Why you should care
This might be the most poetic way to experience an amazing view.
Nestled on the hilltop overlooking the southern Italian city of Naples, the Castel Sant’Elmo (St. Elmo Castle) is a popular must-see destination for tourists. Most venture up to it to enjoy the panoramic view of the city, stroll within the enormous star-shaped medieval fortification or check out the works of art on display in the museum.
Dragan Golubović, a specialist in Bosnian cultural heritage, was one of them. Climbing up to the castle during his family’s summer vacation last July, he was very excited. But among all of the things he hoped to see, what he didn’t expect was the 92-foot-long piece of stainless steel that blew his mind.
The handrail, affixed to the wall fence of the castle at one of its viewpoints, features a poetic description of the view in Braille. “It’s genius. It’s so simple, yet so beautiful because it allows people who are not able to see the view to experience it,” says Golubović, who didn’t know about the installation before visiting the castle. But soon after sharing an enthusiastic post about the installation on his Facebook profile, he was contacted by a Bosnian newspaper to write an article about it.
Titled “Follow the Shape,” the piece by 32-year-old Neapolitan artist Paolo Puddu won the fifth edition of the annual contest Un’opera per il castello (A Work for the Castle), which celebrates innovative ideas on improving the castle and the structure’s connection to its surrounding landscape. The topic was “A Look at Elsewhere — Relationships and Meetings.” Since 2017, the installation has been permanently exhibited in the castle. Puddu, who has been examining the relationship between the castle and the scenery around it for a long time, wanted to create a place of coexistence of the two. “‘Follow the Shape’ wants to be such a meeting place, inviting the visitors to reflect on the space in another way, or — in other words — to look ‘elsewhere,’” he explains.
With each touch of the dotted steel railing, you might just get a sense of what it’s like to experience an extraordinary view without actually seeing it.
To interact with the installation, visitors are invited to run their hands along the handrail. Those who know how to read Braille can “follow the shape” and read the verses of “La terra e l’uomo” (“The Land and the Man”), written by Italian author Giuseppe de Lorenzo. The poetic description of the panorama, in Italian and English, asks blind and visually impaired people to imagine the stunning view in front of them, dominated by the Tyrrhenian Sea and purple-blue Mount Vesuvius.
But the experience can be exquisite even if you don’t know Braille. Just close your eyes while holding the handrail, which is what I did when I first visited it, and take in the multisensory experience that goes beyond just the visual spectacle. With each touch of the dotted steel railing, you might just get a sense of what it’s like to have to rely on your other senses — touch, hearing — and experience an extraordinary view without actually seeing it.
“The intent of the artwork is not to include the ones who don’t see and exclude those who see,” says Puddu, explaining it’s an artwork for an expanded vision. “Beyond the descriptive content, the work consists of its own physicality, its own rhythm and its own sign: The words create embroidery that invites anyone to follow the shape, to walk with it through a polysemic reading, spread over time and in the space.”
“Vedi Napoli e poi muori” (“See Naples and then die”) is a saying Italians often use to describe the splendid beauty of Naples. At the St. Elmo Castle, you can do it in more than one way.
Go There: Castel Sant’Elmo
- Directions: Take a funicular at Montesanto station and get off two stops later, at Morghen station. From there, walk for about five minutes to reach the castle.
- Cost of entry: The full ticket is $12 and lets you see Museo di Capodimonte, Certosa e Museo di San Martino and Villa Pignatelli.
- Best time to visit: Spring and autumn, when it’s less hot. If you’re there in the summer, go early in the morning.
- To-do nearby: Have a coffee at Arx Cafe just across the entrance to the castle for a beautiful view of Naples.
- Pro tip: Stroll around the terrace and enjoy the 360-degree view of the city, the sea and Mount Vesuvius.