There are plenty of good reasons to visit Naples: from its pizza to its architecture to its continent-wide travel links, thousands of holidaymakers visit the city every year. Our favourite parts of the area, however, are to be found beneath the ground: the rocky, cave-ridden earth of the Campania region is just waiting to be explored!
The Caves Beneath the City
Running beneath Naples are a spectacular 80 kilometres of caves. Formed when the rocks were torn from the earth in order to build the houses of the visible city, these caves, besides being aesthetically fascinating, hold millennia of history. People have hidden within them as recently as the Second World War (where they functioned as air raid shelters), and those without the means to live in the structures above have in the past made the caves their home. Things have also been stored, hidden and dumped over the centuries, and relics of the Second World War are exhibited within the labyrinth. Highly recommended if you don’t mind the dark and enclosed spaces, as the tunnels are quite narrow in some places.
Naples also boasts a wealth of catacombs. Fontanelle Cemetery is possibly its most famous, built into a hillside cave outside the city walls (at certain times in history, burying one’s dead in densely populated areas was highly inadvisable and often banned due to the spread of diseases such as the Black Plague), but there are others, such as the crypt of Purgatorio ad Arco. Filled with beautifully presented skulls, the catacombs of Naples are home to one of the city’s most intriguing traditions: Il Culto delle Capuzzelle, or “the Cult of Skulls”.
Particularly strong during the mid-twentieth century, this refers to the “adoption” of unnamed remains. While the Christian church has attempted to put a stop to this practice, it still continues to this day, albeit to a lesser degree than in the years during and after the Second World War. Those engaging in the tradition adopt a certain skull and show it tenderness and care, leaving gifts and often building it a little house and comforting the skull with pillows. This serves as a way to honour the dead, especially those whose remains are unidentified and therefore have no close family or friends to visit them, and it is also said that the soul that once inhabited the remains will watch over those who have adopted them. For this reason, the skulls are not covered, leaving them free to appear in dreams, where they are said to reveal their names to their adopters.
Pompeii & Herculaneum
If you’re interested in what lies below the ground, you’ll undoubtedly want to visit one or both of these sites during your trip to Naples. Destroyed during the Vesuvius’ infamous eruption, they are spectacularly well-preserved due to the large quantities of fine ash which fell upon them during their destruction, effectively sealing them until their excavation years later. This means that the cities are preserved in breathtaking detail, down to Pompeii’s famously ribald graffiti.
More sobering are the casts of those who died in the eruption. Death was instant in these areas, and the victims were quickly covered with ash, which hardened as their remains completely decomposed over the years. Recently, archaeologists have been able to fill the resulting cavities with plaster before removing the material above and around them to form eerie casts of those killed in the eruption, preserved in the exact position of their final moments.
For a more relaxing experience, consider taking a ferry to the nearby volcanic island of Ischia. Bubbling up from the volcanic rocks below, the geothermally heated waters have been channelled and pooled into beautiful thermal parks. Bathing spots include the Aphrodite and Poseidon baths, where the naturally hot, unchlorinated water is prized for the relaxing experience it provides, as well as its purportedly therapeutic effects.
Only 300 metres from sea level is the crystal clear Nitrodi source, which emanates from the mountainside and overlooks a ravine. Directed into showers which are open to visitors, the 27°C water is said to have health benefits, and the source is also historically valuable: not only is there record of a temple to Apollo on the site, but there are even ruins pre-dating the Greeks, suggesting that it has been highly prized since the pre-Classical era.
How to get to Naples
Naples can be reached from Rome via train. The cheaper (Regionale) trains take about three hours and have unreserved seating, while the more expensive (Intercity and Intercity Plus) trains have reserved seating and different class options, while also taking around an hour less than Regionale. Naples is a major rail hub, and a train route can be found from more or less anywhere in Italy as well as from many other European countries.
Naples is served by Capodichino airport, from where it’s a direct bus ride to Piazza Garibaldi. From this piazza, it’s fairly easy to traverse Naples on public transport (it has an underground and an overground rail network, trams, buses, and funicular railways). We also offer direct Naples airport transfers, for those who prefer the convenience of a private car.
Where to stay
Hotel Europeo – With its eclectic decor and unique atmosphere, the award-winning Hotel Europeo is located within Naples’ historical centre, making it perfect for anyone who’d like to see the odd museum or church between their subterranean expeditions. The hotel represents a fantastic location at excellent value, and is only ten minutes by bus from Naples Central station.
Hotel Piazza Bellini – Also within the historical district, Hotel Piazza Bellini’s airy, modern interior comes as a pleasing contrast to the gorgeous, 16th century building it inhabits. The rooms are decorated with the work of local artist Alessandro Cocchia, and a ten minute walk will bring you to either the harbour or Naples cathedral, while Museo Metro station is only a five minute walk away.
Grand Hotel Vesuvio – with a luxurious yet tasteful decor and a wealth of creature comforts, Grand Hotel Vesuvio offers a fantastic hotel experience. Our favourite thing about this hotel would have to be its unforgettable views of the Gulf of Naples, the island of Capri and Castel dell’Ovo, as well as the stunning Mount Vesuvius. Soak up these vistas while enjoying a meal at the rooftop restaurant. You won’t be disappointed!