by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Naples and Ireland have many things in common none more so than the cast-iron connection, in both locations, between people and place. Ireland, as a destination, is largely defined in and through its people. So is Naples. This is mainly a good thing as it roots the destination experience firmly in human capital, in people rather than places, in face-to-face encounters as opposed to built heritage or natural scenery.
The down side, however, is that the destination can often become caricatured, reduced, simplistically, to some dubious feature of its collective human personality. Thus Ireland is great craic, full of potato-eating Guinness guzzlers and Naples is insane, over-run by gesticulating, highly like-able rogues who’d rob you blind in a heartbeat. The problem with these stereo-types is not so much that they exist but that they often become the sole means of understanding a destination for many people.
Here are 5 new and interesting things I learned about Naples when I spend an intense 24 hours there last week:
1. The Naples Metro
The route from the Stazione Centrale to the Port area where there’s a cluster of 4 and 5 star hotel is reminiscent of Boston during the “big dig”. There are road works everywhere and it’s not pretty. It’s the final phase of an ambitious project, the objective of which is to have 70% of the population of the city living within 700m of public transport. Work is slow due to the constant uncovering and discovery of important archaeological sites some of which have now been incorporated into the architecture of the station. Line 1, called Il Metro dell’Arte, has galleries, exhibitions and art installations at 6 stations. With lines dating from 1891 the Naples metro is the oldest metro line in Italy and amongst the oldest in the world.
2. The Multi-Layed City
Piazza San Gaetano, in the San Lorenzo neighbourhood, sits atop 25 centuries of history, stratified and layered like an enormous club sandwich. This is where the Forum of the ancient city was located. The Church of San Lorenzo Maggiore, in plain gothic style,is located adjacent to the eponymous museum where details of the excavations that led to the uncovering of an impressive Graeco-Roman marketplace can be found. A few steps away you can access “Naples Underground”, an extensive system of underground cisterns which date right back to the Greek origins of the city.
This is a city with more than meets the eye.
3. The cult of San Gennaro
San Gennaro is to Naples what St Patrick is to Ireland: a patron whose impact and influence extends way beyond the purely religious sphere to occupy an indispensable space in the cultural pantheon of the city. The Cathedral of San Gennaro dates from the 1300s and incorporates the ruins of 2 Paleo-Christian churches. The Treasury, created from the surplus funds collected in the 1500s when Neapolitans vowed to build a church to their patron following their deliverance from war, pestilence and natural disaster, is opulence incarnate. Two phials, containing the blood of San Gennaro, are kept in a silver reliquary and, on the first Sunday of May, are carried in procession from the cathedral to the Church of St Clare where the blood mysteriously liquefies.
San Gennaro is celebrated the world over, most notably in the Little Italy district of New York City where each September there’s a festival lasting 11 days.
4. The Nativity tradition
St Francis of Assisi is credited with the creation of the first crib or nativity scene way back in the 13th century. Further south, the people of Naples, over time, developed a whole new theology around the birth of Christ centred on the premise that the Christ child wasn’t only born 2000 years ago in Palestine but is born again each year, for all times and for all places. Thus the Neapolitan crib tradition places the nativity scene at the heart of the village or town or city surrounded by all manner of urban life from tradesmen to politicians, from artisans to celebrities. It’s an elaborate, colourful, dynamic representation of a moment in history, renewed and updated for all times and place.
Each year a small committee of artisans and artists in Naples decide on the “people of the year” who will feature in that particular year’s nativity scenes.
5. The Musical Tradition
The term “conservatory” is often used to describe a school or academy of music. It originated in Renaissance times when orphanages were attached to maternity hospitals and eventually became synonymous with Naples where the “conservati” or orphans were given a particularly rigorous musical education leading eventually to the Scuola Musicale Napoletana. Within this system ability to pay was never a barrier for talented singers and musicians thus musical talent blossomed and flourished creating the peerless musical traditions associated with Naples to this very day.
These are some of the interesting nuggets that Simon and I learned from Agostino, our guide in Naples. He brought us right back to the Greek origins of the city in 680 BC and led us on a breathtaking, roller coaster ride of over 25 centuries through layers of history and heritage, through conquest and colonisation, highlighting the unique aspects of this neapolitan character that shaped a marvellous city.
Padraic was in Naples with Irish Tenor Simon Morgan to rehearse with the Orchestra Scarlatti for “Italy: a musical journey” , a 75 minute show created and customised for a Gala Dinner at Palazzo Corsini, Florence.