The Rione Sanità is one of the most characteristic and evocative neighbourhoods in Naples, one of the city's pivotal symbols of folklore. We are talking about a unique area in the whole of Italy, containing art, street food and much, much more. For several years now it has been attracting tourists from all over the world, ready to celebrate its true and authentic beauty.
To make it easier for everyone to get an overview of Sanità, with a view to a future visit, we have devised an authentic walking tour within the district. It is a path of discovery and curiosity for an area waiting to be discovered. There are five stages and we will of course start in the morning on the Capodimonte side and then go into the heart of the district and its alleys.
2. Visit to the St. Gennaro Catacombs
The starting point of the tour is decidedly wise and strategic. The first stop corresponds to the Catacombs of San Gennaro
, whose entrance is in via Capodimonte, thus on the upper side of the Rione Sanità
. However, we could also first speak of a 'zero' stop to make. In fact, next to the Catacombs, perhaps while waiting for the first guided tour, we can visit the Basilica del Buon Consiglio
. Built in the last century, its construction was much inspired by St Peter's Basilica
in Rome, which gives it the nickname 'little St Peter's'
. After a look at the basilica, we dive into the Catacombs, the largest cemetery areas in the whole of southern Italy.
The Catacombs of San Gennaro are certainly among the most visited places in the district, one of the main ways to discover Neapolitan Christianity. They are built on two levels dug into the tuff and accommodate up to about 3000 burials in total. The closer you get to the tomb of San Gennaro, which is the strongest attraction of the entire site, the more burials you can find. In fact, it was the request of the dead to be buried as close to the saint as possible. From the very beginning, the martyr's tomb was a genuine place of worship and pilgrimage, something that has continued to this day.
2. The Marketplace of Vergini
We leave the Catacombs of San Gennaro catapulting us directly into the reality of the Rione Sanità. Our next destination is in fact the Borgo dei Vergini, symbol of the district, where the market of the same name is located. We go there, wisely dribbling off any other points of interest, we will eventually return later. Our focus is on the market, an authentic meeting point for traders of all kinds. Here we can find stalls with all kinds of products: from clothing to footwear, from accessories to food and children's toys. In short, it is possible to find anything and everything at a great price.
The uniqueness of this market and this very special street lies in the idea of simplicity and folklore that it offers. In the air one breathes genuineness and truth, the mirror of a popular district in every sense, where we find the everyday life of Naples and the Neapolitans. Another gem of the borough is the Palazzo dello Spagnuolo, a monumental building that is one of the gateways to the Sanità district. The palace has often been the site of film sets and in the next few years will also house the Totò museum, still under construction. In short, one cannot say that one has visited the Rione Sanità without having seen, touched and experienced the Borgo dei Vergini.
3. Lunch with pizza and neapolitan street food
Having completed our immersion in the authenticity of the Rione Sanità, we can now move on to our lunch break, which absolutely cannot disappoint. We opt for the classic, for the beloved Neapolitan pizza, which right here in the heart of Naples we can savour and enjoy to the full. The institution here in the neighbourhood is Concettina ai Tre Santi, a landmark restaurant that has been run by the Oliva family for 70 years. We find ourselves precisely in Via Arena della Sanità, so we are really just a stone's throw from Via dei Vergini, from where we were just now. We are talking about a pizzeria of worldwide value and quality, so be prepared in advance for possible kilometre-long queues before entering.
Another feather in the cap of Neapolitan food, always remaining on the pizza side, is the fried pizza (pizza fritta). We are talking about a one-of-a-kind goodness that is certainly not so good for the waistline, but it is certainly an indulgence that one must indulge in every now and then! At Rione Sanità you can find some of the best pizza fritta in town. For example, you can stop by Isabella de Cham, named best pizza maker of the year 2017 by 50 Top Pizza. This is one of the best fried pizzas around, made with a dough as thin and light as a feather. The pizzeria is also located in Via Arena della Sanità, so you are spoilt for choice at lunchtime, as it is also a stone's throw from Concettina.
4. Palazzo Sanfelice and the "sweet" break
We have had lunch, we can say we have delighted in pizza, now we can get back on the road. Continuing in a linear fashion along our route, we now reach Via Sanità, where the Palazzo Sanfelice awaits us. This is another of the various landmarks of the Rione Sanità, certainly one of the most eminent and imposing, built in 1724 by the Neapolitan architect Ferdinando Sanfelice. It served as the private residence of several noble families who wanted to escape from the city chaos and enjoy the tranquillity of an area bordering the Capodimonte hill. The special feature of the building is the falcon-winged staircase overlooking a beautiful garden at the back.
Having also visited Palazzo Sanfelice, about 150 metres away we find another cult place in the Sanità district, where we almost make a pilgrimage. We are talking about Poppella, a pastry shop that is the birthplace of the 'fiocco di neve', a cake that has become over time a symbol of the city, but more specifically of the district. We are talking about a small brioche with a milk cream inside with cream, ricotta and a little sugar. Obviously its real recipe is secret, but imitations can be attempted by exploiting the simplicity of its ingredients. A sweet break at Poppella's is a duty rather than a necessity, so it must be done!
5. The Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità and San Gaudioso
Once the gourmet break is over, we resume our walk through the Rione Sanità, returning to the cultural atmosphere. A few steps from Poppella, we have the basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità. It is one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Naples, built by the architect Fra Nuvolo, born Vincenzo de Nuvolo. The basilica was built between 1602 and 1610 with its famous yellow and green majolica dome that stands out on the Magdalene Bridge. In the neighbourhood, the basilica is known as the church of San Vincenzo 'O Munacone (the monk), precisely because it houses a famous statue of St Vincent Ferrer.
Below the basilica lies another important cultural site not to be missed: the Catacombs of San Gaudioso, the last of the points of interest we will visit on this particular tour of the Sanità. They are smaller than those of San Gennaro, but are still the second largest cemetery area in Naples. Here we find the large early Christian presence, especially with the tomb of San Gaudioso and the frescoes and mosaics from the 5th-6th century AD. Also particular and curious are the burials dedicated to the noble families present here, dating back to the centuries immediately following.
With the visit to the catacombs of San Gaudioso over, our tour has come to an end, the ideal point from which to reach where we started, the catacombs of San Gennaro. The big absentee on our walking tour is one of the gems of the Sanità, the Cimitero delle Fontanelle. We did not include it only because it is currently closed for works, but we look forward to its reopening. The route is mapped out, the tour is ready: all that remains is to set off and discover the beauties of the Rione Sanità!