By Bobbie Leigh
Add an extra day to your visit to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast and spend it in Naples at one of the most fascinating museums in Italy. Rivaling Florence's Uffizi, the National Museum of Capodimonte, located in a park dotted with oaks and cypresses on the outskirts of Naples, is a revelation. The core of the collection, mostly from the Farnese family, initially was housed in the city, but was moved to the royal palace on a steep hill where the cornerstone was laid in 1739 and completed some 30 years later. Endless problems ensued due to dampness, money, and regime change.
The collection was dispersed, reclaimed, and restored to the Bourbons in 1815, who enlarged it dramatically. Eventually, the Royal Palace of Capodimonte became a court residence where the family members of the House of Savoy lived until the end of World War II. The museum, which was opened to the public in 1957, has had a complex history like Naples (Poles, Spanish, French all left their mark), and many restorations, but now the collection is impressive and the 300-acre park is stunning. The Torre garden at the end of park overlooking the slopes of the valley of San Rocco still has the remains of an old Bourbon citrus orchard and beyond it a "secret" walled garden where the royals raised exotic, tropical-fruit trees. (How did they do it? The archives reveal a special heating system.)
Vesuvius, by Andy Warhol, one of the museum's surprises.
Anyone who might enjoy a refresher course in the history of European art should visit the museum. Keep in mind that the archaeological collections — Greco-Roman sculpture, mosaics, frescoes — are at the National Museum of Archaeology. In contrast, Capodimonte features religious paintings from roughly the 13th century, 17th and 18th European paintings and some less grand and more recent works, decorative arts, weapons, and royal apartments. The graphic collection is vast and even boasts some works by Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt, and Tintoretto.
Visit the National Museum of Capodimonte