An elderly woman lent out of her balcony to wind in the string of clothes hanging like bunting across the street. The midday sun bore down on my back and the pizza, in its cardboard box, stared up at me; all sweet tomato and charred crust. I had one ear on the conversation between the two Italian men playing chess on a plastic table a small distance from me, their voices rich and heavy in the heat.
I ate my pizza quickly, perched as I was on a hard dusty step, not that I cared too much. I think that Naples would forgive me for my less than dignified dining situation. It seems like the forgiving type. Anyway, one thing can be sure, it knows how to nurture its own, its pride: its pizza.
…a move which was generally frowned upon…
This emblem of Italian cuisine was first created as a pauper’s food in 16th century Napoli. In the late 18th century tomato was added and from then on the pizza became the world’s edible canvas, ready to be adorned with a variety of new and delicious toppings. However, the pizzeria I visited, Da Michele, keeps things simple: a pillowy crust is a bed to sweet tomato sauce and oozing mozzarella. It is pure, unadulterated heaven, and I have no qualms about calling it the best pizza in the world.
Naples reputation is dog eared to say the least. The Camorra’s continued mafia presence was symbolised most shockingly in the Naples of 2008, shown in the news as a festering rubbish dump. However, whatever dark secrets lie in the city’s underbelly, nowadays they rarely rear their ugly head to the regular tourist. I visited Naples on my own, a move which was generally frowned upon by every other Italian I met, but which raised no problems for me. In fact, despite having the word, bellissima thrown at me from every passing scooter (I didn’t feel too special, I don’t think that Neapolitan guys are particularly discriminating when it comes to the opposite sex), I managed to enjoy a safe and peaceful trip.
…it’s surprisingly easy to imagine life in this ancient civilisation.
However, when I felt like escaping the burning midday sun and the chaos of Naples’s streets, I headed underground, to the hidden streets of an Ancient Greek world underneath the San Lorenzo Maggiore church. An entire cold stone city lies parallel to the hot and polluted one above. Walking through the excavated streets lined with empty shops and homes, it’s surprisingly easy to imagine life in this ancient civilisation.
From eating ice cream with a view to Vesuvius to dodging scooters in its narrow streets, a trip to Naples ranges from the delicious to the dangerous. However, it is this exact chaos that gives Napoli its soul: the contrast between the vibrancy of its day lit world and the darkness of its hidden, underground past.