Unlike Milan, Naples is not renowned for fashion or shopping. And shopping malls are not normally high on my list of places to visit. So why did I want to visit the Galleria Umberto I in Naples? And what is remarkable about this 19th century arcade?
The Risanamento In Naples
Of course, this being Naples, the Galleria is no ordinary shopping arcade. Built in the late 19th century, it was intended as a centrepiece for the risanamento, or revitalisation, of Naples. At the time this part of the city was run down and crime-ridden, and the risanamento was an ambitious programme of rebuilding and renewal.
Unlike many modern constructions, the Galleria Umberto I is of architectural interest in its own right. Covered shopping arcades were fashionable at the time, and the Naples arcade was modelled on the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, opened a few years earlier. It was planned as a mixture of public and private areas, with shops, cafés and open space on the ground floor, and private apartments above. When complete, it acted as a passageway between different parts of the city, connecting the San Carlo Theatre on one side with the Via Toledo (an important shopping street) on the other. It also incorporated the historic church of Santa Brigida.
Architecture Of The Galleria Umberto I
Built in the Art Nouveau style, the Galleria is a light and airy structure of glass and steel. It is built in the shape of a cross, with four wings leading from the central area. This gives it the the feeling of a cathedral, soaring upwards to a vaulted glass ceiling and a vast dome at the centre.
As you walk around, note the rich architectural detail. The walls are covered with classical columns and sculptures, and the marble floor is laid out with mosaics. At the very centre is a large mosaic depicting the signs of the zodiac.
A Meeting Place For Neapolitans
The Galleria fell into disrepair for some decades but has now been extensively renovated in keeping with its status as a part of the UNESCO listing of the Historic Centre of Naples. Today it is one of the most popular shopping spots in the city. It is also a fashionable meeting place, with cafés, restaurants and street performers. And there is an upmarket hotel (the Hotel Art Resort Galleria Umberto), built and furnished in the Baroque style, within the Galleria itself.
The shops include high street names, elegant boutiques and bargain stores. However, even without the shops, the people watching opportunities and the architecture make a visit to the Galleria Umberto I an essential part of any trip to Naples.