Visiting Naples: Ancient City of the Future

In today’s world of curated beauty and social media marketing, it is rare to find moments of unmanicured truth in daily life, let alone an entire city. But, during a recent trip to Naples, my senses were reawakened to urban grunge and the raw energy of a city left to it’s true nature.

Ancient city portal, Naples. All photos by the author.
View from the waterfront of Naples

For years friends, family, and everyone in between had told me to make my way to this southern city of wonder, and after visiting I know understand why. Walking through Naples was like walking through the future of the past. Laundry hangs from lines reminding you of old-timey traditions; regal and expressive baroque architecture blooms out of unlikely angles; while graffiti walls collaged with faded bits of paper bring you squarely into temporal now. The chaotic sprawl was only highlighted by the vast sea below and towering volcano hovering in view. The city even houses modern skyscrapers, which pop from the curvaceous Italian landscape.

Even without museums, the city itself was a splendor. However, one of the truly unmissable aspects of Naples was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. Grand like The Met in New York, with the self-awareness of Naples, the architectural museum was a sight for design eyes.

Due to it’s proximity to Pompeii, many of the artifacts had been dug from the ashes of the once great city, holding with them the dark beauty of history’s past. One of the most notable installations was the miniaturized version of Pompeii. Dozens of frescos gave a glimpse into the beauty of Italy in the past, with gorgeously rich colors holding their vibrato years in the future.

Sculptures in their own right: iced fruit and gelato at Caffé Gambrinus.

The museums outdoor atriums offered a cool rest, and a breath of fresh air after the heavy beauty of the inside. While I could wander those grand hallways for hours on end, my travel companions, my husband and son, were not as entranced. So, given the excitement of my dear ones to reach the waterfront and cool off with some gelato, my excursion was cut early.

Caravaggio. The Seven Works of Mercy, 1607. Pio Monte della Misericordia

Another beautiful highlight was seeing Caravaggio’s masterpiece in person. One of my main reasons for living in Italy initially, was proximity to the works of this great artist – as his paintings pulsate with emotion that cannot be translated in a photograph. Caravaggio expressed the streets of Naples deftly – the dynamism between the figures, the colors and the intensity, even while depicting a religious metaphor – in The Seven Works of Mercy.

Piazza del Plebiscito, lit for a late-night concert
Mauro – at bottom right – in “line” for our table

No matter where I wandered though Naples truly brought a grit and glory to a new level. I eagerly anticipate my return to those rough streets and my future art wanderings. But for now, I will take with me the reminder to not ignore the grit of our own lives, but accept it for the beauty it brings.

P.S. – I’ve highlighted some of my observations on Instagram using #napoliwall