Naples – Naples and Vesuvius

Here it all is ! There is the city far below us, beyond is the Bay, and looming up against the sky ten miles away is the ominous pile of Vesuvius. Around to the left and right of Vesuvius we see more distant elevations which lead our thoughts on to the southern extremity of Italy, little more than two hundred miles from us. But what memories crowd into this part of Italy before us!

In gazing at the prospect here we will do well to bear in mind, as with all other places of deepest interest, that its full glory is not revealed at a glance. We must come back to it over and over again, becoming familiar with its various aspects, before we can adequately appreciate the wealth of its attractions ; and then we shall understand the falsity of the saying cur-rent in Italy, ” Vedi Napoli e poi mori ! ” (” See Naples and die ! “) for when we have really seen this enchanted spot, we desire more than ever to live so that we may enjoy its matchless charms.

We are looking down upon the city from a balcony in front of the suppressed Carthusian monastery of San Martino, begun in 1325 by Duke Charles of Calabria. Back of us and higher up (eight hundred and seventy-five feet above the bay) is the massive Castle of St. Elmo, erected by Robert the Wise in 1343, and subsequently enlarged and strengthened.

From our lofty station we look down upon a city of brilliant hues and ceaseless mirth, enthroned like a queen beside a peerless sea, and, with its surroundings, constituting one of the fairest scenes in the whole world. Fame has not exaggerated the richness and variety of its charms. The moss-green tiles of the city’s peaked roofs, the domes of its churches, the silvery plumes of its fountains, the numerous groups of statuary gleaming amid the acacia, fig and orange groves, and the dreadful yet majestic Vesuvius with its lava-ribbed dome, are here spread out before us. From this spot, on bright, sunny days, as far as the eye can see, sparkle the sapphire waters of the Bay of Naples.

From our present position the city at our feet, with its narrow, intersecting streets, looks like a huge cheese cut into innumerable pieces, with the slits crossing one another almost at right angles; and up from these darkened, chasm-like thoroughfares there rises through the startled air such a deafening chorus of wild and piercing cries as probably may be heard in no other city on earth. From early morning till late at night the streets resound with the shrieks and howls of venders of all sorts, some selling matches, pencils and newspapers ; while others have fish, fruits, fresh vegetables, boiled shellfish and roasted chestnuts for sale. If, by some unaccountable good fortune, the pandemonium should cease for a moment, the organ-grinder is always on hand to keep things moving. All this uproar and confusion reaches its climax in the principal street of the city, the celebrated Toledo, now called the Strada Roma. Let me call your attention to this Broadway of Naples in the magnificent panorama here presented to our view. Directly be-low us, and to the left, observe the dome of a church with windows between the ribs. To the right of the church is a peaked roof, and, over the farther extremity of this roof, notice a dark, narrow street that extends away in front of us like a broad black line until it meets an opposing building having roof-windows, and beneath the roof four upper windows may be seen over the intervening houses ; at the left-hand portion of the same structure part of two other windows are visible. That building is on the opposite or eastern side of the Toledo, and if you cast your glance on either side of this structure you will see the upper windows of other houses that are situated on the same side of the street. This thoroughfare, in all probability the most animated and joyous in the world, was laid out about four hundred years ago. It ex-tends nearly north and south, and is about one and a half miles in length, slightly longer than the Corso in Rome. It separates the Naples of the Middle Ages, which lay down there between it and the bay, from the modern city which extends from this street to where we are standing. At its northern extremity – to our left – outside of our range of vision is the National Museum. The finest shops in the city are in the Toledo, and there, too, are spacious palaces and popular theatres with projecting iron balconies and lofty windows.

The long, bright avenue is always crowded with carriages and thronged with people, but the animated scene is made still more brilliant by the presence of the gayly clad and laughing-eyed girls of Portici and other coast villages, offering their fruits and flowers for sale, with the suggestion that the young man glad-den his sweetheart and the married man appease his mother-in-law, by making a purchase from her stock in trade.

I know of but two other places in all the world the Galata Bridge in Constantinople and the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem – where one may find so many different types of humanity and such a variety in costume and speech as meet you there in the Toledo. It seems as if individuals of every nation were present, and as though the very ends of the earth were represented on its stony pavements, worn smooth by the cease-less pressure of thousands of restless feet. It is the life, so intense, so varied, so explosive, rather than the buildings you see, that gives to this thorough-fare its world-wide fame.

To our left, and just a little beyond the Toledo, you may see the dome belonging to the Church of S. Maria la Nuova, erected in 1268. A large chapel in this church was built by Gonsalvo da Cordova, whose nephew Ferdinand, in carrying out the precept, ” do good to them that hate you,” erected on either side of the altar magnificent monuments to his two most vindictive and malicious enemies, Pietro Navarro (who strangled himself when a prisoner in the Castello Nuovo) and Lautrec, a Frenchman, the general of Francis I (who died of the plague in 1528 while besieging Naples). The monuments are attributed to Giovanni da Nola.

Directly below us you will notice a long building with a peaked roof, and in the center of the roof a square ventilator. That is the New Theater.

Following the narrow street seen over this low tower (used as a ventilator), to where it stops in the Toledo, you will observe on the opposite side of this famous thoroughfare an imposing building whose roof and upper row of seven windows may be plainly seen. That is the Fiorentini Theater.

In the building across the narrow street to the right are seen the three upper windows of the hotel in which it is supposed that Mendelssohn lived for a while. In speaking of his hotel experiences, the great musician writes : ” My landlord invariably gives me too little for a piastre, and when I tell him of it, coolly fetches the rest. When you give anything to them in return for any service, they say, ` Nienti di più?’ (No more?) Then you may be sure that you gave them too much. If you give just the right fee, they will walk away and then come and beg for it again.”

Follow with your eye the dark, narrow street which runs between the Fiorentini Theater and the hotel, until you reach its farther extremity. Then look to the left about half-way over to the next street, and you will see a dome back of which is a lofty building. This dome belongs to the Chapel of the Incoronata, which was erected in 1352 by Queen Johanna I to commemorate her coronation and marriage with her cousin Louis of Taranto, and which includes the old chapel of the Palazzo di Giustizia in which the marriage took place.

Now look straight across to the third street on the right and you will observe nearer us and facing the broad Piazza del Municipio, a group of buildings forming a hollow square, and within this square are seen the roofs of other buildings. These are, in reality, but different parts of one great structure, and constitute the City Hall of Naples. There also are the Police Headquarters where many an indignant tourist, exasperated beyond measure at the exorbitant demands of the Neapolitan cabmen, has sought re-dress, and I fear with rather indifferent success.

The square-roofed building, which you see at this corner of the peaked roofs of the municipal buildings, and extending half-way across the end of the short street which leads out into the Piazza, is the Bourse or Exchange of Naples, something like our New York Stock and Produce Exchanges combined, and, like them, a very noisy and excited place when values are fluctuating greatly.

Over the roofs of the municipal buildings, if you look sharply, may be seen the low, square tower of the Church of San Giacomo, erected in 1540, containing the elaborate tomb of its founder, Don Pedro di Toledo. The church is now being restored.

Over the municipal buildings and beyond the Church of S. Giacomo, is the Piazza del Municipio, which contains an equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel II. Bear in mind that we are looking in an easterly direction. Now, at this end of the Piazza del Municipio (the northwest corner) begins the Strada Medina, which runs north and south and parallel with the Toledo. The first house on the opposite side of the street, the one, you will observe, with the rounded corner, is a modern apartment house ; and facing this, on the side of the street nearer us and the first from the piazza, is the Palazzo Sirignano, only the dark, tiled roof of which may be seen. It was there that Goethe lived when he visited Naples in 1787.

On the right-hand side of the Piazza del Municipio, just without the field of our vision, is the Castel Nuovo, begun in 1283 by Charles I of Anjou. It is called the Bastile of Naples, and is in appearance somewhat similar to the Tower of London. This castle has a fine triumphal arch erected in honor of Alfonso of Aragon.

The Piazza, as you perceive, is continued at its eastern extremity by a pier forty-two feet wide, called the Molo Angioino, sometimes called Strada del Molo. That is one of the favorite resorts of the sea-faring class, almost every nationality being represented, and the scene one witnesses there in the long, bright afternoons, is most striking and picturesque. The pier is also the scene of the dramatic and sensational sermons of Padre Rocco, a famous Italian monk. On one occasion he preached so vividly and impressively on hell and its torments, that his hearers prostrated themselves in terror before him. Then he cried, ” All who most truly repent and forsake your sins hold up your hands ! ” All did so; upon which the monk exclaimed, ” Holy Archangel Michael, thou who, with thy adamantine sword, standeth at the right hand of the judgment seat of God, hew me off every hand which has been raised hypocritically ! ” Instantly every hand dropped, and Rocco thundered out additional and scathing invectives at the humiliated crowd.

At the end of the Molo is the lighthouse from whose gallery, which is reached by a pair of spiral marble steps (fee one franc), a fine view of the bay may be obtained. Beyond the lighthouse, to the left, are covered docks, on which cargoes are loaded and unloaded; while the large buildings to the left of the lighthouse are bonded warehouses. A branch rail-way line, for freight only, connects the railroad station and these docks, and the track may be seen on either side of the Strada del Molo.

The body of water lying between these warehouses and the breakwater, seen farther to the left of us, is the Port of Naples or Mercantile Harbor, and is one-fourth of a mile square. It has two lighthouses, the lofty structure at the southeast corner, to which we have already referred, and a smaller one, seen to the left and below this larger one.

To the right of this harbor, beyond the limit of our vision, is the Military Harbor, Porto Militare.

Following the shore some distance to the right of this harbor, and beyond our vision limit, we come to Virgil’s tomb, a chamber fifteen feet square, with a single doorway. In its , walls are ten niches for cinerary vases, with what appears to have been a larger niche where probably stood the vase which contained the ashes of the poet. Here, in Naples, Virgil had a villa and there wrote his Georgics and AEneid. Before revising the latter poem he set out for Greece, a journey which Horace has invested with melancholy interest, praying “that the ship may bear him safely to the Attic shores.” On his return, Virgil reached Brundisium, and there died. His ashes were brought to Naples and placed in this tomb, which has been recognized as his burial place from the earliest times. This whole district throbs with the life and deeds of philosophers, poets, warriors, senators, consuls and emperors of bygone centuries.

Direct your eyes to that white building standing out from the shore, a little to the left of the end of the mercantile wharf on which are the bonded warehouses. That building, which is just to the left of an imaginary line drawn from our point of view to the smoking cone of Vesuvius, is the Immacolatella, containing the Headquarters of the Quarantine Bureau, or the Health Officers of the Port, and the Custom House. To the right of that building is the quay where passengers coming by sea make a landing and from which those departing embark. And from this point, also, steamers for Capri and Ischia start.

Still to the left of the Immacolatella is the broad thoroughfare which skirts the bay, called the Strada Nuova, and which is always full of life and bustle.

In Naples many of the people earn a living by fishing, and these fishermen may be seen here, standing beside their boats in the water lying on the beach, basking in the sun for hours at a time. They are an abstemious, frugal, happy and careless set, living in a delicious climate which has enervated the hardiest races, and which imparts to them a languid spirit, the ” dolce far niente,” the sweet do-nothing. If things do not come favorably, what is that to this amphibious class? Is not the climate friendly, and cannot fish always be lifted from the sea?

The open space, which you see some distance to the left of the Custom House, is the Villa del Popolo, a sort of public garden. There every afternoon about four o’clock public readers may be seen declaiming passages from Tasso, Ariosto, or other poets, to an audience made up of ‘longshoremen, rag pickers and porters who pay two centimes (two-fifths of a cent) for the privilege of listening. Where else but in Italy would this class care a straw for such an entertainment?

The low, square structure seen in the Villa del Popolo, or People’s Park, is the Aquarium, one of the most famous in the world.

On the shady side of this building is the favorite resort’ for quack doctors. There they extol their nostrums in exhaustive and noisy harangues which they intersperse with the drawing of teeth for any in the ever-present crowd who may be suffering with tooth-ache.

Back of the Villa del Popolo is a part of the city called the Porta Nolana, where on every Monday and Friday morning, may be seen a curious sight, a veritable rag fair, a wholesale ” rummage sale,” where old clothes of every description are exchanged by their owners, who, in a short time and without spending a penny, are arrayed in an entirely different costume from which they just wore.

The railroad strikes the opposite shore of the bay at the foot of the slope of Vesuvius and at a point half way between its two peaks; that is, at a point seen over and beyond the Custom House. The buildings seen on the shore across the bay and over the roofs of the warehouses on the pier of the Mercantile Port, belong to the village of Portici, and those still further away (over the lighthouse) are in Herculaneum. Still further distant on our right, as the map shows, and not seen by us, are Pompeii and Sorrento ; and twenty miles away, directly to the south, is the Island of Capri.

What can be fairer than this graceful, curving outline of the Bay of Naples, resembling a crescent of emerald and gold, surmounted by the cone of fire-scathed Vesuvius, which, although ten miles distant, blazes at night like an immense ruby. Gaze where you will, your glance always comes back along an harmonious combination of lines to one common center, that fiery summit of Vesuvius, which is the regnant and impressive feature of the entire landscape.

But it was with very different feelings that people here in Naples gazed toward that mountain in April, 1906, during the destructive eruption. The mountain itself was for many days invisible, the air was so full of powdery ” ashes ” or volcanic dust. As the dust settled on streets and housetops it accumulated like banks of snow, causing roofs to collapse under the unaccustomed weight. One great market, filled with purchasers, was thus overloaded ; the roof without any warning crashed downwards, several people were killed outright and two hundred more or less injured. The churches were thronged with frightened worshippers beseeching the Virgin and the Saints for protection. Fortunately the damage done here was limited to accumulations of ashes, and people soon learned to keep shoveling them off the roofs.

They tell us that Spartacus, when, with a band of gladiators and slaves, he rebelled against Rome, took his stand and made his fortress in the crater of Vesuvius, which had been inactive for untold centuries ; and, at that time, its sloping sides up to the very top were covered with a thick forest.

The vicinity of this city is a famous place for sports-men. Victor Emmanuel I, when only a few miles from the city, shot ninety wild boar in one day.

As may readily be imagined, one of the chief charms of Naples lies in the fact that ideal excursions may be made in a few hours to neighboring places of wonderful beauty and great historic interest; to disinterred Herculaneum and Pompeii, to the orange groves of Castellammare, to the magical isle of Capri with its fairy-like blue grotto, to Salerno and Amalfi, a series of beautiful sunlit resorts, extending along the shore of a sapphire sea like a string of lustrous gems.

We have spoken of the Toledo as the most brilliant of city thoroughfares, but it cannot approach in picturesque interest the narrow, steep streets hemmed in by high crumbling walls and frequently consisting of a series of broad steps, that one encounters in the poorer portion of the town. Invariably the laundry belonging to numerous households is suspended high above the pavement, from which I have known fireworks to be sometimes set off by the enthusiastic populace; in the midst of such conflicting interests the washing naturally gets the worst of it. It is indeed a curious sight, when passing along one of these stone alleys, to look up and see a variety of garments with arms hanging down beseechingly or pointed imploringly to the heavens, and, amid this flapping array, to catch sight of a shrine of the Virgin fixed firmly against the wall of one of the houses well up toward the roof. Now and then the scene is brightened and sweetened by a cluster of plants growing in a box set on the stone ledge of a window sill, and so far above you that the timid flowers look as though they were part of the long blue ribbon of the overhanging sky. Let us go down into one of these congested streets.