The old Greek section of Napoli, Italy is a recurring fascination of mine.
A closed boulangerie with a broom leaning against the store front. Painted pastoral scenes on plates. Rusted piping and peeling posters. Grafitti in bright colors.
Caffe chairs sprinkled throughout the back streets of Spaccanapoli.
The sun finds it way though the velvet black shadows. Posters advertise operas I won’t get to see. Padre Pio forever in the background, his face found in taxi cabs, on walls, in churches, in caffes.
Hanging bronze dyed pasta, bufalo mozzarella from campania, rows of inviting rum-soaked baba cakes filled with rummy yellow cream, tiny wild strawberries, Sfogliatelle.
Two “lovers” embracing in front of an iconic “second hand shop” full of Neapolitan treasures overseen by a curious little dog.
The simple cafe tables and chairs in front of artisan shops and caffes with a sculpture of an old man in the background.
Every day life in an alleyway; people, a truck delivering goods, empty vegetable and fruit crates, the golden mustard apartments and hanging laundry.
A baroque awning, layers of brick from different centuries, buildings and façades built on top of each other, a neapolitan girl on her mobile, another caffe beckoning the passersby.
Hanging fruit and ripe red campania tomatoes and an early pasieggetta.
I love the corners and crevices and surprising bursts of yellow in between the rust.
Ancient pillars in residential neighborhoods, forming millennia old foundations.
Another beautiful church front and a charming caffe.
The quintessential graffiti of Naples, as ancient as the tags and scribblings on Pompeiian walls.
The old guard and the ‘new art’.
Bursts of color and brightness and the scent of glorious coffee floating in the air at every turn.
More graffiti, and the vespas and cars and Neapolitans seem all the more nonchalant about it.
I always seem to find the caffes… I always feel like I’m on some unspoken mission to drink the best coffee.
A whole street filled with beautiful second hand and rare book shops and musical instruments and conservatories. I never wanted to leave.
When the little girl walked by I knew I had to capture her in that moment of contrasts and colors.
A gorgeously appointed restaurant, intimate, and romantic in a baroque neapolitan way. I could have lingered for hours with a glass of nero d’avola and flirted but I had less than a day to shoot Naples because of all the rain prior to this day.
This is a wider shot of the restaurant. It looks like an opening to another, older world. I told you it was beautiful.
Stunning churches, colorful architecture, dark and ancient looking alleyways filled with street theatre and trash on the street… the extremes of modern Napoli.
There is so much to see, just to read on the walls.
I like when the grafitti becomes art.
Even the scribbles are a crying out and bleed every color onto wood and stone and brick.
Back to this fellow. I remember his likeness on other walls on other visits to Naples.
The priest or monk, grafitti iconography and protest.
I found this hollowed out frame and the lettering (name of the one time King) very delicate and beautiful looking.
Mirrors and antiques and the scrawlings every where.
A delightful music shop.
I know Napoli isn’t for everyone. I know street grafitti on historical buildings can be a bit of a shock. But once you visit Naples a few times and fall into the rhythm of the city and of its people, the fright wears off and you begin to see the color is all the more bright in contrast to the shadows. If you are like me and find beauty in decaying things and centuries of history piled up on top of each other, you may just find yourself falling in love with the heart stealer of baroque Napoli.
All photographs shot on portra 400 and 800 – 35mm film.
A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.
The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.
The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.
The bird’s eye view.
The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.
The tiny chapel in the garden.
Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.
There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.
Although the villa is high up on Anacapri, there are soaring rocky cliffs surrounding the grounds. One rock was the the fort overtaken by the pirate Redbeard, which was later owned by Axel Munthe and donated back to the island (but owned by) his Swedish foundation.
The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.
The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.
Every turn on the grounds is more and more enchanting. I cannot recommend enough an hour’s visit to the Villa for it’s peacefulness and beauty. On hot days it’s a cool and shady refuge.
Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!
A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.
The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.
Potted urns along the walk.
Herbal garden, leaves and trees.
Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.
Another angle of the sphinx’s view.
A tiny boat leaving the shore.
The clouds and mist find each other.
Because of Axel Munthe’s tireless advocation for the exotic array of birds who migrate to the island each year, Capri is now one giant bird sanctuary. Bird hunting is outlawed. The beautiful song of many different birds can be heard from morning to night, when the nightingales come out. It is then when I can feel Keats poem, Ode To A Nightingale, alive in the air.
I worry some of the pictures are a bit repetitious but they were all beautiful reminders of being there. Even a subtle angle change is reminiscent of walking through the grounds and seeing the beauty unfold a step at a time. And believe it or not I am actually restraining myself.
A semi hidden niche at the end of Villa San Michele’s labyrinthine gardens and loggias.
This was part one of the Villa San Michele series shot on portra 35mm film, velvia film slides and vintage kodak. The history of San Michele, more garden rambles, the cafe and interior of the villa, the flora and fauna of the grounds and excerpts from Axel Munthe’s book on his Villa to come in following posts. For visitor information visit: villasanmichele.eu . If you find yourself on Capri, even for a day, you must take a convertible taxi or the bus up to Anacapri (because it’s less crowded, lovely and full of hand painted tile, jewelry and sandal artisans) and it is the home of the Villa San Michele! You won’t regret it!
More to follow! These photographs and travel essays are copyright Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.