Apart from the one where I was born and live, to no other city on this planet could I ever associate the adjective “my”. I want to tell you something personal: if at some point in life I didn’t lose my purpose and managed to keep an appropriate pace, the merit is all about Naples and the Neapolitans, philosophers by vocation, pragmatic by spirit.
The year was 2003, I had been a cross-dresser since a few months (for those who don’t know it, cross-dressers are those wearing the opposite sex clothes – you can easily gather my story as well, just google my name). I was afraid of my own shadow. I seldom left home, and when I did, I studied the itineraries so as not to walk more than five metres between my car and the places where I had to go.
Then, one day, I happened to fly to Naples. It was a business trip but I was reserved a long stay, with some leisure time.
One of my contacts, before going to dinner, told me: «Dress up as you want, Ste. I’ll get you around myself».
And so I did. Together we went along a long stretch of Mergellina, the most beautiful seafront in the world, which that evening seemed to me the most beautiful in the universe. We encountered some friends. We dined. We still walked to Piazza del Plebiscito, and then again to Piazza Trieste e Trento, in front of San Carlo Theatre. Once back to the hotel I calculated the distance I could have gone through. Counters were beyond to come, but it was easy to deduce no less than three kilometres – i.e. six to eight hundred times more than I was used to self-limiting.
That evening – as well as the following days – marked a turning point for me. I still remember my feelings by the first handshake from someone who didn’t show any embarrassment in meeting me. It was as though an intimate boulder collapsed into the abyss from where it had come.
So you can imagine what I feel, ever since that day, each time I return to Naples, I see that promenade and those places, I chat with the Neapolitans, sharing their unequalled attitude to life.
They say see Naples and then die. In my personal cabal I read touch me Naples and then die.
Earlier this spring, Naples Convention Bureau, directed by my friend Giovanna Lucherini, organized a tailor-made site inspection to show me the unusual Naples – a long, sunny and beauty-inspired tour along both conventional and unconventional venues, based on the Grand Hotel Oriente (a downtown four-star with great service, six meeting rooms for up to 250 people and a plenary hall consisting of four subsections, suitable for large numbers) and a spectacular start in via Toledo, the shopping street, gorgeous pedestrian area connecting the sea to the ancient alleys.
Here comes the first surprise: the magnificent Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, which through a monumental staircase – with a breathtaking 100-people space for events – leads to a gallery of artists from both the Neapolitan seventeenth century, including The Martyrdom of Saint Orsola, the last painting by Caravaggio, and the eight-nineteenth centuries. Intesa Sanpaolo’s museum site since 2007 and completely renewed in 2014, this location is one of the most exciting Italian art examples available at the meeting industry, offering the unusual opportunity to surround an event not only of history but also of Beauty, with the capital B of artistic beauties, understandable by anyone, regardless of studies, interests and attitudes.
Not far away, at the end of via Toledo, in wonderful piazza Trieste and Trento, another vintage masterpiece shows up, Circolo Artistico Politecnico, representative of the Neapolitan nineteenth century. The museum was set up in 1988, comprising as a strong point the perfect liberty-style hall created in 1912 by Giovan Battista Comencini. The “Farmacia” is also very characteristic, still retaining the members’ caricatures as well as painted theme vessels. If you have 300 people and you want to dive them in the nineteenth century, just like in a time machine, here’s what’s for you.
Let us now change the area and move to the old town. Here, near Piazza Garibaldi and the seaport, one of the richest museums in Italy is displayed, the Monumental Complex of Donnaregina, a one-of-a-kind venue where the oldest buildings keep the pre-Baroque testimonies of both the ancient convent and the two original churches, the medieval and the seventeenth-century one, whose aisles are today wonderful event halls.
The annexed museum extends over 3,000 square meters and features works by painters such as Andrea Vaccaro, Paolo de Matteis, Luca Giordano, Francesco Solimena, Aniello Falcone and Marco Pino da Siena. There is also a rare Staurotek from the twelfth century containing a fragment of the Cross of Christ.
Just imagine what it means to hold an event in such a place (which is one of the very few historical dwellings in Naples accommodating up to 450 people in a single room – the aisle, actually the main one – while offering state-of-the-art equipment and services).
Nearby, in fifteenth-century Palazzo Como, is the Civico Filangieri Museum, born in 1888 as a “dream” of prince and patron Gaetano Filangieri. The collection boasts more than three thousand specimens of applied arts (majolica, porcelain, biscuit, ivory, weapons and armours, medals), paintings and sculptures from the 16th to the 19th century, 18th and 19th century presbyteries, a library with about 30,000 volumes as well as a historical archive with documents from the 13th to the 19th century. The big lounge on the first floor accommodates 120 people in conference setting.
Nearby as well (the historic centre of Naples is a forge of wonders one step apart) shows up the complex of Santa Caterina in Formiello, resurrected last year under the name of Made in Cloister.
A rich cultural programming draws this brave urban retraining experiment, which includes an art shop, a residence for guest artists, an exhibition space, a restaurant. The cloister, spectacularly restored in its original appearance, accommodates 300 people seated.
Farther away in Rione Sanità, the land opens up to offer us a fabulous, mysterious, almost mystical location: Saint Gennaro’s and Saint Gaudioso’s catacombs. Saint Gennaro’s are the most important catacombs in Southern Italy, both in terms of extension and artistic value.
Their heritage goes from the pagan II century AD. to the Byzantine paintings of the IX-X century AD. The Early Christian out-of-walls Basilica of St. Gennaro, annexed to the catacombs and once connecting the city of the living to the one of the dead, is today a gate between past and future. It consists of three large aisles, with a semicircular apse that is the strongest testimony of early Christian architecture. It contains 350 people in conference setting and I assure you that only a few things, in the profane world of Mice, have a sacred taste as an event being held here.
San Gaudioso’s is the second largest catacomb in Naples; it houses early Christian as well as 17th century elements. The annexed Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità was built between 1602 and 1610 and contains as many as one thousand seats in conference setting.
Let us now change the area again and go to the sea, on the border between Naples and Portici. Here is one of the most universally known venues in the city: the National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa, seven pavilions for a total extension of about 36,000 square metres (of which 14,000 covered and partly used as congress centre) with locomotives, electro-motors, self-propelled engines and passenger carriages.
The first pavilion, in particular, is aimed at preserving the means of the “past”, from the historic reconstruction of the first Naples-Portici convoy, to a jewel among the jewels: the saloon-convoy of Savoia’s train, currently Train of the Presidency of the Italian Republic.
On the opposite side of the city, close to the sea as well, lays the famous Città della Scienza, a multifunctional centre with one of the main event and congress facilities in the whole of Southern Italy, comprising a wide and varied system of rooms and spaces capable of about 2,000 seats: the 13 rooms range between ten and eight hundred seats each. It all ends up with an amazing terrace, partly covered, in front of Nisida, the island inspiring Edoardo Bennato for his song L’Isola che non c’è (=Neverland).
The outstanding detail is the Science Centre, the first interactive scientific museum in Italy.
Four areas: Corporea (the human body museum), the 3D Planetarium, the great interactive exhibition dedicated to the sea, and the workshop for kids. Among the laboratories I would like to mention the GNAM, the village of Mediterranean diet and biodiversity.
Among traditional venues, Mostra d’Oltremare stands out as the main reference for congresses and fairs in Naples and Southern Italy. The congress and convention area, including the congress palace, the Teatro Mediterraneo and the Italia hall, has rooms from 36 to 1,140 seats, as well as exhibition halls, which can accommodate up to two thousand congressmen and go hand in hand with parking areas and entertainment facilities.
For example a multifunctional park comprising stunning locations such as Esedra’s fountain, the Fasilides Lake (a faithful reconstruction of the Gondar castle in Africa), the pool solarium, the cedar garden, the four-star Palazzo Esedra and the swimming pool restaurant, where the MedEaterranea Food and Wine Academy has been recently inaugurated – a state-of-the-art facility in education, catering and food and wine culture. Having personally experienced its quality, I can attest that it fully keeps its promises.
Finally, the unconventional location par excellence: Pozzuoli’s Solfatara, about 40 ancient volcanoes surrounded by the Flavian Amphitheater, the Acropolis of Cuma, Baia’s hot springs and Serapide’s Temple. Extending on about 33 hectares, it offers an interesting walk among volcanic phenomena, fumaroles, mofets and mud volcanoes, wooded areas and Mediterranean scrubs.
An incentive trip can grossly benefit from all this, as long as you don’t unveil the two clamorous surprises that nature reserves to those who enter here. The first is the steam condensation when a small flame approaches a fumarole: vapours appear progressively more intense since both the solid particles produced by combustion and the ions of the atmospheric gases act as condensation cores. The other, even unsettling, is the roar of the ground caused by the boulders, which, if let fall from a small height at some points of the crater, cause a dark resound, as if there were underground cavities.
Icing on the cake of my Neapolitan experience: a dinner at Palazzo Caracciolo, belonging to MGallery by Sofitel, 146 rooms in one of the most beautiful historical dwellings of the city, eight modular meeting rooms with a maximum capacity of up to 100 people and a splendid cloister that can host 400. The atmosphere is amazing, and for me, thanks also to my friend Giovanna Lucherini being company over to dinner, it was a further opportunity to live the unusual Naples and to feel it even more beautiful, even more close, even more mine.