Naples is one of those rare places whose very name kindles a kaleidoscope of conflicting images. A highlight of the eighteenth-century Grand Tour, it is now all but ignored by mainstream tourism. Royal capital of the largest of the Italian kingdoms, in the twentieth 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 all of these images of modern Naples. But the city has changed – not entirely, but it is one of the most heartening examples of inner-city regeneration of the last decade or so. Traffic is still appalling, 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 located 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.
In striking contrast to the urban chaos of Naples, the Amalfi Coast is the most stunningly picturesque stretch of coastline in Italy. For a while during the Middle Ages, Amalfi rivalled Venice and Pisa as a maritime power intent on dominating trade in the Mediterranean, and its art and architecture are predominantly mediaeval in flavour. Both Ravello and Amalfi are delightful little towns, their cathedrals among the most impressive in the region.
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. 2.30pm from London Gatwick to Naples (British Airways).
Naples. 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. The afternoon 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.
Naples. Among the treasures 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 are two works by Caravaggio, his Martyrdom of St Ursula in a bank and his Seven Acts of Mercy in the chapel for which it was commissioned. Evening performance at the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest major working theatre in Europe and renowned for its acoustic despite its 3000-seat capacity. La Traviata (Verdi), Daniel Oren (conductor), Lorenzo Amato (director), Maria Mudryak / Erika Grimaldi / Francesca Dotto (Violetta), Vincenzo Costanzo (Alfredo), Giuseppina Bridelli (Flora), Michela Petrino (Annina), Vladimir Stoyanov (Giorgio).
Caserta. Situated a few miles outside Naples, the royal palace at Caserta, begun 1751, is Italy’s most magnificent and accomplished emulation of Versailles. An awesome absolutist statement, the apartments are superbly decorated and furnished and it is set within parkland and gardens equally magnificent in scale. Lunch is at a private villa.
Amalfi, Ravello. Amalfi is one of the loveliest coastal resorts in Italy, its churches, towers and arcaded houses rising above a small harbour and backed by high rugged cliffs. The Saracenic-Norman cathedral has a delightful cloister, the ‘Chiostro del Paradiso’. Ravello sits in a beautiful position in the hills above Amalfi and has a fine Romanesque cathedral. Visit the Villa Rufolo, a wonderful 13th-century palace with a cloister of Saracenic influence and an evocative garden.
Naples. 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. The afternoon is free.
Naples. 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. 9.00pm.
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.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,540 or £2,430 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,910 or £2,800 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; one opera ticket (top category stalls seats); all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer.
1 opera ticket (top category) is included costing c. £100. This will be confirmed in October 2017.
Hotel Excelsior, Naples, a 4-star hotel on the waterfront about fifteen minutes on foot from the Royal Palace, 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: 26 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
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.'