Put down the pizza and feed your cultural appetite instead on your next trip to one of Europe’s oldest cities. Dating back to the second millennium, Naples has reams of history encapsulated in its art and architecture. From lavish royal palaces and castles to underground labyrinths, it’s easy to see why the city’s been nicknamed the Grande Dame. Stuffed with character, charming alcoves and a myriad of impressive museums, the ancient Italian town is bursting with cultural flavour. Here’s our list of the seven must-see museums in Naples.
Driving the contemporary art scene in the city, the Museo MADRE is the most important venue for showcasing the modern genre. Set inside the 19th century Palazzo Donnaregina, the exhibition space was adapted by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira and was opened to the public in 2005. Including works by Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and Andy Warhol, to name but a few, the gallery is located in the heart of Naples and is home to one of the most important collections of contemporary art. The beautifully restored building houses temporary and permanent exhibitions and is an example of historical stratification, a strong characteristic of Naples’ old district. Spend a few hours strolling through the rooms and visit the Naples Cathedral when you’re done, only a few steps away.
Noted as the most important archaeological museum in Italy, the National Archaeological Museum is renowned for its rich collection of ancient Greek, Roman and Renaissance art and artefacts. Housing over 3,000 items split across eight thematic sections, this museum is the place to see remnants from Pompeii, Herculaneum and other cities that were destroyed during the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD. Founded in 1816 by Ferdinand I, the collections have many highlights including a third century Farnese Hercules marble statue, a colossal Farnese Bull sculpture, Roman bronzes from the Villa of Papyri and Roman mosaics from numerous houses in Pompeii. You won’t find any museums with as many authentic Roman antiquities as this one.
Delve deeper into the history of the ancient city and venture into the underground tunnels of Galleria Borbonica. Take a step back in time as you wander through the series of passageways that once connected a royal palace to an army barracks and served as a bomb shelter during the second world war. Formerly used to hold the water tanks for Naples, you can still see 300 year old containers as well as vintage cars, motorcycles and fascist statues that were left to rot. Book into one of the three available tours which include a raft ride through an abandoned subway tunnel filled with water. Representing a visual description of the last 500 years in Naples, this location is definitely worthy of the must-see list.
Located in the heart of Naples’ historic district, the chapel-turned-art-museum dates all the way back to 1590. Prepare to be blown away by some of the most important works of 18th century Italian artists, especially the amazingly intricate and ornate statue of the Veiled Christ, created by Giuseppe Sanmartino. The young Neapolitan artist took his inspiration from another piece that is also inside the museum in the chapel, Modesty. The statue depicts Jesus Christ in death covered with a sheer veil that has been carved from marble. More formerly known as the Chapel of Santa Maria della Pieta, the Cappella Sansevero is a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of the lively cobbled streets outside.
Overlooking the entire city and the infamous Mount Vesuvius, Certosa e Museo di San Martino is a recognisable landmark from most corners of Naples. Dating back to the 14th century, the former Carthusian monastery is set on one of the most breath-taking cloisters in Italy. The spectacular site is home to a baroque church with ceiling frescos and a marble altar as well as a complete collection of Neapolitan art. Whether you like history or not, this museum is non-negotiable, for its panoramic views alone!
One of the largest art museums in Italy, Museo di Capodimonte makes its home inside the walls of the majestic Bourbon palace, northern Naples. Spread across hundreds of rooms, the museum’s collection includes priceless Roman and Greek antiquities that include some of the most important marble works in the world. The museum also includes the National Gallery which features art from the likes of Raphael, Caravaggio and Titan. Originally designed as a hunting lodge for Charles VII of Bourbon, the regal grandiose of the place shines through in the best way possible.
Just as fascinating beneath the surface as it is above, the city of Naples sits on a network of tunnels and passageways that date back to the second century. Visit the tombs of the first bishops in Naples and the city’s patron saint, San Gennaro when you go for a stroll through the corridors and vestibules of the catacombs. Under the modern lighting systems, the detailing and skill of the ancient mosaics and frescoes can truly be appreciated. Dubbed a Christian pilgrimage site, masses of worshippers flock to the oldest and most sacred catacombs in Naples every year to pay their respects to the tomb of San Gennaro. An interesting excursion to say the least, the catacombs are definitely one of the best things to see in Naples.
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Flights to Naples
- Lucy Norris