I worked in Rione Sanità (otherwise known as Stella or just Sanità) for a week in 2015. It’s a very historical area and Maria one of the teachers was kind enough to give me a tour which is how I know about all the stuff below.
Unfortunately nowadays it’s also a poverty stricken Camorra stronghold with a high crime rate so I was advised to be on my guard in the evenings when dusk was falling. Any eating was done around Porta Gennaro on Via Foria, a busy main road nearby (see next post).
Rione Sanità literally means ‘health district’ and the name arose because the area was perceived to be a healthier place to live than other neighbourhoods, perhaps because of the fresher winds from the sea at this slightly higher altitude. Many rich people built their ‘palazzi’ here as a result.
One famous house is the Palazzo dello Spagnolo at 19 Via dei Vergini, built by the architect Ferdinando Sanfelice.
The façade doesn’t look particularly interesting but if you walk into the internal courtyard you can see a lovely example of a ‘hawk’s wing staircase’ with its double flight of stairs.
The ceilings have beautifully ornate stucco work.
Some floors of the palace are to become a museum dedicated to the famous Neapolitan actor, writer and comedian Totò who was born in Sanità in 1898. The image of ‘the Prince of laughter’ can be found all over the city, sometimes in the most unexpected places…
As the Italian equivalent to Charlie Chaplin he made over one hundred films, often playing poor, slightly immoral but ultimately good-hearted characters. The spaghetti scene in the 1954 film ‘Miseria e Nobiltà’ (Poverty and Nobility) is one of his most famous.
Via dei Vergini is home to a thriving street market that is worth a wander. At 60 Via dei Vergini you’ll see an archway that leads to Via Supportico Lopez.
In the archway itself there’s a small shrine with a painted cross that is very old according to Maria. She told me that the reason there are so many shrines in Naples is because they were an early form of street lighting. The candles allowed people to see where they were going and greatly reduced the rate of street crime (see my post on shrines).
A few metres up Via Supportico Lopez on the left is La Primizia da Tonino, a fantastic green grocers. Another teacher told me it’s reputed to be ‘the best in Naples’. It certainly is the most vibrant one I’ve seen although by the look of him I think Tonino scoffs a lot of his own produce, and then some.
I love the displays of cherry tomatoes. The variety pictured are the famous Pomodorini del Piennolo del Vesuvio which are hung in clusters to extend their freshness.
This is the best tomato for dishes such as pasta with clams and acquapazza. Just wish I had access to a kitchen!