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The Naples Nobody Knows

          Story and Photos

By Cecil Scaglione, Mature Life Features

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Puzzuoli and Naples in background

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 Norman Castle in Naples
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Cuma tunnel to Apollo’s Sybil
“Did you get to Pompeii?” That’s the first question everyone asks when they hear we’ve been to Naples. Our answer is No. Nor did we head for tourist-trampled Positano on the affluent Amalfi Coast. Ditto for commercialized Capri.

But we did stroll around 2,800-year-old Cuma, the first Greek colony established on the Italian peninsula some 350 years before the founding of Naples.

It’s the images of these fortress-like ruins and nearby Pozzuoli, Sofia Loren’s birthplace, that appear when we think of Naples. As do memories of Simone, Dario, Maria and Tulia, who whisked us through the crammed and crowded cobblestone streets of this cosmopolitan complex built at the base of Mount Vesuvius. The volcano on the southeastern edge of Naples is responsible for a couple of the world’s better-known ruins – Pompeii and Herculaneum.

However, about 30 kilometres on the west of Naples is Cuma, a sight that can satisfy both the avid and amateur archeologist. With a 4 euro entry fee, they can amble over and around the remains of temples to Apollo and Jove on the acropolis that overlooks one of the most enthralling expanses of beach along the Mediterranean shore.

It was these soft waves rolling up against the softly curved shoreline and the natural hot springs that drew the Greeks here. It’s also the land of myth and magic that Virgil etched into legend. Both avid and amateur will get a kick out of walking through the 145-yard trapezoid tunnel hollowed out of the massive rock to the grotto of the Sybil, Apollo’s prophetic priestess who foretold Aeneas’s future.

On the drive to Cuma, you can stop at a roadside overlook to peer down into Lake Avernus, which contemporaries of Homer and Virgil believed to be the entrance to Hades.

Before embarking on any of these jaunts, you have to sample the original modern pizza – the margherita. It’s available everywhere in Naples. While this type of flatbread dates back several centuries, it was in June 1889 that Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created the Pizza Margherita in honour Italy’s Queen consort, Margherita of Savoy, who was visiting the city. He garnished it with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, to represent the red, white and green Italian flag. He was the first to add cheese.

After washing down this palate-pleaser with wine and beer, it was time to dive into side dishes of fresh seafood, also available everywhere in this seaside city. Then it’s chased down with a toddy of the local favorite – the citrus-flavored liqueur limoncello, which is sipped as widely here as Starbucks coffee is in Seattle.

There are sites aplenty to see between snacks in this, the third-largest city in Italy.

We stopped at the il Vero Bar del Professore on the edge of the massive Piazza Plebescito, the largest square in Naples. It was given that name after the plebescite of 1870 that made Naples part of the Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy. On one flank are the municipal palace and Real Teatro San Carlo, the opera house that has been operating continuously since 1737. Behind it is the Norman Castel Nuovo, where you can board a hop-on-hop-off bus to tour the town.

After sampling two specialties of il Vero Bar – a coffee with nut cream and a sfogliatelle (roll) – Simone led us to San Severo Chapel to view The Veiled Christ, completed in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino, reposed among more than two dozen other intriguing works of art.

Then we headed for the central metro station, dodging anything on wheels as we danced through the Piazza de Gesu, one of the city’s prettiest piazzas decorated with churches and statues. The station is tucked firmly in a section locals call Calcutta because of the constant commotion created by vendors and vagrants, booths and bicycles, walkers and watchers. Our train took us to a stop within minutes of our bed-and-breakfast in Pozzuoli, a commune on Naples’s western border that was once the busiest seaport on this section of the Italian peninsula. It was here that St. Paul landed about 60 A.D. to establish a Christian community.

A recently built waterfront park and walkway makes this one of the more pleasant promenades alongside the Mediterranean.

For more information visit italiantourism.com.

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 1, 2011 at 7:58 pm

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