It’s only 1.2 kms. long, stem to stern, but along the way you’ll find more than enough retail therapy to while away an afternoon, plenty of sights to savour and a ton of tasty treats to tantalise your tastebuds. At the southern end of Via Toledo find Caravaggio’s final work, the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula at Banca Commerciale Italiana’s Galleria d’Italia in the 17th-century Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano. Naples is home to two other Caravaggio’s: the Flagellation of Christ at the Capodimonte Museum and the Seven Works of Mercy at Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples Centro Storico district.
At the northern end of Via Toledo, find one of the most beautiful presepe in the city, on display during the Christmas holidays at the San Nicola alla Carità Church. In between, noble palazzi, historic piazzas and ancient churches mix and mingle with retail stores and pastry, chocolate and ice cream shops while a band of street vendors hawk all manner of knock-off goods.
For nearly five hundred years the road that the Spanish built along the western limits of the walled Aragonese city has connected Piazza Trieste e Trento to Piazza Dante. A major artery, it has pumped the lifeblood of the city up and down its corridor, and in this regard resembles Rome’s Via del Corso, Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées, or London’s Bond Street. The name records its creator, Viceroy Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, Spanish Viceroy of Naples (1532 – 1552). Spanish expansion of the city can be seen all along the western side of Via Toledo. Here are the crowded and characteristic alleys of Naples Quartieri Spagnoli, the Spanish Quarter, which was built in the 16th century to house Spanish troops. In an interesting juxtaposition to upmarket Via Toledo, the Spanish quarter is one of the city’s most densely populated and “toughest” neighbourhoods. Tourists are typically cautioned to avoid this area, but if you want to experience an authentic neighbourhood, there is much to explore: narrow cobblestoned alleyways, incomparable street art and authentic trattorias – the most well known being the famed Trattoria da Nennella.
The Quartieri Spagnoli also offers a fine pedigree of churches. Luca Giordano was baptised in Chiesa di Sant’Anna di Palazzo and the revolutionary Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca married in this church and buried her son here. The 19th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria Francesca delle Cinque Piaghe was built into the ground and first floors of an ancient palazzo in honour of the first woman from Naples to be canonised. Ana Maria Rosa Gallo (1715 – 1791) was venerated as Santa Maria Francesca delle Cinque Piaghe (Saint Mary Francis of the Five Wounds), patron Saint of the Quartieri Spagnoli and of the pregnant and infertile. In a nod to this piece of Naples history, the Spanish firm Oscar Tusquets Blanca designed the Toledo Metro Station. William Kentridge’s monumental bronze sculpture, Il cavaliere di Toledo marks the entrance to the station. MetroNapoli’s 16th station on Metro Line 1, and 13th Metro Art Station, this urban masterpiece opened on Via Toledo in September 2012 and was immediately hailed as the most impressive underground station in Europe by Britain’s Daily Telegraph. One year later, a second portal was opened into the Spanish Quarter and in 2014, the Toledo Station topped CNN’s list of the 12 most impressive subway stations in Europe.
Beyond the metro station another bronze sculpture on the east side of Piazza Carità honours WWII hero, Salvo D’Acquisto. On the west side of the piazza, narrow alleys fan out like spider veins into the Pignasecca and Montesanto. Meanwhile, the road we know as Via Toledo took a hundred-year detour following the Presa di Roma, the Capture of Rome (September 1870). It was renamed Via Roma già via Toledo, in celebration of a Unified Italy and as a symbolic way of washing off centuries of foreign control of Naples. The “già via Toledo” was a compromise between proponents of the old name and new. Gradually it became just Via Roma, which you will still hear from time to time, but in the 1980s, it reclaimed its former name – Via Toledo.
An amuse-bouche from the award winning Napoli Unplugged Guide to Naples, a gloriously illustrated book about one of the world’s most intriguing cities. It was written by four women with deep affection for this southern Italian city: Bonnie Alberts, Barbara Zaragoza, Penny Ewles-Bergeron and Erin Romano. Find more great Naples content at Napoli Unplugged!!!