The heart of Naples
by Margie Miklas
Noisy, chaotic, vibrant, intense, colorful, edgy, and authentic. Naples oozes reality of life in Italy. Hovering over this city from an almost surreal and tranquil place is the hilltop Castel Sant’ Elmo, a medieval fortress offering spectacular views of Napoli. From this vantage point, I overlook the centro storico, historic center, and clearly recognize Spaccanapoli, the designation attributed to the perfectly straight, three-mile-long street that is the heart of Naples. Spaccanapoli means “split Naples,” and the street equally divides the old center of Naples in half, separating the north and the south. This bustling pedestrian thoroughfare is the most southern of the three decumani, or east-west streets that have their origins in the grid of ancient Greco-Roman times. By sauntering through the lively and dynamic working-class neighborhood, I experience first-hand the passion, grittiness, and drama of the Neapolitan people. Their lives play out on these hectic streets and in the graffiti-decorated alleys. Many of the most impressive sights of the city lie along the street and neighborhood that is Spaccanapoli, so tourists throng to this area to appreciate its rich history and culture. Magnificent churches like San Lorenzo Maggiore, Gesù Nuovo, and Santa Chiara, are found here as well as the chapel Cappella Sansevero; Via San Gregorio Armeno, the home of the presepe artisans’ workshops is mixed in with small shops, eateries, and street food. This is the heart of Napoli, and I feel the vibe.