Spaccanapoli district, Napoli
An historic area of Napoli and its ancient traditions that link grain and ovens for bread and pizza
Text by Marina Alaimo, journalist from Campania
In the heart of the historic center of Napoli, you find the Via dei Tribunal and Via Benedetto Croce (alias Spaccanapoli), where it is possible to take an extraordinary voyage among diverse historical periods that overlap among a time frame of more than 2000 years.
Today, a Greco-Roman mode still exists. Napoli, at the Partenope era, was a Greek city where Greek was spoken and this civility has miraculously influenced many of the traditions and costumes still present among the population, especially in this part of the city. Therefore it would be very interesting and quite emotional to visit with a watchful eye and undertake an itinerary where culture and history continually overlap with the great Neapolitan eno-gastronomic tradition. The food in Napoli has always expressed in a rich and wide manner a haute or higher cuisine as opposed to the popular dishes of the street.
The oldest part of Partenope is the kingdom of street food that offers a multitude of interpretations all ingenious and gluttonous. It is eaten while walking in the streets, given that the climate here is mild and therefore promotes the life outdoors. Queen of the street food is certainly the pizza which can be traced back to the 1500s. Folded in four, a portafoglio, as they say in these parts, was born as food from the road, without tomato, then very poor, seasoned only with lard and pepper, known as the “mastunicola”. The encounter in 1800 with the tomato became famous, taking shape as the margherita with tomatoes, mozarella cheese and basil, the pizza known and prepared around the world.
Maria Cacialli, pizzaiola
At Grande Archivio 23, a side street of via San Biagio dei Librai , there is the Pizzeria La Figlia del Presidente of Maria Cacialli and Felice Messina, where it is possible to eat a traditional Neapolitan pizza unforgettable for its flavor; one can also enjoy the warm welcome that this family offers to their guests.
It is located in the body of underground Napoli, carved in the tufa yellow, stone typical of this area of volcanic nature – remember, we are at the foot of Vesuvius. While having a certain availability of seating, Maria and Felice wanted to maintain the tradition of the tour on the road, frequented, where already in the morning you sell pizza margherita and marinara, but also fried food, other major players of Parthenopean street food. There are macaroni friattine, designed originally to recycle the pasta, the crocchè of potatoes, the rice arancini, the scagliuzzo (small pieces of polenta seasoned with cheese). Don’t miss the fried pizza stuffed with cicoli and ricotta cheese, a piece dedicated to the President’s daughter.
In piazza San Gaetano, a short distance away, one finds ancient mills and ovens. Once there, it is possible to make your way under the current urban layer through the excavations of the monumental complex of San Lorenzo Maggiore. This is a unique experience that allows you to take a trip back in time where one is reminded of eras from the V century BC to the XIII century A.D. Descending to about ten meters, you encounter ancient milestones from the Greco-Roman era, where one meets the stable of the Exchequer in which was kept the public treasury of the city.
Ancient oven (forno) at San Lorenzo
Then follow the various shops and, remaining on the subject of food, here is one of the bakers’ ovens which is in a perfect state of preservation. Not very far, the vicus Pistorius, the alley of pestatori (those who crushed grain with their feet in ancient times) of wheat that supply flour to bakers and, something quite extraordinary, is located just below the current alley in the barn, very close to the pizzeria of Maria Cacialli. At the bottom of the intersection, we come to the cryptoporticus, the covered market where we can recognize the banks of the fishmongers, some heated to allow you to cook the fish that became a lovely food from the road.
In piazza San Gaetano we can eat one of the best Neapolitan baba, a dessert as sweet as the local music one hears while walking in this area. This dough is light and fluffy and is soaked in rum after the baking.
Always on decumano maggiore (decumano is the main street of a Roman road system, ed.), via Tribunali, at street number 30 is L’Antica Trattoria Da Carmine, established in 1967, where it is a pleasant stop to enjoy the dishes of the Neapolitan tradition. Great space is given to the seafood, including spaghetti with mussels and clams, fried fish and octopus salad.
Don’t miss the ziti in meat sauce, the stuffed boneless steaks or meatballs in tomato sauce. By going up again a little via Tribunali we encounter a typical “tour of the water” or acquafrescaio, one of the few remaining in the city. Also there is the marble counter of Carmnella that will prepare for you in a moment squeezed orange juice and lemonade with different varieties of waters. The best coffee is at the bar Nilo, in the piazzetta Nilo, opposite the beautiful statue of the god Nilo which testifies to the presence of a Egyptian colony in this part of the city.
A special site that should not be missed is the Locanda Cerriglio in Via Cerriglio, the alley closer to Naples, situated precisely in ancient spot notoriously frequented by the painter Michelangelo Merisi, the Caravaggio. The historic tavern was made famous by the violent assault right here from Caravaggio who deeply loved Naples, where he lived for a lenghty period and made three of his most beautiful works that alone are worth a visit. They are: “The Seven Works of Mercy”, on display in the Pio Monte della Misericordia (just in via Tribunali 253); the “Martyrdom of Sant’Orsola, at the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, and “The Scourging of Christ”, shown in the Capodimonte Museum.
There are still many many places of historic interest or gastronomic to report, but we will leave you, the traveller, with the pleasure of immersing yourself in the belly of Naples with the excitement to discover the many wonders offered by this city with unique and infinite charm.