Anne's Blog

In Naples, Their God Wears a Blue Shirt

Date: November 23, 2021 - categories: - Leave your thoughts

Ask  any Neapolitan, “Who was Diego Maradona for you?” and more than one will reply quite simply, “Dio.”  On a recent jaunt with my husband Pino to one of my favorite cities in all of Italy, Naples, I asked friend and Naples guide, Roberta, about the Neapolitan adoration – as if for a god –  of Argentinian soccer star, Diego Maradona, who carried Naples to two major championships.

Roberta told me, “I’m not a fan but why do his fans love him? For what he represented – that goes far beyond soccer.  For the Neapolitans, he’s a sort of divinity who gave us dignity as a people. And gave dignity to our city.  A poor city, that with Maradona, won top soccer prizes in Italian and European competitions. With Maradona, Naples won its prominence, taking first place  – and not as a city of crime.”

Roberta shared these thoughts with Pino under a mural of Maradona – as we headed together to his “altar”….We were walking together the streets of the quartieri spagnoli, that populous Neapolitan neighborhood of bassi (low street-level apartments with many floors above), hanging washes dangling over narrow streets where Vespas zip in and out at break-neck speed…..….and wire baskets are suspended from third-floor windows for lowering to street level so that merchants can place the homeowner’s requested goods inside.  Called “il panaro” (a basket for the holding of bread, pane), the hanging basket saves the casalinga (housewife) trips up and down many flights of stairs in these buildings, often without elevators.

The Quartieri were created in the 16th century to house Spanish garrisons there to quench revolts of the local populace and hence the name.

We passed many colorful murals on the walls, recently painted and brightening up the narrow streets where sun does not easily penetrate… 

Favorite singers are emulated in the murals, including Lucio Dalla...

….and Pino Daniele:

And knowing how much Pino and I both love the music of Pino Daniele, Adriano – Roberta’s husband – serenaded us under the mural depicting the singer strumming his guitar:

And then we arrived in Via Emanuele de Deo where the mural of Maradona on a six-story building – painted in 1990 – reigns.

The mural had been painted by a young artist living in the area, Mario Filardi, who was 23 at the time. Napoli had won its second scudetto (literally, “little shield”), the Italian national soccer championship, thanks to the prowess of Diego Maradona. A huge collection was taken up by all the fans in the quartieri and Filardi finished his Maradona portrait in just 2 nights and 3 days, inaugurated with a huge celebration ending with firework blasts.

The other day when we arrived, Roberta exclaimed, “Anna e Pino, guardate, portano i fiori a Maradona!” She wanted us to see the bouquet of flowers being carried to place before a veritable altar set up below Maradona’s portrait.

Young Marcello (from Rome) was bringing the bouquet as tribute to il Grande Diego for Maradona had died almost a year ago (November 25th):

Scarves of various Italian soccer teams were laid out before the altar, where blue and white flower were in vases before a portrait of Maradona over the altar. The sign on the wall behind the altar indicated the name of this small piazzetta: “Largo Diego Maradona.”

It might as well have been called “Maradonaland”:

After a full experience of “only-in-Naples” passione, Adriano and Roberta wanted us to have a taste of napoletano goodness:  la pizza fritta. And just steps away from the “Maradona altar,”  Maradona reigned on the outer wall of Ciccio’s friggitoria (a place selling fried foods).

Ciccio filled our  pizza fritta with fresh ricotta, mozzarella and tomatoes (but variations on the theme are many):

We took our pizza across the street to Adriano’s parked red car which served perfectly as our table for one of Naples’ tastiest street foods:

(And for me, Naples ranks with Palermo as a top “street-food city.”)

Adriano realized he’d parked in front of a basso apartment and apologized to the sisters living there  – but they simply wished us with a smile, “buon appetito!”  And after our pizza fritta, they joined Pino, Adriano and Roberta in singing a napoletano melody.

I noticed the panaro dangling above their basso before we left.

I wondered if someone above was sending it down for an order of pizza fritta requested from Ciccio..?

Read about the famed Neopolitan creche scenes – also with figures of Diego Maradona!

Read about il panaro in a favorite Naples trattoria




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Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)