A Day in Naples: Pizza, Mafia and the Search for Blood

Napoli, Italy
31st August 2018

In Italy and got a serious craving for pizza? We sure did.

The "only logical thing" to do then, was to head over to where pizza was invented, the metropolitan city of Naples.

An oldest of cities in Europe and once a powerful of centre of Renaissance, this ex-wealthy kingdom of Naples has seen more than her fair share of conflict. Originally Greek (2BC), Naples has since been been ruled by the Romans, Goths, Spanish, French and then some. Half the city's population got wiped out in 1656 by the Black Plaque. During World War II, this was the most heavily bombed city in Italy. Looking around, I could definitely see signs of physical "scaring" around this historic city, along with heaps of trash and less than perfect European polish. 

If this is your first do-it-yourself trip out of a comfortable first-world country, please skip Naples and head straight for the world renown beauty of the Italian Amalfi Coast. This day in Naples was the only day in our 3-week trip where I felt like we were really walking right "on the edge". But you know what? That feeling of being really alive, the one that gets us to pay good money, rest on uncomfortable bedding, wait patiently for trains and haul our luggage to some really far off places where we have no idea what people are saying, that feeling was starting to come on. That feeling was coming on strong.

Naples is home to the mafia. More specifically, the Camorra - the country‚Äôs oldest organised crime syndicate. The stuff on the film Gomorrah (2008, seriously, very mature audiences only!) are all apparently true. After over 8 years since the film was released, the mafia in Naples are still on the hunt for Roberto Saviano, the journalist who wrote the book, which the film is based on. The film exposed the Camorra. Now, Robert travels around with seven trained bodyguards, in two bullet-proof cars. In his new book, Robert reveals how 15-year old children of the Mafia become stone-cold killers. If you see persons that look like mafia in Naples, they probably are. Do resist the temptation to walk up to them, and ask for a group selfie.

Anyways, we digress. This is a travel story. Moving away from thoughts of potential homicide, we jump back to the happy food trail .. 

Believe me when I say Via dei Tribunali is hard to find .. it is ridiculously HARD TO FIND. But like all things hard-to-find, your prize is just waiting at the end of this little Easter-egg hunt for the street with arguably the best pizza in the home city of pizza. Get your GPS-phone out buddies, you will be kidding yourself otherwise. Also, it is probably not a great idea to stand in the middle of the sidewalk and start unfolding any large paper maps you have stashed in your bag. The Camorra might be watching! ;-)

Sorry for the poor quality of this next photo, but sadly, this is my only picture of pizza we had in Naples (LOL). We were so hungry when we finally found Sorbillo's. After some of the most amazing piping hot pizza there, my brain crashed for the next 30 minutes or so. Having tried pizza from New York to New Zealand, the pizza here is both cheap and the most plain and simply looking you will find, in the whole world. But, if you have made it here, take a bite, taste, and the rest is history. Now, nothing else matters. Order whichever pizza you fancy, but I highly recommend at least trying the four cheeses (Pizza Quattro Formaggi) .. Mamma mia!!  And, in the words of Gordon Ramsey, "to die for!".

best Naples pizza at Sorbillos

In Naples, "stuff" is going on all the time, you just might not see it. Stay frosty and keep your wits around you. It is a good thing if your stuff (money, handbag, limbs?) remain with you. A double shot of espresso at good ole Gambrinus, alfresco style, was a great idea. That put an even bigger smile on our faces (after that heavenly pizza) and helped us stay double alert. It kept our eyes open for any potential gangster activities. Neapolitan pizza, followed by Neapolitan espresso. It does not get any better than this. 

Naples Gambrinus cafe

Piazza del Plebiscito Naples

A ribbon wrapped orange sports car swings by the large (oval) square, Piazza del Plebiscito, drops off a bunch of attractive ladies and shoots off. A crew rocks up. By that time, I was unsure if it was the pizza or double-shot that got me feeling like I was "seeing" things. But, hey, where is the groom? 

The view was good. I could see Mount Vesuvius. There across the Bay of Naples, this famed city killer (Mount Vesuvius) wiped out the entire nearby Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It released over a hundred-thousand times the thermal energy of the bombings at Hiroshima-Nagasaki. That eruption back in 79AD, killed an estimated over 1,000 people. Vesuvius is an active volcano.

Mount Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples

We were on the hunt for blood. Specifically, the blood of Saint Januarius.

Locally known as San Gennaro, this saint died a martyr in the year 305. He is the patron saint of Naples. His dried blood remains kept in a glass vial, a relic in the care of the Roman Catholic church. On the same 3 days each year, the solid blood of Saint Januarius liquifies (yes, it turns to liquid). 

This liquefaction of blood has vaguely been happening since 1389. On the rare occasion when his blood did not liquify, locals here take that (very seriously) as a dark omen of impending disaster to the city of Naples - disasters the likes of the 1980 earthquake, the 1973 outbreak of cholera, the 1939 start of World War II, etc, you get the picture .. Whilst it did not liquefy when a couple of other popes were in Naples, the blood of Saint Januarius did liquify when pope Francis visited in 2015.

Our search took us around other parts of town. Between the intense graffiti, crumbling concrete, piles of abandoned trash and wet street-side markets, I saw beautiful locals everywhere. They seemed a bit more laid back and relaxed; less hurried as compared to folks in the bigger cities. 


a street in Naples

pasta shop in Naples

We arrive at the Cathedral (Duomo) of Naples. This is where thousands of people gather during the three times a year. 

inside the Naples Cathedral

Inside the cathedral, to the left is the restored 4th-century Basilica di Santa Restituta.

Basilica di Santa Restituta, inside the Cathedral of Naples

To the right, we entered the sacred Cappella di San Gennaro (a.k.a. Chapel of Saint Januarius, and Chapel of the Treasury).

Cappella di San Gennaro, inside Naples Duomo

Chapel of the Treasury, inside Naples Duomo

We take a moment of silence to absorb the view of the high altar. To the left is the clothed silver bust of Saint Januarius. No signs of his blood in sight. Perhaps, that sacred vial is locked away behind the altar; or maybe even in a bank vault elsewhere.

We say a short quiet prayer in gratitude. We are alive, limbs and purses intact. We wished for blessings on the people of Naples, who have kindly allowed tourists like us to wander around their city to appreciate of her beautiful artefacts and enjoy simply what is the BEST pizza in the world.

This centre of Naples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Grazie mille. Thanks for reading.

Happy travels!

p.s. If you're looking to do a self-guided tour of this city, you might like this awesome Naples Foodie Itinerary. Visit Naples. Feel and taste what it is like, to be alive!

Chris Wong
A free and independent traveler from the Southern hemisphere. Inspired. Curious. Explorer. Foodie.
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