Napoli, full of complexities and contradictions, defies classification and doesn’t enjoy the bucket list reputation of so many Italian cities. Often treated as a pass-through en route to the Amalfi Coast, Naples is seldom explored and its many beguiling layers are overlooked by most travelers. If you do have the time to visit, you won’t be indifferent: you’ll either love it or feel just the opposite. There is no “in between.” You’re either drawn to its paradox of love, loss, sex, religion, superstition, birth and death or you may want to run away from it. For me, I love it. I felt its magnetism immediately — the good, the bad, and even the “brutti” … the ugly.
Besides being officially recognized by the EU as the home of pizza (pizza having been recently designated by UNESCO as a cultural treasure), Naples has a rich history and many spectacular Baroque churches. Not always as spiffy as other cities, it offers a veritable feast for the urban photographer. It’s sacred and profane. It’s both Old World and kitsch; camp and hip; seductive and bewildering. It’s chaotic and random; gritty, edgy and operatic. And somehow also pious, and even at times … serene. Napoli throbs with life, exuberance and color.
The Eternal City is filled with some of the most extraordinary works of ancient art; one the most beautiful is surprisingly one of the least visited. It’s the summer dining room from the Villa of Livia, who was the wife of Emperor Augustus. Life-size frescoes of trees, flowers, fruit and birds decorate four walls to create a continuous 360° view. The luxuriant paradise was unearthed in 1863 and dates back to 39 B.C., now housed in Palazzo Massimo, Rome’s Archaeological Museum (located near the train station and Santa Maria Maggiore).
Allow yourself to be completely immersed as Livia’s garden casts its enchanting spell. A lush Eden grows improbably beyond an illusionistic fence where birds take flight in sky whose color variations create a mesmerizing atmospheric effect. You can almost detect the rustling of wind through the leaves. Scholars have recognized a plethora of vegetation including umbrella pine, oak, red fir, quince, pomegranate, orange, myrtle, oleander, date palm, strawberry, laurel, cypress, ivy, acanthus, rose, poppy, iris, violet, chamomile, chrysanthemum, fern and more! Livia lived to 83, extraordinary for the time, and was the only woman to be deified for her service to the Empire.
Palazzo Massimo also has an extensive collection of statuary, mosaics, frescoes and coins. Be sure and visit the next time you are in Roma!
Even if you’re not a “church person” this is one church that must NOT be missed and, in my opinion, is among the most magnificent in all Rome with its dazzling mosaics, frescoes and coffered ceiling. Tucked away from the more traditional tourist draws, Santa Maria in Trastevere is considered the first church built and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is one of the oldest churches in Rome with its foundation dating back to the mid-300’s A.D.
Nestled among many wonderful shops, bars and restaurants in the charming old neighborhood of Trastevere, it makes for a great afternoon sojourn. The piazza in front of the chiesa can be a lively entertaining scene … Trastevere’s open-air great room, with an ongoing soccer game on the south edge and an ancient Roman fountain in the center where you’ll often find modern-day vagabond minstrels. Step inside and into the coolness and calm and prepare to be mesmerized … proving that all that glitters is not just gold!