Naples, Churches and Architecture – A Trip to Campania, Italy

Following the scorching weekend at the beginning of July I unfortunately missed the launch of ‘The UKs Favourite Churches’ at St Brides on Fleet street. However, I did get the chance to visit some awe-inspiring sites in Naples, many of which included churches with the most stunning architecture and interior design. And being like-minded people who appreciate true craftsmanship and history, I’d like to share some of this with you.

Napoli is an amazing place where life is real and gritty. The city is teeming with people from all backgrounds, who together with their proud and sing along Italian-manner, give the place the atmosphere of the south, and a place that I think you should all take the time to visit. Although it must be said that Naples is not to everyone’s taste. In 2007 the city was submerged in 100,000 tonnes of refuse, after the landfills were closed down, and even though violence between warring clans in the northern suburbs has been rife in the not so distant past, there are still times when it spills into Naples proper. To add to this, bag snatching and pick-pocketing is far from unheard of. But if you keep your wits about you, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about. From my experience, apart from an elderly lady who kindly took the time to demonstrate how best to hold ones bag while walking the Quartierli Spagnoli, nothing happened during our trip that was too unnerving.

Calata Trinita Maggiore (Photo - Roisin Therese)

Calata Trinita Maggiore (Photo – Roisin Therese)

With tumble down apartment blocks of bright red and yellow colourful facades, the city is bursting with character. A large majority of these buildings are built illegally, shoulder to shoulder and, sometimes, right on top of ancient ‘protected’ buildings or churches of the 12th and 13th Century. The city is a labyrinth, much of which is built out of the very volcano that has engulfed it in the past and threatened to do so time and time again over the last millennia.

The stone buildings are made from yellowish ‘tufo’, a soft eruptive stone and the very fabric of the city. And the grey-black ‘piperno’ is fast-cooled lava, used in the ornamental detail. Walking through the Piazza Bellini, you can see and even touch the original walls and streets, built by the Greeks as early as 700 BC.

Quartieri Spagnoli

Quartieri Spagnoli (Photo – Roisin Therese)

It could be said that some of the excavated remnants of the ancient city are not too well looked after, but in my opinion that’s precisely part of the charm. Unlike here in the UK with our suffocating barrage of new laws, legislation, and health and safety measures, there are no barriers or plastic sheeting that spoils the scene for you. You can literally lean over the iron handrail, beer in hand, and touch the very wall that a stone mason was chiselling away at 2,500 years ago!

You walk down these cobbled streets (made from the slow-cool lava rock from Vesuvius), and dodge 12 yr olds on scooters driving at 40mph down the narrow lanes (no helmet!) with their seven year old brother perched on the front! It is quite true that you sometimes do feel need to jump against the wall, but the locals walk around care free, as though the bikes should watch out for them if anything. And to add to this, you are surrounded by the inviting smells of delicious Sfogliatelle (a Neapolitan speciality, that you eat in the morning with your coffee), caffe all nocciola (another Neapolitan speciality – an espresso with sweet hazelnut paste) and, best of all, mouth-watering freshly oven baked pizza with local Mozzarella melted on the top.
Every few metres you literally stumble upon another hidden gem. The place is so built up that you wouldn’t even know that another historic church is just a step from where you stand. The colossal Gesu Nuovo and Santa Chiara are marvels to see, yet you wouldn’t know how close they are if you were in the wrong street.

San Paolo Maggiore

San Paulo Maggiore (Photo – Roisin Therese)

The fabric of the churches rival the decor and furnishings of St. Paul’s Cathedral. And there are about 475 of them in this city. Although this sounds quite impressive, what really characterizes this city is the money and opulence (inside the churches, in some of the higher apartments and stunning courtyards) that you find right beside what is real poverty (looking through people’s doors of ‘bassi’ – the ground floor apartments – you see whole families cramped into a single room with only one door for light and air). This of course is an issue that, to this day, still differentiates the south of the country from the north.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see all the churches that we wanted to, but those we did manage to visit were jaw-dropping to say the least. According to the guide book and the locals, there is a lot more of the ancient streets and buildings to be found. I’ve already started planning my next trip back to this amazing city.

Centro Storico - Vespa and shrine (Photo - Roisin Therese)

Centro Storico – Vespa and shrine (Photo – Roisin Therese)

Santa Maria del Purgatorio del Arco

Santa Maria del Purgatorio del Arco (Photo – Roisin Therese)


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