The historic centre of Naples is built on top of a network of interconnected caverns and tunnels from the Greco-Roman Age, which can now be visited thanks to the work of the Napoli Sotterranea association. The earliest excavations date from prehistoric times, although it was the Greeks who first began systematically quarrying building materials, which have been used for the majority of construction work in Naples and around the Bay. All the Romans had to do was extend and enlarge the caverns dug by their predecessors and, when they reached a depth of 40 metres they discovered mineral water springs which created an enormous aqueduct for the entire city. Another underground site is tunnel Borbone at Chiaia (access roads are two: one is located in via D. Morelli, Morelli directly into the parking lot, near piazza Vittoria and the other in the vico del Grottone, no. 4 near Piazza Plebiscito).
On the surface, almost resting on the sunken treasures of Naples, stands the ancient heart of the city: the Old Town. The maze of long streets and narrow alleys that was the ancient Greco-Roman city of Neapolis and the venue of many legendary events can still be clearly seen in the historic centre of Naples between the fortresses of Castel Capuano and Castel Nuovo. It stands on the corner of Via dei Tribunali, the ancient thoroughfare of the Greek polis which links up to the ancient Roman decumani, now known as Spaccanapoli and Via San Giovanni a Carbonara.[charme-gallery]
On the left of Via dei Tribunali, near the theatre of Nero (Via Anticaglia), is the Ospedale della Pace. Further along the street stands the Spire of San Gennaro, an offering to the saint for protecting the city from the eruption of Vesuvius in 1631. Opposite this is the Pio Monte della Misericordia institution which was set up in 1603 to carry out works of charity and still houses some artistic masterpieces.
As you pass the bustling fruit and fish markets, the air fills with the exquisite aroma of pastries and pizzas around Piazza San Gaetano, where the basilica of San Paolo Maggiore provides access to the underground city, a place of mystery and fascination. On the left stands the monumental gothic complex of San Lorenzo Maggiore. Branching off from Piazza San Gaetano is Via San Gregorio Armeno, the colourful street of nativity scene craftsmen.[charme-gallery]
A little further on is the church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio, renowned for the cult worship of the dead, whose skulls are carefully cleaned and conserved in the hope of receiving grace or just a winning on the lotto. Next is the gothic, tufa stone church of San Pietro a Majella alongside the Royal Conservatory of Music, from whose windows the notes of famous Neapolitan composers still linger in the air and float down to the many music shops in Via San Sebastiano and the nearby green-roofed gothic church of Santa Chiara and its splendid majolica cloisters.
Piazza del Gesù offers a breathtaking view of the rusticated façade of the church of Gesù Nuovo which contrasts sharply with its lavish baroque interior. Continuing along Via Monteoliveto, past the renaissance building of the University’s Faculty of Architecture and the Post Office built during Italy’s Fascist period, you reach what was once Largo delle Corregge, the former tournament field outside Charles I of Anjou’s majestic fortress of Castel Nuovo.