One of the main things that enticed me to stop for a few days in the ancient port city of Naples, Italy, was the fact that the Centro Storico (Historic Center) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world spanning 27 centuries of history, is the third largest municipality in Italy after Rome and Milan.
Naples boasts of several castles, one of which is perched high on a hill. The hilltop 13th century medieval fortress of Castel Sant’Elmo offers stunning 360 degree vistas of Naples city and harbor. Originally it was likely a fortified residence, surrounded by walls.
For hours I wandered the narrow streets of the fascinating Centro Storico, the largest historic city center in Europe. The delightful smell of fresh Neapolitan pizza permeated the air. Naples is synonymous with pizza which originated in the city. In charming, hidden plazas people were socializing in outdoor cafes and on the steps of beautiful fountains. In one part of Centro Storico the academic atmosphere of the local university was present in the form of numerous small bookstores, some filling the sidewalk in front with what appeared to be new and used books for sale.
I stayed on the edge of the port where cruise ships pull in and where US and NATO ships have docked over the years. The city hosts NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples. Just around the corner from my hostel was the delicious Italian Castel Nuevo Restaurant which had been owned by two brothers for years.
Two walls of the restaurant were full of photographs of US and NATO Naval ships, each personally signed and dated. Many had notes written on them thanking the restaurant owners for their great food and hospitality in support of the men and women in uniform who frequented their place. One of the owners of the restaurant beamed while we discussed the importance of his restaurant to US and NATO military personnel. Each time I returned I felt like I had just come home.
The street vendors were out in full force the day I pass through the two cylindrical towers of the medieval city gate of Porta Nolana. Along the main street of the historic Mercato di Porta Nolana colorful fresh fruit and vegetables were piled neatly on tables. In the fish market fishermen, wearing rubber boots, were constantly attending their catch with buckets of ice and water. Penetrating voices of hawkers filled the air. On side streets under crumbling walls vendors sat alongside their trucks which were laden with crates of foodstuff for sale.
Not everything in Naples is old and historic. A wide pedestrian street in the middle of town with upscale shops and restaurants attracts huge crowds of well-heeled locals every weekend, many stopping to admire each others pets on a leash.
There is something for everyone in Naples.
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