The Montesanto station is the sixth stop on the Metro leaving from the Bagnoli station. This is one of two stops that drop travelers in the heart of old Naples.
Leaving the station, a right turn leads to Via Montesanto, which becomes Via Tarsia (another schizophrenic street). Via Tarsia ends at Via Toledo/Roma, just below Piazza Dante. Across the street and right down Toledo/Roma, is Via D. Capitelli, the beginning (or end, depending on your point of view) of the famous Spaccanapoli.
This street can be confusing; it actually goes through five name changes before reaching its end, not to count the myriad of Piazzas and Piazzettas it goes through.
The first stop is Piazza Gesu Nuovo. Two major attractions inhabit this square: the Gesu Nuovo Church and the Santa Chiara Cloister.
The Gesu Nuovo Church is not much to look at from the outside. A drab gray building, covered with pyramid-like projections. Walk inside though, and the visitor is overwhelmed with Baroqueness. The interior is a riot of inlaid marble, ceiling frescoes, statues and gilt furnishings. The main altar, flanked by the huge organ pipes, is very impressive.
To the right, in a different part of the church, is the San Giuseppe Moscati shrine. Dedicated to a Neapolitan doctor, the walls are covered with silver offerings, thanking the saint for his healing powers. Each offering is in the shape of a body part that was healed when the supplicant came to the shrine to pray. Also located in this section are replicas of his office and sitting room, complete with the saint’s furniture (including the armchair where he passed away).
Hanging in a corner of the display is the shell of an incendiary bomb, dropped on the church on Aug. 14, 1943. The Jesuit priests kept the bombshell, which did not go off, and put it on display to show the folly of war.
Across the Piazza is the Santa Chiara Cloister, recognizable by its large, square bell tower. The large church is quite a contrast from the Baroque Gesu Nuovo. Although the church was remade in the Baroque style, a bomb hit it on the same day as Gesu Nuovo, although in this case the bomb did go off, leaving the church a burned-out shell. The building was redone, leaving mainly the original gothic style furnishings and decorations, giving a good impression of the vastness of the building.
Around the left side of the church is the entrance to the cloister. A covered walkway surrounds the small garden, decorated with frescoes and offering refuge from the sun. The garden is a tranquil spot, none of the noise from surrounding Naples filtering in. It is also one of the prettiest spots in Naples, surrounded by columns and benches done in painted tiles. The museum holds what could be salvaged from the church after the bombing, including pictures of what it looked like before the disaster.
Continuing down the street, Piazza San Domenico Maggiore is another interesting spot, with the church of the same name. Located in this church is a major collection of artwork, including fine tombs dating from the Renaissance to the 19th Century.
Up the right side of the church, down the first street on the right is the Sansevero Chapel. A little Rococo relief from all the Baroque, the chapel holds three very interesting statues: the Veiled Modesty, Disillusion and the Veiled Christ. The veiled works are remarkable illusions, the statues seemingly covered with thin veils. Disillusion is the real mind-blower: Francesco Queirolo, a little-known Neapolitan sculptor, managed to carve out of the same block of marble a man covered with a fishing net, complete with a book with turning pages. A long rest period was more than likely required after this particular feat.
For the morbid, the basement has on display two 18th Century anatomic displays. Skeletons of a man and a woman, grotesquely covered with a complete circulatory system and filled with organs.
Further down the Spaccanapoli is the Piazzetta Nilo, taking its name from an allegorical statue of the Nile. The statue is from the Greek period of Naples (or Neapolis at the time) and was discovered on this spot and put on a pedestal in the adjacent Largo Corpo di Napoli.
Further down, the street is intersected by Via San Gregorio, better known as Christmas Alley (yes, Gold Alley is part of the Spaccanapoli).
This is one of the more interesting shopping sites, filled with shops catering to the Nativity Scene, Naples style. Every conceivable object required to make a presepe is available here, with varying prices, depending on how elaborate the scene.
At the top of the street is the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore, a major architectural complex. Founded in the 6th Century and rebuilt in 1270-75, its modern restoration brought back as much of its original Gothic appearance as possible. Beneath the church and cloisters are important Greco-Roman and early Medieval excavations.
This tour ends at Via del Duomo, also reachable from the next stop on the Metro, Piazza Cavour.
Last edited on June 5, 2004