Adding to our growing list of guest authors, we are thrilled to welcome Gabriella Sannino to NapoliUnplugged. In her article “Napoli Is In My Heart,” our first article written entirely from a local’s perspective, Gabriella shares her love of this city in a way that only a Napoletana could.
I met Gabriella on Twitter (and how amazing is that) and knew from her very first tweet that she was a Napoletana. Something indescribable in the cadence, the warmth, the openness, and the unabridged honesty. I knew that I had met a friend, however odd that it was that she had come to live in my homeland and I in her beloved city, Napoli.
Gabriella’s Napoli has captured my heart. And for some time now I have tried to put that into words, but the words have always failed me. How does one describe a Pollock – the order, the beauty, and the rhythm in seemingly random chaos. For me it had always defied description. But Gabriella has managed to put into words all those things I have felt, all those things I have wanted to say, all those things I wanted people to know about this city I now proudly call home. I guess it was a task only a Napoletana could do.
It has been said more than once that Naples is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Italy. Naples is my home; it’s where I grew up and where I long for now that I am far away. The deep blue skies and hustle bustle of the city are what every Napoletano thinks of when they reflect upon the homeland.Naples is capital of one of the largest cities in the Campania region in the southern most part of the boot. It was once known as the capital of The Kingdom of Two Sicilies.
There are many tall tales and taboo stories about this large metropolitan area; most are true – history rather than myth. Scary tales of Mafia thugs and petty thefts on Vespas while walking down “Via Posillipo” or “La Mergellina” are all part of Naples’ history. The Italians in the North have a joke they mutter when I tell them I’m from Naples: If it weren’t for Africa, there would be no Naples.
As a local, let me set the record straight. Dark stories are more popular than others, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other stories to tell. What you may not hear are stories of love, kindness to strangers and passionate singing from balconies while clothes lines droop from their weight in the drying sun. The history here is long and rich, going back to the sixth century. The people have a beautiful culture; music, architecture and religion intertwine to create a colorful mix that delights the heart.
The fondest memory I have is walking down small streets, watching and listening to all the charming, witty old ladies sitting on their stools, looking at tourists that walk by. Those small streets smell like fresh-baked breads. Open flea markets offer fresh fish still swimming in steel baths. Fresh flowers adorn small stalls with every color of the rainbow.
There is an old saying in Napoli: Vedi Napoli e muori. It translates into “see Naples and die”. The beauty and passion of the language is lost in translation, but if you are Napoletano, it’s almost your mantra. We sing about it; we write poetry about it; memorable films are made around it.
Our people are passionate. You may not know the locals, but who can forget Sofia Loren? Anytime I think of the beauty of Naples, I cannot help but think of our home girl… She put all of our passions and beauty on the map. With her old black and white Fellini movies, playing opposite Marcello Mastroianni, she captured the world with her fiery accent, her love of acting and her curves.
Capture the Beauty of Naples
The best way to capture the beauty of Naples is to drive or walk around it. The city curves around one of the most scenic bays in the world, the entrance to which is flanked by the islands of Capri and Ischia. The city is nestled on dry rugged terrain between Mt. Vesuvius and the Campi Flegrei.
Growing up in the Vomero I had the best views of the City, but Ponticelli (about 13km southeast of the city), with fields as far as the eye can see, is what I hold in my heart. My family owned and worked farms in Ponticelli, growing everything from fresh tomatoes to grapes for the local family wine. Although the fields are no longer there, they are etched in my memory and my heart.
Every summer, we drove down the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento to visit the winemaking side of the family. We brought our grapes in huge baskets, placing the baskets next to a huge granite bath. I’ll never forget the experience of going barefoot into the vat, giggling as we stomped the grapes. How many can say they know how it feels to have grapes squishing through their toes? I have yet to drink wine that even comes close to what my family bottled, but they did not pass on the traditions of winemaking, and only a few cousins still make it.
It was sad to see the age of technology take away that bit of history. My family never did get what the big deal was. In their minds, there was simply no need for machinery when they had a good, working mule. They hooked some contraption up to the mule and had him pull a large granite wheel in a circle. This crushed the grapes as part of the winemaking process.
We would spend a week there, eating for hours under the pergolas, drinking wine while an old uncle spoke of the war and his wife sang old Neapolitan songs. After wonderful lunches, we would take a walk down to the beaches of Sorrento and rest our full bellies. Unless you live amongst the people, you never see these things.
I can remember my cousins and me being chased from a farm where we had picked grapes. What else was there to do back in those days? I still have a scar where a glass chard lodged in my knee. We were laughing all the way home, which is a good thing, because having glass in my knee hurt like heck.
One thing we did religiously was walk up and down the main square, eating gelato, drinking espresso and flirting with every cute guy on a Vespa. I fell in love at least three times a day. Now, I look back on those days with fond memories. A few of those cousins are gone, and their kids live in a place I hardly recognize. With population growth, most of the fields we played in are littered with deserted buildings of the political and economic downfall.
The central and most ancient part of Naples is built on flat ground beside the bay, east of the ridge that runs down from the heights of Vomero. Today, Naples is a large and overbearing city that still manages to give its visitors and incomparable experience. The last time I took an American there, they described it as hectic and chaotic. After my city tour, however, they looked at me over a glass of wine and said “As crazy as this city is, it works beautifully in all its chaos”. Never had I quite thought of it that way, but it’s true. I don’t think the city would be as charming any other way.
Favorite Places to Visit
I always have to go to The Duomo to see if any more great finds have been discovered. Amazingly, they are finding more and more buried secrets all around Naples. I love The Duomo’s Gothic flavors, dating to the early thirteenth century (with 19th century neo-Gothic character). It was originally built as a dedication to the patron saint of the city of San Gennaro.
To eat the best pizza in the world you have to go deep into the city. Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente on Via Tribunali. You see, we take our pizza very seriously. I’ve eaten pizzas from Pizza Hut and Dominoes, and don’t believe what the commercials say. They are not making “real pizzas.” Not one city in the US – not Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston or any Italian ethnic neighborhood in major cities – makes pizza like we do in Naples. It’s not just the wood ovens; it’s also the tomatoes, the fresh mozzarella and the ambiance. You just cannot replicate it.
For the best Mozzarella in the world, get in your car and take a day drive to Mont Dragone. It’s located about 50 km northwest of Napoli and 45 km west of the city of Caserta. I always buy extra so I can eat it on the road. The cheese is so fresh and delicious, milk drips down your arm as you eat it.
On the trip back, stop and visit the Palace of Caserta. The Palace has huge rooms, with frescos and a rich history. As well, there are beautiful gardens to walk through while enjoying a panino with fresh prosciutto and mozzarella.
Listen to an opera in the splendid Teatro San Carlo. Maurizio Benini is the new Chief Conductor. Although I’m not sure how wonderful he is, the architecture and sense of history are all around you. If you can find a CD of Lina Sastri singing Maruzella, you’ll know what I mean when I say that Neapolitan songs will make a grown man cry.
The islands in the bay of Naples: Capri, Ischia and Procida. You can reach them by hydrofoil or ferry from Beverello or Mergellina quay.
North of Naples: Caserta (30 min. by train) home of the Palazzo Reale at Caserta with sumptuous apartments and large classical gardens.
West of Naples: Pozzuoli (30 min. with Metropolitana from Piazza Garibaldi). In town there are a number of Roman relics: the Anfiteatro Flavio and the Temple of Serapide. North of town, the Solfatara is the exposed crater of a semi-extinct volcano with steam rising from the rocks.
East of Naples: The active volcano Vesuvius has had many eruptions, among them the one in 79 AD, when it buried the nearby towns and the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum (reach them with Circumvesuviana Railway from Piazza Garibaldi). The characteristic resorts of the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast: Positano and Amalfi.
About the Author: Gabriella Sannino has held positions as a marketing consultant, web designer and copywriter throughout her career before opening Level 343, a SEO copywriting company. She lives in the US with her family but still holds an Italian citizenship. Her passions in brand building through social media, marketing techniques and writing strong copy that converts are all part of the strategy. She fancies herself as an Italian rocker, rebel and SEO geek. Her passions include everything Italian, especially Naples. The fact she loves singing old Neapolitan songs in the shower or while cooking are what keep her grounded. See all of Gabriella Sannino’s Articles on Napoli Unplugged.