The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, has one of the world’s best collections of Greek and Roman artifacts, including mosaics, sculptures, gems, glass and silver and a collection of Roman erotica from Pompeii. Many of the objects come from excavations at Pompeii, Herculaneum and nearby archaeological sites. The collection includes works of the highest quality produced in Greek, Roman and Renaissance times. It is the most important archaeological museum in Italy. Charles III of Spain founded the museum in the 1750s. The building he used for it had been erected as a cavalry barracks and later was the seat of the University of Naples until it became the site of the museum.
Some of the highlights include:
A major collection of ancient Roman bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri is housed at the museum and includes the Seated Hermes, a sprawling Drunken Satyr and a bust of Thespis.
Mosaics covering the period from two centuries BC until the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and mosaics that were parts of floors and walls in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae are displayed. Many of the mosaics include figures from Greek paintings. The most well-known are the mosaics from the House of the Faun in Pompeii. The museum’s collection also includes a number of important mosaics recovered from the ruins of several Vesuvian cities. This includes the Alexander Mosaic, dating circa 100 BC, and depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. Another important mosaic is of the gladiatorial fighter depicted in the mosaic found at the Villa of the Figured Capitals.
Secret Cabinet – This room was created in the early 1800’s to house the museum’s many sexual items. It was closed for many years but reopened in 2000. The Secret Cabinet (Gabbinete) or Secret Room is the name the Bourbon Monarchy gave the private rooms in which they held their fairly extensive collection, mostly derived from excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Access was limited to only persons of a mature age. After the revolution of 1848, the government of the monarchy proposed the destruction of these objects, fearful of the implications of their ownership, which would tarnish the monarchy’s reputation. The, then, director of the Royal Bourbon Museum had access to the collection terminated and the entrance door was sealed with three different locks, whose keys were held respectively by the Director of the Museum, the Museum Controller and the Palace Butler. This censorship occurred in 1851 when even nude Venus statues were locked up. The entrance was eventually walled up in the hope that the collection would vanish from memory.
In September 1860, when the forces of Garibaldi occupied Naples, he ordered that the collection be made available for the general public to view. Since the Royal Butler was no longer available, they broke into the collection and restored viewership. Censorship was again imposed during the era of the Kingdom of Italy and continued into the Fascist period, when visitors to the rooms needed the permission of the Minister of National Education in Rome. Censorship persisted through the postwar period up to 1967, abating only after 1971 when the Ministry was given new rules to regulate requests for visits and access to the section. Completely rebuilt a few years ago with all of the new criteria, the collection was finally opened to the public in April 2000. Visitors under the age of 14 can tour the exhibit only with an adult.
Frescoes come from the walls in Pompeii. Covering a period of about two centuries, the frescoes are excellent examples of Roman painting. They cover a variety of themes, including mythology, landscapes and scenes of daily life.
Temple of Isis is a special exhibit that holds wall paintings removed from the temple in Pompeii, as well as artifacts from the temple.
Pompeii Model was made in the 19th century and is a model of the city that helps the visitor visualize what it looked like before the eruption.
Sculptures of Greeks and Romans are housed in a large collection at the museum.
Coins and Metals are displayed in six rooms containing more than 200,000 coins and medals from Ancient Greece, Rome, medieval times and the Bourbon era.
Prehistory and Early History rooms cover objects related to the Bay of Naples from paleolithic times to Greek colonization in the 8th century BC. There’s a section on Etruscan occupation of the area.
The museum has the third largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Italy, after the Vatican Museum and the Museo Egizio in Turin. It is made up primarily of works from two private collections, assembled by Cardinal Borgia in the second half of the 18th century and Picchianti in the first years of the 19th. In the recent rearrangement of the galleries the two collections have been exhibited separately, while in a connecting room other items are on display, including Egyptian artifacts from Pompeii and other Campanian sites. In its new layout the collection provides both an important record of Egyptian civilization from the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 B.C.) up to the Ptolemaic-Roman era.
Museo di Capodimonte is located in the Palace of Capodimonte, a grand Bourbon palazzo in Naples, Italy. The museum is the prime repository of Neapolitan painting and decorative art, with several important works from other Italian schools of painting and some important ancient Roman sculptures This museum has the largest collection in Italy aside from the Uffizi — and yet you don’t have to vie for space in front of its masterpieces. The Capodimonte contains pieces by Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Bellini, El Greco, Artemisia Gentileschi, even an Andy Warhol painting of Mt. Vesuvius erupting… among others.
The collection can trace its origins back to 1738, when King Charles VII of Naples and Sicily (later Charles III, king of Spain) decided to build a hunting lodge on the Capodimonte hill, but then decided that he would instead build a grand palace, partly because his existing residence, the Palace of Portici, was too small to accommodate his court and partly because he needed somewhere to house his Farnese art collection, which he had inherited from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese, the last descendant of the sovereign ducal family of Parma.
Over the years the palace was enlarged and filled with more art. In 1787, on the advice of Jacob Philipp Hackert, a laboratory for the restoration of paintings was created. After the palace passed in 1861 to the House of Savoy, further pieces were added to the art collections, appointing Domenico Morelli as consultant for new acquisitions. They also added an extensive collection of historic firearms and other weapons. In 1866, the boudoir of Maria Amalia of Saxony was transferred to Capodimonte from the Palace of Portici and in 1877 a Roman era marble floor was brought in from a Roman villa on Capri. After the end of the monarchy, the palace became a national museum in 1950.
The Cappella Sansevero (also known as the Capella Sansevero de’ Sangri or Pietatella) is a chapel north of the church of San Domenico Maggiore, in the historic center of Naples, Italy. Its origin dates to 1590 when John Francesco di Sangro, Duke of Torremaggiore, after recovering from a serious illness, had a private chapel built in what were then the gardens of the nearby Sansevero family residence, the Palazzo Sansevero. The building was converted into a family burial chapel by Alessandro di Sangro in 1613 (as inscribed on the marble plinth over the entrance to the chapel). The Prince of Sansevero also included Masonic symbols in its reconstruction. Until 1888 a passageway connected the Sansevero palace with the chapel.
The museum contains works of art by some of the leading Italian artists of the 18th century including sculptures of the late Baroque period. The chapel houses almost thirty works of art, among them sculptures made of a marble-like substance that, in whole or in part, was invented by Raimondo, who also participated in the design of the works of art in the chapel. The Veiled Truth was completed by Antonio Corradini in 1750 as a tomb monument dedicated to Cecilia Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona, mother of Raimondo. A Christ Veiled under a Shroud (also called Veiled Christ) was completed in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino. It is a masterpiece of expression — even though there is a veil covering the face.
The ceiling, the Glory of Paradise, was painted by Francesco Maria Russo in 1749. The original floor (most of the present one dates from 1901) was in black and white (said to symbolize good/evil) in the design of a labyrinth.
In the basement there is a painting by the Roman artist, Giuseppe Pesce, Madonna con Bambino, dating from around 1750. It was painted using wax-based paints of Raimondo di Sangro’s own invention. The prince presented this painting to his friend Charles Bourbon, King of Naples.
There are also “anatomic models” of 18th century people whose skeletons, arteries and veins have all been preserved to this day. However, analysis of the “blood vessels” indicate they are constructed of beeswax, iron wire and silk.
Ask any Italian where the best pizza in Italy comes from and the answer will be — begrudgingly — the same: “Napoli.” Here’s where pizza was invented and, since the 19th century, the Neapolitans have raised it to a fine art.
Pizza is far from the only food Naples does well. Its fritti (fried offerings), seafood and pastas are top-notch, too. But the one thing you can’t miss are the baked goods. Thanks to Naples’ mixed heritage — from the 12th to 19th centuries, the French, Spanish, Austrians and Bourbons all claimed control at some point — its pastries have picked up the best of all foreign influences, such as baba, zeppola, sfogliatelle or around Easter time – the pastiera.
Naples-Style Pizza Dough
- 2 tablespoons sugar (⅞ oz.)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (½ oz.)
- ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 5½ cups “00” flour, (1 lb. 12 oz.)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt (¾ oz.)
Combine sugar, oil, yeast and 2 cups cold water in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook; let sit until foamy, 8-10 minutes. Mix flour and salt in a separate bowl.
With motor running, slowly add flour mixture; mix until a smooth dough forms, 8-10 minutes. Transfer dough to a greased baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature 1 hour.
Divide dough into 4 balls; transfer to a greased 9″ x 13″ dish; brush tops with oil. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 48 hours.
Salsa di Pomodoro Fresco
- 2 (28-oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes, packed in purée
- Kosher salt, to taste
Remove each whole tomato from the can and reserve 3 cups of the purée. Cut the tomatoes in half and, using your fingers, remove and discard the seeds (don’t rinse).
Place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until just crushed but not puréed. (Alternatively, crush the tomatoes by hand or pass them through a food mill.)
Transfer the tomato sauce to a bowl and stir in the reserved 3 cups of purée and salt.
- 1 recipe Naples-style pizza dough
- Fine semolina, for dusting
- 1 recipe Naples-style pizza sauce
- 1 lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 16 fresh basil leaves
- Olive oil
Place a pizza stone under the broiler; heat for 30 minutes.
Working with the 4 batches of dough, dust 1 ball dough with semolina. Using your fingertips, press dough into a 10″ circle about ¼” thick, leaving a 1″ crust around the edges.
Hold dough straight up, and with fingertips circling crust, slide fingers around crust in a circular motion as you would turn a steering wheel until dough in the center is stretched to about ⅛” thick; transfer to a semolina-dusted pizza peel.
Spread ½ cup sauce over dough and distribute a quarter each of the cheese and basil leaves; drizzle with oil. Slide pizza onto the stone; broil until the cheese melts and the crust is puffed and charred in spots, 3-4 minutes.
Lasagne alla Napoletena
Also known as carnival lasagna, a traditional southern recipe from Naples.
- 6 oz. (gr.170) lasagne (fresh homemade lasagne pasta, if possible)
- 8 oz. (gr.225) Italian sausage
- 4 oz. (gr.115) mozzarella cheese
- 8 oz. (gr.225) ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 10 oz. (gr.300) ripe tomatoes or whole canned, chopped
- 2 tablespoons (gr.30) butter
- 4 tablespoons (ml.60) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- Small bunch of basil, minced
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
In a saucepan heat the olive oil and brown the onion. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes at low heat. Add the minced basil.
Brown the Italian sausages in a skillet on all sides. Set aside to cool. After cooling, remove the casing and thinly slice the sausage.
Dice the mozzarella cheese. Slice the hard-boiled eggs.
In a mixing slightly beat the egg together with the Parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Heat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Oil the bottom of a lasagna pan and lay 3 noodles crosswise. Spread with some of the tomato sauce, some diced mozzarella, some ricotta, a few tablespoons of the eggs and cheese mixture, some slices of the hard-boiled eggs and some pieces of the Italian sausages. Repeat the layering procedure until all ingredients are used.
For the last layer cover with just the noodles and spread the top with softened butter. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and bake the lasagna for 20 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and let lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Cut and serve.
Neapolitan Zuppa di Pesce
The Neapolitan version will almost always include one or more kinds of mollusks such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, clams or mussels or both, and a variety fish with fins. The fish was usually the local catch, so many local varieties of fish, most of them small and some quite bony but flavorful, can be added to the pot. Larger fish can be cut into serving or even bite-sized pieces. The most typical fish of all is scorfano, called ‘scorpion fish’ in English. (Scorfano is also typical of the Tuscan cacciucco and some of the Adriatic brodetti.) Triglie—red mullet—is also a common addition. But any firm-fleshed fish that lends itself to simmering will do: monkfish, snapper, catfish, sole. Less typical of this kind of fish soup are sea scallops and shellfish but they are nice additions.
For the tomato base:
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 peperoncino (or a pinch of red pepper flakes)
- Olive oil
- A can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
- Salt and pepper
- A splash of white wine
- 1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped
For the seafood (in the order they should be added to the pot):
- An assortment of mollusks, such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, cut into bite-sized pieces
- An assortment of firm-fleshed fish of your choice, such as monkfish cut into large chunks
- Shrimp, crayfish and/or sea scallops
- Clams and/or mussels
Sauté the garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the peperoncino. When the garlic is just barely beginning to brown; add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper (going light on the salt since the shellfish will be salty) and add some of the chopped parsley. Simmer for 10 minutes or so, or until the sauce begins to reduce. Add a splash of white wine.
Add the seafood starting with the varieties that take the longest to cook, then progressing to those that take less time. Begin with the mollusks, since they will take some time to cook. With baby cuttlefish, let them simmer about 10 minutes before adding any other fish. Octopus or mature squid (cut up into bite-sized pieces) will take much longer, usually about 30 minutes. Then add the fish and let that cook for another five minutes. Finally, add the clams and mussels and simmer them just until they open. Sprinkle with a bit more finely chopped parsley and serve immediately with crusty bread.
Ricotta Neapolitan Easter Pie (Pasteria)
- 1 qt whole milk
- 3/4 cup Arborio rice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- Unsalted butter, for the pan
- All-purpose flour, for pan
- 3 lbs fresh ricotta cheese, drained 3 hours or preferably overnight
- 3 large whole eggs
- 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Boil milk in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice, cinnamon, salt and the vanilla bean. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 30 minutes or until rice is very tender and has absorbed all the liquid.
Remove pan from the heat. Stir in ¾ cups granulated sugar. Cover. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Discard vanilla bean.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch springform pan.
In a large bowl, mix the rice mixture, ricotta, whole eggs, egg yolks and remaining ½ cup sugar. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until golden on top and almost set in the center. Cover with foil if starting to brown too much.
Transfer pan to a cooling rack. When cake has completely cooled, run a knife around edge to loosen. Gently remove ring.
Transfer cake to a serving platter. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
- Life and death in Pompeii (bbc.co.uk)