Not every city in Italy is a dream destination for tourists.
The city of Naples, located in Italy’s southern region known as the Mezzogiorno, has long been considered a destination that’s not worth a trip.
We decided to do a little investigating to find out exactly why Naples isn’t a tourist favourite.
To start, we took a look at a Reddit thread that asked travellers what was the worst place they had been to — and many of them said it was Naples. From there we did some of our own research; here’s what we learned.
The area doesn’t market itself well.
A total of 48 million international tourists visited Italy in 2013 alone, making it the fifth most-visited country in the world, after France, the US, Spain, and China. But according to the New York Times, out of all the tourists that visit Italy, only a small 13% go to the country’s southern region, or Mezzogiorno.
And instead of working together to promote tourism in the country in general, Italian regions compete with each other for visitors. For example, according to the New York Times, flights and trains that arrive in the southern region of Calabria don’t match up with ferries that cross the Strait of Messina — which separates Calabria from Sicily — because Calabria doesn’t want to lose tourist business to Sicily.
The city has been a dumping ground for toxic waste for decades.
Naples’ trash problem goes way back.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Camorra, the local mafia in Italy’s Campania region, has been dumping industrial and nuclear waste in and around the city of Naples since the 1990s.
After the mafia realised how lucrative the waste industry is, they illegally buried an estimated 10 million tons of toxic garbage in landfills in or near Naples that are only meant for ordinary waste.
Now the three towns of Nola, Acerra, and Marigliano — all of which surround Naples — are referred to as the “Triangle of Death” because of the above average cancer rates there. Italian and American scientists found that breast cancer rates are 47% above the national rate there and birth defects are 80% above the national average in that region.
There’s not all that much to do or see in Naples.
TripAdvisor lists a total of 149 sights and landmarks and 118 activities and tours for Naples. For Rome, there’s 552 sights and landmarks and 618 tours and activities. In other words, there are other Italian cities to visit besides Naples that offer many more options for tourists.
And while Italy is home to a number of beautiful and world-renowned churches, only three churches in Naples are well known enough to have received TripAdvisor’s certificate of excellence.
Naples is also particularly lacking when it comes to dining. Although it’s the birthplace of the original Neopolitan pizza, TripAdvisor only lists a total of 36 food and drink places in the city. In comparison, there’s a total of 156 food and drink places in Rome.
Crime is an issue in the area.
Although it’s hard to find exact numbers for Naple’s crime rate, the Camorra — the local mafia — is enough proof that crime is an issue in the area. Locals refer to the Camorra as “the system,” since the group controls life in the city — they act as a sort of government. They’re often compared to the mafia, and are one of Italy’s largest criminal organisations. The International Business Times reported that earlier this year, cameras installed by Naples police officers captured footage of Camorra members opening fire in the streets of the city.
According to Vanity Fair, the Camorra consist of 100 autonomous clans and around 10,000 immediate associates, and that’s not including its thousands of clients, dependents, and friends. Even though its members sometimes help to reduce street crime in the city, the Camorra also creates crime of its own when fights break out within the group.
In their 2015 crime and safety report for Naples, The Overseas Security Advisory Council reported that there has been an increase in the number of crimes committed by illegal immigrants in the city. The OSAC also notes that the Piazza del Gesu in southern Naples is a common area for physical fights to break out late at night and into the early morning hours due to the number of bars in that area.
Multiple tourists have also complained about pickpockets in Naples in various travel forums. Travellers who say they have been targeted recommend not keeping wallets or any other valuables in pockets.
It’s one of the poorest cities in Europe.
In February of last year Bloomberg quoted Riccardo Realfonzo, a former Naples city councilman for economic affairs, saying that the city was “technically bankrupt.” This came after a municipal court turned down plans to reduce the city’s approximately $US1.36 billion debt. The rejection meant that Naples was at risk of defaulting. Bloomberg compared Naples’ fate to that of Detroit, Michigan’s.
On top of its debt, Naples also has unemployment rates that are higher than the rest of the country. As of 2012, the city’s unemployment rate was 22.6%; Italy’s was 10.7%. The outlook is especially dismal for Naples’ young people. In 2012, the youth unemployment rate stood at 53.6%.
There is a huge divide in the economies of the north and south of Italy.
Naples is located in the south of Italy, otherwise known as the Mezzogiorno region. CityMetric reported that the GDP per person is over 40% lower in the Mezzogiorno region than it is in the northern and central regions of the country, a difference that CityMetric compares to the economies of the UK and South Korea. While the northern city of Milan is richer than Sweden and twice as rich as Italy’s southern cities, Naples is worse off than the Czech Republic.
The infastructure in the south of Italy is lacking.
While there are plenty of trains — high speed or scenic — that travel to and from Naples train travel within the
Mezzogiorno region is pretty limited. There are no high speed lines that travel from Naples to other southern cities such as Palermo, and there’s only one main line that travels down the west coast into Sicily. According to the New York Times, some trains in the south travel as slow as 8.7 miles per hour.
Then there’s the fact that the main highway in the Mezzogiorno region — the A3 Autostrada — is in horrible condition and there’s not much hope for future reparations. According to the Daily Beast, back in 2012, the European Union demanded that Italy pay back a total of $US471 million in grant money after the European Commission’s anti-fraud office determined that the grant money had gone to the Italian mafia, and not towards actually repairing the highway.
There are some good reasons to visit Naples, though.
Naples isn’t all negative. In fact, there were multiple Reddit users who commented that they enjoyed their time in the city. It’s actually the birthplace of the original wood-fired Neopolitan pizza, making the city worth a visit for die-hard pizza fans. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is Naple’s oldest pizzeria, so if you’re looking for tradition and authenticity, give that one a try. And all the other food that Italy does right, Naples does right too — pasta, seafood, and pastries are mostly all delicious here.
Besides its food, Naples also serves as an excellent jumping off point for other more sought-after Italian destinations. Its southern location means the city is close to both Sicily and Sardinia, the ancient ruins of Pompeii, and the beautiful Amalfi Coast.
Naples is also home to one of Italy’s best archaeological museums: the National Archaeological Museum. According to its website, the museum was one of the first of its kind to be built in Europe, and it’s housed in a 17th-century building. You’ll find everything from the Farnese Bull to Artemis of Ephesus to the frescoes and mosaics of Pompeii in this museum.
If you’re a fan of Italian art, you’ll want to stop by the Museo di Capodimonte too. Only the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has a larger collection than this Naples spot. The works of plenty Italian masters are featured here — think Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and more.
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