Naples is one of those rare places whose very name kindles a kaleidoscope of conflicting images. A highlight of the 18th-century Grand Tour, it is now all but ignored by mainstream tourism. Royal capital of the largest of the Italian kingdoms, in the 20th century it became a byword for poverty and decline. Once it basked in a reputation for supreme beauty – ‘see Naples and die’; now it enjoys notoriety as a pit of urban ills – chaos, congestion, corruption and Camorra.
Until recently there was some truth in these images of modern Naples. But the city has changed, and is one of the most heartening examples of inner-city regeneration of the last decade or so. Traffic is still chaotic, but much of the historic centre is now pedestrianised. A burst of prosperity has transformed the ancient shopping and artisan districts. Restoration of buildings and works of art has further increased the beauty of the city, and more churches and museums are more often open and accessible.
Its museums display some of the finest art and antiquities to be found in Italy, and major architectural and archaeological sites are nearby. The Teatro San Carlo is one of the most important in operatic history, with many premières to its credit. One of the oldest and largest in Europe, it was built in 1737, restored after a fire in 1818, and emerged just a few years ago in all its glory from major refurbishment.
Naples is a city of the south. In many ways it has more in common with Seville or Cairo than with Florence or Milan. It is a city of swaggering palaces and stupendous churches, of cacophonous street life and infectious vitality. Exciting, exhausting, energising.
Fly at c. 8.15am from London Gatwick to Naples (British Airways). See Caravaggio’s Martyrdom of St Ursula in a bank and return to the hotel on foot via Via Toledo, where half of Naples turns out for an evening passeggiata.
A first walk through the teeming old city centre includes the Cappella San Severo, a masterpiece of Baroque art and craft with multi-coloured marbles and virtuoso sculptures, and Santa Chiara, an austere Gothic church with a delightful Rococo tile-encrusted cloister. Also among the other treasures seen are the churches of Il Gesù Nuovo and S. Domenico Maggiore. The Castel Nuovo is a medieval castle on the waterfront which houses the Civic Museum. Its Cappella Palatina contains frescoes by Giotto.
The morning is spent at the National Archeological Museum, one of the world’s greatest collections of Greek and Roman antiquities. Many items come from the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. High on a hill which provides stunning views over the city and the Bay of Naples, the monastery of San Martino has a church of extraordinary lavishness of art and decoration and a museum of fine and decorative arts. Evening performance at the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest major working theatre in Europe and renowned for its acoustic despite its 3,000-seat capacity. La Traviata (Verdi), Stefano Ranzani (conductor), Lorenzo Amato (director), Albina Shagimuratova / Nino Machaidze / Maria Grazia Schiavo (Violetta), Francesco Demuro / Ivan Magrì (Alfredo), Mariangela Marini / Cinzia Chiarini (Flora), Michela Antenucci (Annina), Amartuvshin Enkhbat / Giovanni Meoni (Germont).
Among the riches seen on the second walk in the centre of Naples is the cathedral of San Gennaro which has an interior of astounding richness and major paintings by Domenichino and Lanfranco. Also seen is another work by Caravaggio, his Seven Acts of Mercy in the chapel for which it was commissioned. In the afternoon drive into the hilly suburbs to visit the palace of Capodimonte, originally a giant hunting lodge. Here is located one of Italy’s greatest art galleries, with a magnificent range of art from the Middle Ages onwards.
Fly from Naples to London Gatwick, arriving at c. 3.30pm.
If you are joining Venice: Pageantry & Piety, fly from Naples to Venice (schedules will be published in late 2019). Final day of the festival, 7 November: fly from Venice to London Gatwick, arriving at c. 6.30pm.
Dr Luca Leoncini
Art historian specialising in 15th-century Italian painting. His first degree and PhD were from Rome University followed by research at the Warburg Institute in London. He has published articles on the classical tradition in Italian art of the 15th century and contributed to the Macmillan Dictionary of Art. He has also written on Mantegna and Renaissance drawings. Instagram: @lucaleonci
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,310 or £2,120 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,760 or £2,570 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; one opera ticket (top category stalls seats); all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
If combining this tour with Venice: Pageantry & Piety, we charge you the ‘with flights’ price for this tour and the ‘without flights’ price for the festival. Supplementary cost for the flight from Naples to Venice and transfer to the hotel: £120 per person.
1 opera ticket (top category) is included costing c. £100.
Hotel Excelsior, Naples, a 4-star hotel on the waterfront with spectacular views of Mount Vesuvius and the island of Capri. Rooms are all of a good size. Sea views are available on request and for a supplement.
A large swathe of central Naples is inaccessible to traffic, certainly to coaches. Pavements are often uneven, some roads are steep, traffic can be unpredictable. Participants need to be averagely fit and able to manage everyday walking and stairclimbing without any difficulty. Average distance by coach per day: 6 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Combine this tour with
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'The lecturer was very good, very informative, courteous and humorous. The experience of MRT 'personnel' is invaluable. They just know where to go.'
'A feast of treasures. Hotel wonderful and excellent location. Everything first class, a very special experience.'