As my 30th birthday present, my husband took me on a trip to Naples last week. It’s been a dream of mine to visit there ever since learning all about Naples, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius in Latin class as a child. So I was really excited to go…and it was even more incredible than I imagined!
It’s a bit of a cliché to call a place “magical,” but I can’t think of a better word to describe Naples. From its ancient Roman ruins to its medieval streets to its colourful modern urban culture, there is something very otherworldly about Naples. And as a Pagan, I saw and experienced many things that filled me with joy. There’s a lot I want to share, so I’m going to spread the account of my Naples trip over several entries.
We arrived in the evening on Friday, and I was immediately struck by the weird, anarchic aesthetics of Centro Storico, the old part of the city where a large proportion of Naples’ most interesting sights are to be had. It’s very run-down, with peeling paint and graffiti on every wall, but it absolutely teems with life. And on each tiny street (crammed with people and motorbikes) you’ll often find some beautiful church or other historical site, making it the perfect place to just explore and soak up the atmosphere.
The first sight we visited was the cathedral (Duomo), which is free to enter and is open until the early evening. Most churches in Britain seem to close before sunset, so it was quite a treat for me to be able to visit a cathedral under the night sky!
The Duomo is very beautiful, but in some ways, I actually found the tiny little shrines that are present all over the city (and especially the older, more run-down parts) even more intriguing. You’ll spot a shrine to Jesus, Mary or San Gennaro in almost every alleyway, usually illuminated at night; the story is that in the past criminals would steal street lamps, but putting the lamps in shrines would deter them. The shrines usually have offerings of flowers, and they are treated with great reverence; we spotted some locals make the sign of the cross as they passed.
They remind me so much of hokora, Japan’s roadside shrines. And they also demonstrated to me that Catholicism in Italy very much has a folk tradition that British Catholicism seems to lack. And as I later found out, there seems to be a link between Naples’ modern tradition of street shrines and its ancient Pagan past…