The main city square or piazza of the city is the Piazza del Plebiscito. Its construction was begun by the Bonapartist king Joachim Murat and finished by the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV. The piazza bounded on the east by the Royal Palace and on the west by the Church of San Francesco di Paola, with the colonnades extending on both sides.
At the centre of the square the two great statues of Charles of Bourbon (work of Antonio Canova) and Ferdinand I on horseback face the Royal Palace. Construction was begun in the early 1600’s based on a project by Domenico Fontana; enriched by Joachim Murat and Carolina Bonaparte with neoclassical embellishments and decorations, some from the Tuileries, it was damaged in 1837 by fire, and restored by Gaetano Genovese. To visit the priceless interior cross over the honour courtyard and enter the Historical Living Quarters Museum (30 rooms on one floor) which has preserved the original furniture and décor. The monumental staircase of coloured marble inlay and the Small Court Theatre, a ballroom transformed in 1768 by Fernando Fuga into a gracious Rococo ambience, are beautiful. In another part of the palace the National Library, with its more than million and a half volumes and several priceless medieval codices, can be found. The famous papyrus of Herculaneum are preserved here.
Nearby is the Teatro di San Carlo, which is the oldest and largest opera house in Italy. Inaugurated on November 4, 1737, and named after its patron Charles of Bourbon, is the oldest opera house in the world. The building, partially destroyed by fire in 1816, was restored by Antonio Niccolini, the designer of its façade. In the early 1800’s the San Carlo Theatre lived through one of its most glorious seasons ever thanks to the impresario Domenico Barbaja who commissioned works by musicians such as Gioachino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti.
Directly across from San Carlo is Galleria Umberto, a shopping centre and social hub. Above has a splendid iron and glass covering 57 meters high, and below an elegant inlaid marble floor. There are shops, cafès and bookstores on the inside. Santa Brigida Church is part of the complex and has a beautiful fresco called Heaven, by Luca Giordano, in its dome.
Certosa di San Martino and Castel Sant'Elmo overlook Naples from the Vomero hill and are the most visible landmarks in the city.
The Certosa di San Martino is a former monastery complex, now a museum. Carthusian monastery dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, it was finished and inaugurated under the rule of Queen Joan I in 1368. During the first half of the 16th century it was expanded and further in 1623 when it became, under the direction of architect Cosimo Fanzago, essentially the structure one sees today. In the early 19th century, under French rule the monastery was closed and was abandoned by the religious order.
Today, the buildings house a museum with a display of Spanish and Bourbon era artifacts, as well as displays of the presepe (Nativity scene) considered to be among the finest in the world.
Castel Sant'Elmo (a fortress), instead, was built on the orders of Charles of Anjou: its construction, in tuff, was begun in 1329 where the Normans, in 1170, had a fort called Belforte surrounded by rich vegetation and completed in 1343 by the work of the architects Tino da Camaino, Atanasio Primario and Francesco di Vito.
It was one of the city's fortifications and was used above all to protect it from invasions from the sea.
All Naples' historic events involve Castel Sant'Elmo.
The King Charles V, through the viceroy Pedro de Toledo, rebuilt completely the castle by the work of the Spanish architect Pier Luigi Scribà, that designed the star-shaped plan of the castle.
It has witnessed numerous sieges, fierce disputes between the various dominating powers, and repeated popular uprisings, including the now legendary Masaniello revolt of 1647, when the Spanish took refuge in it to escape the revolutionaries.
The old fort has risked destruction several times: during the Second World War the Germans had intended to blow it up before they left the city, changing their minds only at the last minute.
The castle, which has now been restored, having been freed from its use as a military prison, houses exhibitions of art and history and also contains the Molaioli Library of Art and a videotheque which supplies information on all of the city's monuments.
The complex also contains the 16th century Church of Sant'Elmo and the Chapel of Santa Maria del Pilar (17th century).
The profile of the coast is dominated by the massive tuff wall of the Castel dell’Ovo, the oldest of the city, that sits on the little islet of Megaris facing the famous Santa Lucia quarter. Now connected to land by a small bridge, the island was chosen by the roman patrician Licinius Lucullus as site for his new villa. It was transformed into a convent by the Saint Basil monks in about 492 AD. Under the Normans in the 12th century it became a fortress. The Hall of the Columns, so called because it re-used the powerful columns of the original villa, must be visited. From the cannon terrace, on the high part of the castle, you can enjoy a marvellous view of the gulf.
Under the walls of the castle is Borgo Marinari, constructed in the 1800’s, it was originally meant to house fishermen, their boats and their families. It now houses nautical clubs, restaurants, bars and trendy night spots.
The name of Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg) derives from a legend tied to the poet Virgil, to whom the medieval Neapolitans attributed magical powers. One of the wizard’s talismans was said to be hidden in the castle: an egg preserved in a jug and locked in an iron cage. The castle would never crumble as long as the egg remained intact.
Charles of Bourbon, a dedicated hunter, wanted to construct a hunting lodge, surrounded by a vast park, on a hill on the highest part of the City: infact the name derives from the late latin “Caput de Monte” (top of the mount) and clearly indicates its position. After having done so, he had it enlarged to house the precious Farnese collections. The building, designed by Antonio Medrano, was finished only in 1839.
Located in the immense park are the hunting lodge of Vittorio Emanuele II, a small lodge known as “of the Queen”, the Chapel of San Gennaro, the building of the old 1737 porcelain factory of Charles of Bourbon, the hermitage of the Cappuccini monks and the Fagianeria (pheasant breeding facility).
Today, the Royal Palace is home to the National Museum of Capodimonte, one of the most important in the world for painting and the decorative arts. The main nucleus of the Museum is the Farnese Collection, started by Pope Paul III and inherited by Charles’ mother Elisabeth Farnese. The picture gallery has more than 200 masterpieces: Masaccio, Botticelli,Raphael, Ribera, Titian, Mantegna, Correggio, El Greco, Lorenzo Lotto, Parmigianino, Carracci, and Bruegel. There are also two preparative drawings by Raphael for the ‘Segnatura Room’, and by Michelangelo for the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican. Also exceptional is the gallery of 13th-19th century Neapolitan painting: the Saint Ludovico of Tolosa by Simone Martini, the evocative Flagellation by Caravaggio, and again the works of Ribera, Luca Giordano, and Francesco Solimena. The section dedicated to the 1800’s is rich with the School of Posillipo painters, from Anton Smick Pitloo to Giacinto Gigante, and the masters of Naturalism, like the Palizzis. The many artists of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s – from Domenico Morelli to Vincenzo Migliaro – complete the artistic panorama. The contemporary section is also renewed by the presence of artists such as Alberto Burri, Andy Warhol, Jannis Kounellis, Joseph Kosuth, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Mimmo Paladino.
The Museum holds other surprises: the Historic Apartment, with the porcelain sitting room of Queen Maria Amalia, for example. The collection of decorative arts is one of the richest in all of Italy with unique works like the precious Farnese Box and the wall tapestries of d’Avalos, and the exceptional porcelain works like the Aurora Cart by Filippo Tagliolini.
It’s the most important museum of classical archaeology in the world. Charles of Bourbon put the largest art collection in Italy, the Farnese collection inherited by his mother Elisabeth, into this building (the old “Study Palace” or university). Over the years the largest archaeological collection of all time, relics from the city and from the villas buried under the ashes of Vesuvius in 79 BC, was brought here.
The most important collection of the museum is that of the mosaics, paintings, jewellery and objects recovered from the buried vesuvian homes. A collection unmatched peer in the world that attracts, needless to say, millions of visitors.
Another highlight is the classical sculpture collection, some roman copies of Greek originals, amongst which the celebrated Farnese sculptures (the Bull, the Hercules and dozens of others). The cameo and cut gem collection, which includes the extraordinary Farnese Cup, is also very rich.
The vast epigraph collection includes over 2,000 pieces representing all of the languages once spoken in Campania (from Greek to Oscan, Etruscan to Latin).
The Egyptian collection is only second in importance in Italy to that of Turin. There is a section dedicated to the Papyrus Villa, the famous roman house in Herculaneum that brought to light so many relics, amongst which the celebrated statues in bronze and marble.
The Secret Cabinet is a part of the museum that houses a 19th century collection of Greek and Roman objects considered “obscene” at the times, reserved only for authorized visitors. It includes now sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, amulets, oil-lamps and graffiti with erotic themes from the digs at Pompeii.