, and workshops of another age.
Next door to the church is the Museo dell'Opera di San Lorenzo, installed in the 16th-century palazzo around the torre campanaria (belltower). In Room 1 ancient remains from the Greek Agora beneath combine with modern maps to provide a fascinating picture of import and export trends in the fourth century BC. The museum also contains ceramics dug up from the Svevian period, many pieces from the early middle ages, large tracts of mosaics from the 6th century basilica, and helpful models of how the ancient Roman forum and nearby buildings must have looked.
Address: Via dei Tribunali 316
Admission: Excavations and museum €5
Hours: Mon.–Sat. 8–6:30 and Sun. noon–6; excavations and museum Mon.–Sat. 9–5:30 and Sun. 9:30–1:30Less