Most travelers, after wandering through Pompeii, wonder at the emptiness of the ruins. Sure, there are plenty of houses and other structures to look at, but where’s the stuff?
Piazza Cavour, the seventh stop on the Metropolitana’s Bagnoli to Garibaldi run, will answer that question.
The Metro’s exit at the piazza is close to two blocks away from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, home to one of the world’s largest trove of Roman artifacts.
The museum, originally royal stables, was established in 1777 by Ferdinand IV to house the Farnese art collection and the archeological finds from Pompeii, Herculaneum and other sites in Campania. Other collections have joined the Farnese, notably the Borgia and Picchianti collections (mainly Egyptian art).
Many of the marble statues on the ground floor are Roman copies of Greek originals, often the only surviving example of Greek masterpieces; the Tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogiton and the Farnese Bull are two of the most spectacular examples.
On the next floor is an extensive collection from the excavations of the towns buried by Vesuvius. The collection of mosaics is one of the best in the world. The most amazing is the mosaic depicting the battle of Issus, where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius. The mosaic is close to 3˝ by 6 meters and was unearthed in the House of the Faun in Pompeii.
Also on this floor is the largest collection of Roman mural painting. They depict many mythological scenes, everyday life, portraits and still lifes. The gallery also has many examples of painted architecture, 3-D scenes and funerary paintings and portraits.
The Romans’ everyday implements are on display as well, from intricately wrought glassware to the fancy armor worn by the gladiators. The Tempio di Iside Temple of Isis) is reconstructed in the museum, including both architectural ornaments and paintings. Completing the Roman collections is a cork scale model of Pompeii, made between 1861 and 1879.
After spending a few hours in the museum, a good spot to relax and have refreshments or a nice lunch is located nearby. Accessed across from the museum through the Galleria Principe di Napoli, Via Bellini offers a nice choice of restaurants (a little pricey, but great food), most of which have outdoor seating next to the Naples Institute of Fine Arts.
Another site accessible from the Cavour station is the Duomo, an Angevin cathedral attributed to Charles II of Anjou. The cathedral is home (literally) to Naples’ patron saint, San Gennaro. The Duomo is lavishly decorated and houses some interesting works of art, as well as the cathedral treasury. The cathedral was repeatedly damaged by earthquakes, the first in 1349, and as a result has been restored many times over the centuries, giving the visitor an eclectic mix of Neapolitan art and architecture.
On the right hand side of the Duomo is the monumental entrance to the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro (Chapel of San Gennaro’s Treasures). The completion of the chapel in 1637 fulfilled a vow taken by the entire city of Naples during an outbreak of the plague in 1527. Silver busts of the city’s patrons surround the chapel. Twice a year, the reliquary containing the saint’s head is displayed to the public, along with a vial of his blood which liquefies during the "Miracle of San Gennaro," ensuring Naples’ safety during the coming year. The miracle occurs on Sept. 19 and the first Sunday in May.
Across the street from the cathedral, at number 142 on Via del Duomo, is the entrance to the Girolamini monastery, containing two cloisters, an art gallery and the Biblioteca. The Biblioteca contains important historical volumes and has a sumptuous 18th century décor in the reading room. The library was first opened to the public in 1586. The art gallery, or Pinacoteca, holds works donated by benefactors and the monks themselves, mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Further down the street is Via Tribunali, which leads to the heart of old Naples and the Spaccanapoli. At Piazza San Gaetano is the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore.
Finally, going down Via Tribunali in the other direction leads to the Castel Capuano, a Norman palace. In 1540, the Viceroy Toledo transferred the civic tribunals to the castle, making it the Palazzo di Giustizia (Hall of Justice), a function it still serves today.
In the Piazza E. di Nicola, around the castle, is the Santa Caterina a Formiello church, a fine example of Renaissance architecture. Completing the square is the Porta Capuana, one of the city’s main gates and part of the Aragonese walls, built in the 15th century.
Piazza Garibaldi is a short walk from the piazza down Via A. Poerio, a quick link back to the train station and the Metropolitana.
Last edited on June 5, 2004