Whether misunderstood or embraced by visitors, Napoli (Italy’s third largest city) is a location immune to the rest of the world’s fads. It’s full of surprises—a giant, enigmatic metropolis overshadowed by the towering Mount Vesuvius and cushioned with a shimmering strip of the Mediterranean Sea. But Napoli, just a two-hour drive from the Amalfi coast and known first and foremost as the breeding ground for the camorra and the world’s best pizza, is actually home to a thriving-yet-enigmatic arts and culture scene that few travelers have the pleasure of experiencing without the help of a local. Within the millenium-old alleyways and piazzas are clandestine art galleries, intellectual clubs, guesthouses and libraries, and even one space that encompasses all that and more: Purgatorio n°2
A fascinating space, Purgatorio n°2 is a two-room guest house-meets-library-meets-société intellect located in a meticulously restored Renaissance-era palazzo in the heart of Napoli’s Old City. Discovering Purgatorio n°2 is half of the experience; there is a word-of-mouth element that makes it feel special.
Guests of Purgatorio n°2 are first greeted outside the wooden door entrance by a red-head named Petr—a Czech native who fled to Napoli after the break up of the USSR and who has since remained in the city. The cheery escort guides guests through a Baroque, open-air courtyard, up a winding staircase replete with Romanesque statues, Latin insignia and an authentic zeitgeist without added frills, and into the entrance of Purgatorio n°2.
The main room of the space is a library itself. Literally, towers of hundreds of books are meticulously spread out and stacked atop tables, on the floor and up the 14-meter-ceiling. These books—from foreign language tutorials, fiction and non-fiction, guides, novels, biographies and beyond—have been left behind as gifts by guests who have inhabited Purgatorio n°2 since its conception by Paris-native Nathalie de St Phalle.
A journalist, rug importer, book collector and aesthete, de St Phalle opened Purgatorio n°2 in 2011 as a sister property to the now-defunct Purgatorio n°1—the original guest house/literary club that contained a similar ethos and decor as its second incarnation. The initial idea sprung upon de St Phalle in 1998 from the need to finance the renovations for a new home and “hotel” for friends, travelers and passers-by with a story to tell. Potential members who wanted to buy nights in the place purchased stays before its renovations were finished. In addition to a payment, members were required to submit stories about an imaginary figure, Robert Kaplan, whom de St Phalle deemed the founder. The space remains a story dedicated to this man who seems to know everyone and who has done everything a human can do in a lifetime.
Inside Purgatorio n°2, guests will encounter travelers from just about everywhere, as well as a rotation of Napoli’s creative cast ranging from designers, architects, writers and artists, all sharing their experiences and insight into the city and all the while eager to hear what you’ve been up to as well. At 8PM each night, apéritif is served on the massive, circular rooftop surrounded by wicker chairs, cushions, candles and fauna making for a surreal, magical experience where the main event is conversation and laughter, a rarity in this digital age.
And with keeping in good literary form, de St Phalle will release a book in September 2015 containing new stories submitted by the first authors (more than 222), and those fortunate guests who had stayed at Purgatorio n°2. The new book will celebrate the end of Purgatorio n°1 and contain enough mystery, tales of travel, life and love to last a lifetime in Napoli.
To book a stay at a Purgatorio n°2 visit their website.
Images by Ross Belfer