In a city home to hundreds of baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance churches, neoclassical San Francesco di Paola stands out. Completed by Ferdinand I after his return to the throne—and the ouster of Napoleon and his brother-in-law—the church dominates Piazza del Plebiscito with its portico and oculus reminiscent of Rome’s Pantheon.
Piazza del Plebiscito is Naples’ largest public square, and most visitors pass through here during their visit. Travelers anywhere nearby can easily check out the exterior of San Francesco di Paola and step inside to see the oculus and religious art.
Walking and Segway tours take advantage of the church’s proximity to the piazza, Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale), and San Carlo Opera House (Teatro di San Carlo) by including all four, though not all visit the church’s interior. Tours led by scholars offer the chance to engage more deeply with the church’s history and religious art. Travelers who would like to explore farther afield can take advantage of tours that combine visits to the church with excursions to Pompeii.
Things to Know Before You Go
- San Francesco di Paola is a must-visit for travelers interested in Naples’ neoclassical architecture.
- The dome and front colonnade are styled after the Pantheon in Rome.
- Entrance to the church is free, though it closes for a few hours in the early afternoon.
- Covered shoulders and knees are required to enter, with strict enforcement on Sundays.
- Photography is not permitted inside.
How to Get There
San Francesco di Paola stands at the center of the colonnade that encircles the western half of Piazza del Plebiscito, directly across from Naples’ Royal Palace. Travelers can take Metro line 1 to Municipio Station and walk south on Via Vittorio Emanuele III past Via San Carlo and Piazza Trieste e Trento. The E6, N1, N3, and R2 bus lines stop nearby.
When to Get There
San Francesco di Paola is open to visitors daily and usually pretty quiet, so there’s rarely a bad time to visit. To see a slice of local life, try attending Mass or checking out a wedding—from a discreet distance. During Christmas and New Year’s Eve the piazza can be crowded, making it more difficult to explore the church in peace.
The Pantheon Connection
The first thing most visitors notice about San Francesco di Paola is its dome ceiling, which has the same semi-open oculus and coffered walls of the much older—and more famous—Pantheon in Rome. The 8-columned portico is also visibly inspired by the Pantheon, while the surrounding colonnade is styled after St. Peter’s Basilica. We can only guess that Napoleon’s brother-in-law, who began the church’s construction, and Ferdinand I, who finished it, emulated two of Rome’s most recognizable buildings to project power.