Day 6 – Wednesday 27 December

Via Santa Chiara I arrived at the National Archaeological Museum bright and early, but – surprise, surprise – it was closed! According to the local newspaper, the museum was not only open today, but was also hosting a special photographic exhibition. No explanation for the puzzled tourists milling about outside. However, I was informed by the bemused porter in the adjoining building that since the museum had been open the previous day, the staff had taken today off!

What to do? Considering today is the feast of St. John, the patron saint of book-sellers (and publishers and writers), I thought window-shopping the antique book stores along the nearby Via S. Maria di Costantinopoli would be an appropriate way of passing the morning, followed by a visit to the literary cafes at Piazza Bellini and Piazza Dante. I just love that name--Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli! Back in the time of the plague in the 16th century, the "Madonna of Costantinople" appeared to an old woman in Naples and requested that a church be built in her honour, which was done, and it became the centre of a cult seeking protection against the plague. In a broader context, mention of Saint Mary of Constantinople is made only after the fall of that city, in 1453.

Spaccanapoli

Then through a rainy Via Santa Chiara to the maze of old narrow streets and ancient churches called Spaccanapoli (the Naples Split, because it appears to split the city in two). The city's oldest neighbourhood, Spaccanapoli was built on the ancient Greek settlement known as the Decumano Inferiore. It corresponds to today's Via Benedetto Croce and Via S. Biagio dei Librai. It was quieter than usual today, not quite so many scooters buzzing through the narrow streets, or housewives shouting across at each other as they hung up the washing to dry.

Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo

Scattered around this area are little family-run trattorias and pizzerias. At one of them, Pizzeria Brandi, there's a story that an ancestor of the current owner named Raffaele Esposito invented the Pizza Margherita over a hundred years ago and named it after the new queen, Margherita.

There seems to be a church around every corner – many of them had been renovated or repainted for the Jubilee year (2000). One of the more spectacular, behind an unprepossessing facade, is the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo (right).

Figures from a Neapolitan crib

At this time of year Spaccanapoli and Via S. Gregorio Armeno are referred to as "the Christmas Lanes" Le stradine di Natale. I visited one of the famous Neapolitan cribs, in the church of S. Nicola alla Carita, and later went over to the centre of the presepe Neapolitan crib figures industry, Via San Gregorio Armani.

The tradition of the crib (il presepio) goes back to 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi modelled the Nativity for the first time. As soon as it was introduced into Naples, the ebullient local artisans developed a highly decorated version. Alongside the main characters they added dozens of figures, including shepherds with bagpipes, sausage-, pizza- and pasta-makers (bearing scant regard for historical accuracy!). Also added were castles and villas, along with the most intricate details, such as working windmills, lights in the cottages, and fires glowing in the tiny pizza ovens.

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