From the abyss of Partenope to the soaring heights of Castel Sant’Elmo, Naples is a vertical city. And not only for the narrow buildings of the Spanish Quarters, which seem to go in search of the sun rising higher and higher. If you look at it from a calm boat in the waters of the gulf, Naples is clinging to the rocks, languid on the hills, constantly terraced uphill towards the top. From the low to the high quarters, gradually more densely populated in the era of the great cultural and political splendour of the city, Naples has intelligently exploited the geographical verticality during the great industrial changes between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, choosing to develop a network of funiculars that today are still one of the best ways to get to know the hidden corners of the city.
The funiculars of Naples are divided into four lines that connect mainly the “lower” area of the city with the hilly districts of Posillipo, Vomero and part of the district Chiaia. Their identifiers take their name from the neuralgic areas from which they start to climb towards the upper areas of the city: the funicular Centrale, for example, is the main funicular of Naples, connects the fulcrum of the city’s shopping (the central Via Roma, which the Neapolitans will indicate better as Via Toledo) with the elegant shopping streets such as Via Scarlatti and Via Luca Giordano. It starts from Piazza Duca d’Aosta, which the Neapolitan tradition recalls in the ancient name of Piazzetta Augusteo, where there is the homonymous theater. The entrance is discreetly shaded by four palm trees but, although coming from the magnificent opening of Piazza Plebiscito, it is impossible not to notice it. It is a coincidence that the Central Funicular connects two small squares, landing with just 5/6 minutes of ascent in the heart of the Vomero, in the small triangular square Ferdinando Fuga, dominated by the funicular station. Not far away, the escalators of Via Cimarosa could lead you directly to Via Morghen for another funicular, or to Piazza Vanvitelli to get on line 1 of the Metro. But it is worth stopping for a while to wander around and feel the wind that never stops channeling itself from the sea, perhaps admiring the house where Eduardo Scarpetta lived for a long time, Villa La Santarella.
It is the funicular of Montesanto that has its hilly arrival in Via Morghen, relatively close to Piazzetta Fuga, and is the fastest public road to reach Castel Sant’Elmo and the Certosa di San Martino, one of the most beautiful places in Naples. Opened in 1891, it is the second oldest funicular in Naples after that of Chiaia, born from the need to connect the district Vomero with the city center. The funicular of Montesanto starts from the homonymous square of the Spanish Quarters not far from Piazza della Pignasecca with its noisy market, and with an intermediate mini map on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, busy and picturesque artery, reaches directly the top. A few hundred meters on foot and you can reach the castle and the monastery overlooking Naples with a magnificent view. We recommend stopping for an in-depth visit, because Naples is full of mysteries and legends from the sea to the hills, and Castel Sant’Elmo is no exception. In the summer there are very interesting exhibitions and cultural events.
The oldest funicular ever is that of Chiaia, opened in 1889 and for a very short period of time powered by steam before being electrified. It starts from Parco Margherita, in the Amedeo district, which is the fulcrum of the Chiaia area with its numerous Neapolitan Art Nouveau buildings that look here and there through the trees. It is an area crowded with tourists and locals, who share the opportunity to walk and drink a cocktail. The funicular of Chiaia connects, in essence, two of the most popular areas for shopping in the city. With four stops you can reach directly the main street of Vomero, via Domenico Cimarosa, at the Vanvitelli stop of metro line 1.
Last but not least is the Mergellina funicular, the only one of the four that does not lead to the Vomero but to the hill of Posillipo, and probably the most impressive of all. First of all because the very steep initial slope gives the suggestion of being immobile on an inclined plane, with a sense of estrangement really strong. It climbs from the tourist port of Mergellina, in Via Caracciolo, through beautiful private parks that give the impression of flying over an urban jungle without interruption. The two intermediate stops are Sant’Antonio (recommended to go out to photograph a special view of the Gulf with Vesuvius in the background) and Parco Angelina, before landing at the end of the line Manzoni and immerse yourself in the subtle elegance of Posillipo.
Or choose to go back down, in the belly of the city, to that hot sfogliatella that makes the satisfied explorer happy.