Stazione Toledo, Napoli – a handsome metro station

How do you persuade anyone to use the underground metro in Naples?

How do you persuade anyone to use the underground metro in Naples?

A year ago I arrived in Naples – one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Over the months since I’ve explored miles and miles of its old centre, of its sfogliatelle layers, but I’ve never been tempted to use its metro.  Why would I? Why miss any of the city’s light and life for a second?

Well … turns out I was tempted recently, and there were two reasons.

A street in Naples, Italy

A street in Naples, Italy

One was curiosity triggered by an article I’d read that ranked the Toledo Metro Station in Naples as the most impressive underground station in Europe, and the second was to escape the heat.

Cafe in Naples, Italy

Cafe in Naples, Italy

The day we first went down was a Sunday in early August.  It was mid-afternoon and Naples was closed – either on riposo or holiday – and the thick, damp heat above ground was so heavy we could hardly move.  The obvious place to be was on a boat … or underground.

The only option for us that day was underground – it had to be the Toledo Metro.

A view from just below the entrance hall of the Toledo metro with glimpses of the William Kentridge mosaic: "Central Railway for the city of Naples, 1906 (Naples Procession), 2012 Stone and glass paste mosaic."

A view from just below the entrance hall of the Toledo metro with glimpses of the William Kentridge mosaic: “Central Railway for the city of Naples, 1906 (Naples Procession), 2012
Stone and glass paste mosaic.”

An ordinary set of stairs led us down past the big, red M to an entrance hall where we got our first taste of what has won Toledo its awards.  Along the whole of one wall there is a detailed mosaic designed by the South African artist William Kentridge.

Part of William Kentridge's mosaic in the Toledo Metro, Napoli

Part of William Kentridge’s mosaic in the Toledo Metro, Napoli

Kentridge’s heroic, sketchy figures are larger than life.  Strange and strong they process in tiny tiles the colour of the earth across centuries of saints and story-telling, towards Vesuvius.

A 'who's who' of Kentridge's mosaic which includes, for some reason, 'una donna sudafricana' carrying fire

A ‘who’s who’ of Kentridge’s mosaic which includes, for some reason – perhaps artistic homesickness, ‘una donna sudafricana’ carrying fire

That was my first meeting with Kentridge – I’d never heard of him until I saw his signature beneath Vesuvius.  Since then I’ve learned more.

He’s Johannesburg-based, heavily decorated with awards, and perhaps best-known for the work he does with charcoal and film.  His style is quick and works on layers that build up and out from a few basic images – a great fit for Naples, a city that has always built what comes next on top of what came before.

The second mosaic by William Kentridge

The second mosaic by William Kentridge

From the entrance we headed down the escalators and passed under another symbolic Kentridge mosaic.

It is beyond this that the mood changes from earth to water, from ancient browns to blues – shifting, sub-aqua blues.

We sank deeper, some 38 metres deeper, into the world of light, mosaic and water created by the Spanish firm Oscar Tusquets Blanca.

The 'into the blue' escalators of the Toledo metro in Naples

The ‘into the blue’ escalators of the Toledo metro in Naples

We cruised down the long steel stairs, lower and lower, into the quiet, cool, almost-midnight world lit by curved hollows of light that tunnelled back up to street level.  The wide tubes of light passed suddenly overhead and tilted us backwards to catch sight of the tiny faces that peered down at ours.

Looking up through the blue to street level - Toledo Metro, Naples

Looking up through the blue to street level – Toledo Metro, Naples

Occasionally we were joined by other travellers, all of us journeying, perhaps just from A to B, but the art, the experience, was unavoidable.

In the long hall at the foot of the escalators light boxes along the walls turn panels of blue into wave and movement. This work, by Bob Wilson, brings sunshine and imagined sea breeze into the deep walks of the station.  It all feels calm even on the platforms which are somehow still un-grimed by travel and trains.

We sat on a blue-tiled ledge and waited.  The train arrived within a few minutes, clean and Sunday-empty.  It scooped us through its doors and took us on the one stop to Piazza Dante.

Here, the end of our journey, we had to leave the cool and the fresh art, and force ourselves back into the sunshine – back into the damp wrap of the second of the 2015 heat surges.

Pastries in Naples, Italy

Pastries in Naples, Italy

But at least by then, by five in the afternoon, there were signs of life.  The city, tough as old rocks but as soft-centred as its pastries, stirred … it was time for gelato and the Sunday evening stroll.

Altogether there are now 14 metro art stations in Naples.

Here are a few articles for further reading:

The 2012 Napoli Unplugged report on the Toledo Metro by Bonnie Alberts

The 2013 New York Times piece based on interviews with those involved with the creation of the Toledo Metro

An overview of the art in the metro stations of Naples by Surfacing Magazine

History of the sfogliatelle

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2016

6 thoughts on “Stazione Toledo, Napoli – a handsome metro station

  1. Reblogged this on The Phraser and commented:

    A look back (first published 16 August 2016): Napoli is built like a sfogliatella, with layers that rise up from the seafront to the heights of Camaldoli. On, in and under every ridge lie treasures, and the Toledo Metro Station is one of them.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Naples Monthly Roundup

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