Day 4 – Christmas Day

In AD 274 the Roman Emperor Aurelian decreed December 25 – the date of the Winter solstice in the Julian calendar – as natalis solis invicti ("birth of the invincible sun"), a festival honouring the sun god. It was the birthday of Mithras, which the Christians later appropriated for their own use.

Via Caracciolo After breakfast I took a taxi through almost empty streets to Mergellina, the large marina just west of the city centre. There's a magnificent view of the bay from Mergellina, with a pleasing sea-front promenade along the Via Caracciolo, which I walked back to Santa Lucia. The street is named after the Neapolitan admiral, leader of the Republican revolutionaries of 1799, who was allegedly betrayed by Admiral Nelson and along with hundreds of fellow intellectuals executed by the Bourbons.

Castel dell'ovo On my left the palms of the Villa Comunale gardens swayed in the wind, while dozens of children ran about with their Christmas presents – mini scooters were really big in 2000. Ahead to my right the ancient fortress Castel dell'Ovo (Castle of the Egg – so called after an old legend) reared out of the waves, while Vesuvius was just visible through the mist floating in from the sea. A causeway connects the rocky outcrop of the castle with the shore. As I walked across, a light breeze whipped the waves white against the sea walls. Behind the castle are small streets lined with shops and restaurants, the Borgo Marinaro, alongside a marina. Waiters stood smoking lazily outside the few restaurants that were open, awaiting the first customers of the day.

Dublin Bay, from Killiney Hill Many olden-day writers compared Dublin Bay to the Bay of Naples, a comparison that escaped me the whole time I lived in Naples. And I only ever heard it from Irish or British writers – most Neapolitans, I imagine, have barely heard of Dublin. This resemblance may have been noticeable when arriving by ship, between the points at each extreme of the Bay, Capo Miseno in the north and Capo Minerva in the south, similar to Howth and the Wicklow mountains. But Naples rises much more steeply than Dublin, and what has Dublin to compare with the dominance of Vesuvius, or Naples to compete with the grace of the Liffey? The view of Dublin Bay on the right (from Pat Liddy's "Dublin, A Celebration") shows Killiney Bay towards the Wicklow mountains.

At the Castel dell'Ovo At the marina I had my picture taken with the boats. As the breeze blew about me, a verse of the famous song Santa Lucia came to mind:

Con questo zeffiro
Cosė soave,
Oh, come č bello
Star sulla nave.

Santa Lucia Then it was back across the causeway to Santa Lucia (right). The street is rarely this peaceful!

Santa Lucia herself is a christianized version of an ancient pagan goddess of light, Lucina. Her feast day on December 13 is celebrated in a number of countries with light effects. We learned in school that after a young man had complimented her on her beautiful eyes she ripped them out and had them sent to him on a plate!

Piazza Plebiscito After the marina I walked along the seafront to the elegant Piazza Plebiscito (which up to a few years ago was a bus terminus!). Families were out and about enjoying the sunshine. Outside Cafe Cambrinus some German tourists were complaining about their hotel. The previous Christmas I had taken my camcorder to this Piazza and filmed an Italian tourist who was filming his family with a large unwieldy-looking camcorder. Just after I stopped filming, as I was replacing my camcorder in its case, I heard a cry. The Italian was picking himself up off the ground, minus his camcorder–in the instant I had turned away a thief had rushed up to the Italian, pushed him to the ground, whipped his camcorder out of his hand, and made off with it! Lucky I was not the victim!

Piazza Trieste e Trento Just past that is the popular meeting-place Piazza Trieste e Trento.

Galleria Umberto I Then back through the magnificent Galleria Umberto I (right) to head back towards the hotel. There's a book set in Naples (which I have, but haven't read yet) by an American ex-soldier who was stationed here after the war, called The Gallery, that takes its title from this place. I then headed for Da Ettore for early dinner.

As I entered the restaurant I was surprised to see the waiter clearing stacks of pistols (9mm-calibre Berettas) and submachineguns (looked like the Heckler & Koch MP-5 model) from the tables – the carabinieri from the station were having their Christmas dinner there too! This was a rare sight indeed – they were knocking back the wine and getting drunk fast, until they were helped out the door by the other clients.

Spaghetti alla vongole for Christmas dinner.

To previous day Cafe Gambrinus Next day