Via Benedetto Croce, which is more popularly known as Spaccanapoli (literally ‘Naples splitter’), was one of the three main streets of the ancient city, the others being Via dei Tribunali and Via della Sapienza (please see separate posts).
They were originally laid down by the Greeks which must make them the some of the oldest streets in the world, at least 2,000 years old if not more. Walking along these ancient ways is like passing through an open air museum and in the evenings especially, when the dim street lamps are on, you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.
Via Tribunali was the Decumanus Maximus or main east-west street of the later Roman city too whereas Spaccanapoli was the southern decumanus. Both are still the main streets through the old town today. They were traversed by the Cardo Maximus, a street running north-south, which today corresponds to a widened Via Duomo.
The tiny cross streets that make up the grid are called ‘cardini’. A small street can also be called a ‘vico’ or ‘vicolo’, also meaning alley. Some have had several name changes.
Unexpected places hide up these back streets.
About halfway along Spaccanapoli you come to Via Nilo which is named for the Alexandrian Egyptian community that once lived in the area. A beautiful statue of their god Nile can be found at the crossroads in Piazzetta Nilo. He’s depicted as an old bearded man reclining on waves with a cornucopia (a ‘horn of plenty’ symbolizing abundance) Under his arm is the head of a Sphinx.
At his feet there was once a crocodile head (symbolizing Egypt) and climbing his chest are the remains of three chubby children known as ‘putti’ (not to be confused with cherubs) possibly symbolizing tributaries of the River Nile. Unfortunately the statue has been damaged many times in its history so these features are hard to make out.
Opposite the statue is Bar Nilo which is famous for its shrine to Maradona, the former footballing god that restored glory to the city football club during his reign. It used to be on the street but has been brought inside. The sign below it warns that if you take a photo without having a coffee, your camera may explode in your hands!
The poster next to it reads ‘And God created football then called Diego and told him to teach it’.
Soon after you come to Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, a large square dominated by the Obelisco di San Domenico, another ‘guglia’ (a decorative spire) partly designed by Cosimo Fazango (also responsible for the guglia of San Gennaro and the statue of San Gaetano, on Via Tribunali). It was commissioned in 1656 as an offering to St. Dominic in the hope it would ward off the plague that came that year.
The square is named after the church overlooking it, Chiesa di San Domenico Maggiore, more of which in my post on churches. The eastern side is dominated by the Istituto Universitario Orientale and in the evenings the square is full of students socialising.
Unlike Via Tribunali, much of Spaccanapoli is pedestrianised so you don’t have to worry about crazy drivers and can concentrate on avoiding footballs instead.
There are lots of places to eat around here, some of which I’ve reviewed in a separate post.