*To see Naples as we saw it, in the early dawn from far up on the side of Vesuvius, is to see a picture of wonderful beauty.*--Mark Twain
*One may write or paint as much as one likes, but this place, the shore, the bay, Vesuvius, the citadels, the villas, everything defies description.*--Goethe
This is the first general history of the city of Naples written in English. The city, which inspires love and hate alike, has long attracted visitors, enticed not only by its commercial possibilities but also by the stunning beauty of its natural setting and its many cultural delights. From the ruins of Pompeii to glittering performances at the San Carlo opera house, Naples has much to offer visitors, but it also has high crime and a controversial past and present. The city was ruled by the French, Spanish, Hungarians and Austrians before becoming part of unified Italy in 1860. The social and economic changes after Unification resulted in thousands of Neapolitans seeking a new life abroad. These emigrants took their customs, cuisine and music with them and stamped a Neapolitan impression on the international image of Italy forever. From the time of the Grand Tour, the city has attracted travelers, from Goethe to Mark Twain, all eager to experience its legendary and seductive charms. Jordan Lancaster's sparkling guide will serve as an ideal companion for visitors and as a valuable cultural resource for all those who seek to expand their knowledge of the city or proudly trace their roots to Naples.
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Jordan Lancaster has taught Italian language and literature at universities in Canada and the US. She is currently a translator/interpreter and lectures in Italian translation at City University, London.
With this engaging history, Lancaster, a professor of Italian, seeks to restore honor to Naples, which many Italians and prospective visitors see as a city of little more than pickpockets and pizza. As she stresses, for most of its history, Naples was a preeminent European city, a thriving home for music, philosophy, painting and science. Her book is organized into sections by epochs and ruling governments; at times, the compression of such a long history into this short space makes it hard to digest, but Lancaster stops often to recount captivating legends and anecdotes. She seems to have a quote from every writer or thinker who ever visited Naples or its surroundings (especially the nearby ruins of Pompeii), but her own expertise and love for the city holds the book together. She is extremely articulate about the city's musical history, which she credits as one of the traditions that kept Neapolitan culture alive over the years, from the popular tarantella to opera buffa (comedic opera) to modern singers like Pino Daniele. She also seamlessly incorporates many women's stories, whether they be queens, saints, activists or consorts. The years after Italian unification were brutal for Naples, which lost much of its prestige as well as thousands of people who emigrated north or to America. Though honest in describing these trials, Lancaster is hopeful about recent signs of recovery, and her vibrant portrait of the city's past will make readers join her in that optimism. Photos and maps.
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