Naples is always a shock, flaunting beauty and squalor like nowhere else. Naples is the only city in Europe whose ancient past still lives in its irrepressible people. Their ancestors came from all over the early Mediterranean to the wide bay and its islands, shadowed by a dormant volcano. Not all of them found what they were looking for, but they made a great and terribly human city.
Peter Robb's Street Fight in Naples ranges across nearly three thousand years of Neapolitan life and art, from the first Greek landings in Italy to his own less auspicious arrival thirty-something years ago.
In 1503 Naples became the Mediterranean capital of Spain's world empire and the base for the Christian struggle with Islam. It was a European metropolis matched only by Paris and Istanbul, an extraordinary concentration of military power, lavish consumption, poverty and desperation. As the occupying empire went into crisis, exhausted by its wars against Islamists in the Mediterranean and Protestants in the North, the people of Naples paid a dreadful price.
Naples was where in 1606 the greatest painter of his age fled from Rome after a fatal street fight. Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio found in its teeming streets an image of the age's crisis, and released among the painters of Naples the energies of a great age in European art-until everything erupted in a revolt by the dispossessed, and the people of an occupied city brought Europe into the modern world.