Naples has divided and continues to divide opinions sharply.
‘Naples is an ill-built, ill-paved, ill-lighted, ill-drained, ill-watched, ill-governed and ill-ventilated city’. 1884 edition of Cook’s Tourist Handbook.
‘There are places that you go to, and once is enough. And then there is Napoli’. John Turturro, Passione.
During its golden age as the capital of the Two Sicilies, travellers marvelled at the splendours of the city, the third richest in Europe. Goethe told visitors to ‘see Naples and die’, happy that they had experienced the beauty of the New City. Later, Charles Dickens, taking a visceral dislike to Naples, said:
‘There is nothing on earth that I have seen so dirty as Naples’ as he decried the ‘miserable depravity, degradation, and wretchedness’.
Today, although observers broadly agree about the merits of the many attractions around the city, including Pompeii, Sorrento, the Amalfi coast and of course Vesuvius, and will rave together about the food, the weather and the beauty of the area, downtown Naples remain like marmite – you love it or hate it.
Supporters, like in this NYT article, note the passion and vibrancy of the city, the multiple layers of history, the sense of human drama played out on narrow streets framed against the Bay of Naples, the quality of the art, not least that of Caravaggio, and the spirit of old and young alike, living cheek by jowl in a crowded, spawning megapolis, the sixth biggest in the EU. Moreover, they assert, Naples is on the rise and is being taken forward by a dynamic, reforming mayor.
On the contrary, the naysayers assert, Naples remains a lawless, overcrowded, smelly, dirty, crime -and rubbish-ridden slum best avoided. Many tourists agree and never venture into the narrow, dark streets.
As ever the truth lies somewhere between the two extreme positions. This occasional blog will try and look below the stereotypes by exploring the culture, history, food and art of the capital of southern Italy and its hinterland, the Mezzogiorno.
Certainly life here can be frustrating but it is never dull.