In the heart of Naples’ historic district, three narrow streets filled with antique stores offer unique handmade souvenirs and gifts at budget-friendly prices. You will also find a classic Italian experience entirely free. In the midst of temptation, I discovered ten great Neapolitan gifts for 10€ or less.
Just off Via Duomo, Via dei Tribunali runs past the San Lorenzo Maggiore Archaeological Site and Napoli Underground; both well worth the entry fee. One block to the south, Via San Biagio dei Librai runs from Via Duomo to the Cathedral Santa Chiara and its famous majolica tile mosaics. Tucked between these two streets is Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street of the Nativity scenes, famous for the craftsmen who sculpt the tiny buildings and detailed figurines for the Neapolitan cribs (presepe). This street may glow brightest during the Christmas Market , but the shops are open all year long.
In these narrow roads, shop wares spill out into the street, leaving just enough room for a car to squeak by with a honking horn as pedestrians scatter into alleys and doorways. The tall, crowded buildings cast long shadows over the streets, a relief from the hot sun. Shop signs are almost non-existent. Owners lean in doorways chatting with neighbours or work at craft tables tucked in the back. A lucky tourist gaining a good vantage point can spend hours watching the transformation of wood and clay into masks and toys.
Among this jostle, here are my ten best finds for a Naples souvenir:
Crèche Pieces – Shelf after shelf filled with tiny doll-sized goods cover the walls of small alleys and crèche stores. Some are individual accessories meant to adorn your own home-made crèche: apples in baskets, wet dogs about to shake, pots and pans as big as my pinkie nail. Others are complete scenes: a girl drawing water from a well, a woman selling cakes, a boy stealing pies, a baker who turns on a clockwork stage to place his dough in a brick oven, a girl who bends to kiss her sweetheart. To purchase a full crib, prices start around 45€, but I found a wood-carved bed the right size for a niece’s doll for 6€. A set of small kitchen supplies in terracotta would have cost 12€. A terracotta Michael Jackson sold for 20€. Elvis had no price.
Masquerade Masks – A wide variety of masks are available for purchase, including: long-beaked plague doctor masks, demon faces, cherub smiles, and stoic faces made of leather. You will also find hand-painted papier-maché masks which hang on long black ribbons from store ceilings and overhangs, crowded between strings of tambourines painted with scenes of the Amalfi Coast (3-20€ depending on size). A leather mask runs 30€; painted paper ones with feathers cost 10-15€.
Christmas Ornaments – Hand blown glass globes painted with scenes of Naples and northern Europe glitter and dangle from shop ceilings like glass snowflakes. A nearby store boasts porcelain angels with golden wings. Sizes vary and prices range from 5-15€.
Food – Interspersed with the antique stores, pizzerias and pasticcerias (pastry shops) sell fresh sfogliatelle and napoletano pizzas. While you can’t bring these items home, you should definitely indulge, for the memories alone will serve as a souvenir. For your friends and family, consider cooking supplies and liquor to share. Pastas in Italian flag colors, lemon-shaped bottles of limoncello, and local olive oils spill off the shelves in the yellow-tinted pasta shops. Store owners offer tastes of chocolates and free shots of limoncello. A bag of spaghetti or tri-colored rotini will sell for 3€, while limoncello comes in varying sizes and qualities from 3-12€. Homemade lemon candies are 4-6€.
Ceramics – If you’re not in the mood for food, a porcelain spaghetti measurer painted with lemon flowers will cost 6€, while a spoon cradle or set of salad forks in bright ceramics sells for 2-3€. Ceramic tiles (2-5€), wall-hanging faces (10€), plates (8-25€), and other shapes lend a bright blue and yellow glow to the store.
Good Luck Charms – Pulcinella, a roguish figure in white costume with red accents and black face mask, is a character from old theatre and puppet shows and can be found in almost every store. Pulcinella is often depicted eating pizza, playing a lute, slurping spaghetti or simply cavorting while caught in mid-step. An unruly prankster, Pulcinella is the unofficial mascot of Naples and a true portafortuna (good-luck bringer), especially when holding a red horn (corno), designed to ward off the Evil Eye and bring good luck. A mass produced Pulcinella may range from 2-8€, while a unique hand-made set will cost (4-16€). Red horns come in all shapes and will cost from (1-5€).
Paintings – While most stores sell crafts, a few galleries feature glass-windowed displays of local artists and local scenes. You will find photographic prints, oil paintings, and water colours in every size and subject. And photos of deceased American celebrities hold an oddly prominent position (Marilyn Monroe is a particular favourite). Depending on taste, a piece of local artwork will price-out at 2-200€.
Music Boxes – Wood, ceramic, paper, and terracotta music boxes with wooden inlay and painted scenes fill the windows of two outwardly unremarkable stores on Via San Biagia. I arrived in one of the stores as a pair of children had just finished winding every box within reach. I recommend listening to each individually, as the sound quality of some of the smaller boxes was surprisingly good. And if you don’t like the tune, the owners are often willing to replace the song in a shell of your choice. A standard box costs 10-30€.
Jewellery – While jewellery is hardly a unique souvenir, the styles available in Naples and the Amalfi Coast are exquisitely local.Cameos carved from local sea shells are beyond the price range of this list (starting around 50-60€). If you are looking for cameos, I recommend the markets of Amalfi and Pompeii (where an earring and necklace set starts at 20€). However, bracelets and necklaces of mother-of-pearl or a pair of wooden earrings carved at a three-generation shop are equally local (5-8€). A pair of Murano glass earrings starts at 5€.
Journals – Hand-made journals in coloured paper or leather bindings, embossed or accented with painted scenes, fill the shelves of a small shop on Via Tribunali. Journals start at 2€.
Your own personal photos – Free. Honestly, don’t forget your camera. Walking these streets and taking photos will properly record some of the most beautiful moments spent in Naples.
NOTE: While most stores accept major credit cards, all the store owners appreciate cash. Haggling is possible, though not encouraged, and price comparison is pointless. Prices are the same in most all shops and markets. Stores are busiest on weekends and close around sun-down.
Written by Guest Contributor Anne Siders for EuropeUpClose.com
Anne Siders is a foot-path traveler who delights in the off-beat, the ancient, and the active. She travels for work and for pleasure, and for the opportunity to write and photograph it all.