Naples, Italy

     We arrived in Naples on April 27, despite the fact that Naples was not on our itinerary and we were originally scheduled to be in Sorrento that day.  Why, you ask?  Well, Sorrento is a tender port & it seems that it often has windy weather that precludes tendering. Discovering that Sorrento was scheduled to be crowded on April 27 while no ships were scheduled for nearby Naples that day, our savvy Captain & crew managed to obtain a berth in Naples on the 27th.  But Naples was fully booked for the 28th so we would have to move to Sorrento (as originally scheduled) for that day.  Well, this turned out to be a very smart move because the morning of the 27th was rainy & windy, and all the other ships were scrambling for a last-minute berth in Naples and we already had one.

     But then again, the downside was that it was windy & there was a steady rain as we pulled in on the 27th.  We had originally scheduled an excursion to Pompeii on our second day in Sorrento on the theory that it is best to be on a ship tour on an early departure day since the ship won’t leave without you while getting back late on the first day would not cause a problem since the ship wouldn’t be leaving until the next day.  But then we heard that there was bad weather in the area & that there was no room for Prinsendam to stay in Naples a second day, so there seemed a possibility that we would be unable to tender ashore the second day if the weather was bad in Naples. So we switched our Pompeii excursion to the first day, since we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it.  Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time (& I still think it was the best choice given the uncertainties) but we ended up outsmarting ourselves, since we toured Pompeii in a steady rain while the folks who took the second day tour from Sorrento had a beautiful sunny excursion.  Oh, well, can’t win them all.

     In any event, we did get to see Pompeii even if it wasn’t under the best of conditions and it was very interesting, although our guide kind of rushed us through because of the rain and, I think, because a number of the older passengers on the trip decided to wait near the entrance rather than taking their chances with the wet & very uneven streets of Pompeii.  Because of the rush I ended up with some pictures I can’t identify and a lot that are too blurry to use (because we were hurrying in the fairly dark interiors of buildings), and we also ended up skipping some of the best known locations (like the brothel & the theaters).  But here is what there is.

   Founded by the Greeks around 600 BC Pompeii is famous because in 79 AD it was buried in ash by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, only about 5 miles away. Vesuvius threw up a column of smoke, ash, dust & pumice 15-20 miles into the air which rained down on the coastal area next to it. This was the first indication to the local populace that they were living by a volcano, since Vesuvius hadn’t erupted for some 1200 years. About 75-90% of the 15 to 20,000 people in Pompeii escaped (although we don’t know where they went or whether they perished elsewhere in the vicinity) before the blast of hot air (400 degrees Fahrenheit or more) hit Pompeii and instantly killed everyone who remained.  The ash & pumice continued to rain down until the city was completely covered and it was this dense covering of ash, which excluded water & oxygen, that accounts for the astonishing preservation of everything in the city.  In fact, while the heavy ash accounted for the collapse of most roofs, much of the other damage to buildings was caused not by the volcano but by an earthquake that had devastated the town in 62 AD and from which they were still rebuilding when the eruption occurred. Pompeii was removed from the maps & forgotten until 1499 when it was stumbled upon by men digging a river diversion channel.  But it wasn’t until 1748 that actual excavation began.

     Before going into the excavation site we were taken to a nearby store selling cameos & watched a craftsman making them.  This is kind of like a commercial before a TV show, an irritating retail moment that is the price of admission (in addition to the actual money you paid for the tour).  But it was really raining so we were glad to be able to go inside & dry off & many of the cameos really were beautiful even if we had no interest in buying any.  We entered Pompeii on a steeply inclined street through the Porta Marina, which 2000 years ago was close to the shoreline.

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After passing the ruins of a house (I don’t know which one it is) we came to a street with large stones set in it.  Our guide explained that these stones enabled people to cross the road without stepping in the water when they flushed the streets to clean them every night (refuse and horse manure would flow down these gutters as well), while the spaces between the stones would accommodate the wheels of chariots.  They look a lot like our speed bumps. One bump meant a one way street, two was a two way street & three was a major thoroughfare.

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Next we visited the forum, the large main square of the town. Lots of pillars whose buildings are gone & engraved capitals. 2000 years ago the forum was lined on 3 sides with two story buildings with pillared facades like these. The Romans were known for the extensive use of bricks in their buildings, which they often covered with stone veneers or stucco made from marble dust.

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On the north side of the forum was the Temple of Jupiter (the Roman version of Zeus).  Built a couple of centuries BC, it was once very imposing and contained a large statue of Jupiter.  But it was badly damaged in the earthquake of 62 AD and was still awaiting reconstruction when the volcano erupted. When it was excavated the head of Jupiter was all that was found of the statue; the original is in the Archeological Museum in Naples, but there is a close reproduction at the site. On a clear day you can see Vesuvius looming over this temple, but of course it was rainy & overcast so the mountain was invisible to us. To the right of the temple is the Macellum, a covered market area.

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     Next we went to the covered market area where we saw what are probably the most iconic images of Pompeii, plaster casts of the bodies of Pompeiians at the moment of their death. We only saw a few of these, but there are more than 1,000 of them in existence.  It seems that the early excavators in the mid 19th Century digging through the ash & pumice that had solidified in the 18 centuries since the eruption came upon large holes that had skeletons in them.  Giuseppe Fiorelli, the head excavator, cleverly realized that these holes were left when the bodies of individuals decomposed & disappeared, leaving only the skeletons.  He devised a technique of filling each hole with plaster then chipping away the solid ash, leaving a plaster cast of the individual’s body at death with the skeleton inside it.  The most recent theory is that the eerie lifelike quality of these casts is due to the suddenness of the death caused by the wave of extreme heat, which induced a sort of immediate rigor mortise. The casts in the market area were in glass cases, and there are a couple of others shown here that were in a different location.

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     This open market area was also the first place we saw frescoes.  I know that many of the frescoes have been removed to the Naples Archeological Museum & replaced with replicas and I have no idea which are original and which are replicas, but these look original to me.  In any event, the replicas are really good so they are worth seeing regardless. Note the use of perspective in some of these pictures, a technique that was lost in the middle ages and only rediscovered during the Renaissance more than 1000 years later.

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     We went on to visit the Forum Baths (there were several public bathhouses in the city). It had a hot bath, a warm bath & a cold bath in addition to a gymnasium & a dressing room. The warm room has a carved blue & white stucco ceiling and the walls are lined with male caryatids supporting a shelf, between which were pegs for patrons to hang their clothes. It was warmed by a bronze brazier. The hot room was heated by hot air pumped into the hollow center of the double walls & floor & there was a fountain at one end, labeled with the names of the politicians who donated it, that pumped water onto the floor to steam up the air and provided a source of cool water for those who were overheated. The ceiling is fluted so that condensation from the steam would drip down to the walls rather than fall on the patrons. The cold bath was pretty plain but, really, who would want to go there? It was pretty dark in here, & we were hurried through to make room for others, so a lot of these pictures are less than clear.

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     Across from the baths was a fast food joint.  No, really!  Called a Thermopolium, there was one of these on just about every corner because very few Romans had houses with kitchens, most lived in apartments.  Originally this probably had an awning over it & sliding doors or shutters to secure it at night.  The holes held pots of food with wooden covers to keep the food hot.  Nothing new under the sun. Note the extensive use of what appears to be pumice rock in the walls, even though the Pompeiians didn’t know there was a volcano nearby.

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     We visited one home, the House of the Tragic Poet (named after its mosaics, now in the Archeology Museum, rather than its owner). Inside the front entrance was a mosaic of a dog on a leash with the inscription “Cave Canem,” which is Latin for “Beware of the Dog.”  It was a reproduction (the original is normally in the Naples Archeology Museum but was on loan to another museum).  Circumstances prevented a good picture, so I have included a picture of a copy made into a tile that I saw in a shop (copies of this famous mosaic are everywhere) to give a better idea of what it looks like. You enter through the garden, though, in which is a small shrine for worshiping family gods. There is an open skylight in the atrium with a pool underneath to catch the rainwater & a small wellhead next to it for drawing the water from the pool.  The indentations on the inside of the wellhead were made by the ropes used to draw up the water. We saw a few interesting mosaics on the floor, a room that I think was the kitchen and a room whose walls were covered by frescoes which I think was the dining room. This house was featured in the 19th Century novel The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton.

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     After this we headed for the exit.  But before we do that here are a few random pictures taken on the streets of Pompeii.

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     As we walked to the exit from the town (way too soon) we passed a storage area locked with gates that was full of artifacts, many on shelves & others lined up on the ground.  You have already seen two of the body casts that were stored here, and there was also a statue of Livia, the wife of Augustus, which was probably part of her effort to establish herself as a goddess.  If you have read or seen the TV miniseries of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, you know that Livia was quite a piece of work! There was also a lovely marble table with lion legs that almost looks like it could have been made yesterday. Leaving the city walls we came to the Temple of Venus, which was by a necropolis (of which there were several, all outside the walls of the city). And at this point Vesuvius began to emerge from the grayness for the first time. Last but not least is Zorro the service dog.  You don’t often see animals traveling on a cruise ship but Zorro was along to help his master with his deafness. He was extremely well behaved.

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     When we returned to the ship from Pompeii around noon it was still raining steadily so we expected to spend the rest of the day on the ship.  We had lunch then Mary took a nap while I worked on the blog.  However, it stopped raining about 3:00 in the afternoon so I woke Mary up. She reluctantly got out of bed & we left the ship to walk to the Naples Archeological Museum.  The ship was docked right in the center of town, so that was a great place to take in Naples, an attractive city with a variety of pastel colored buildings mixed with a number of old monumental ones. Naples was founded by Greeks in about 600 BC. They creatively named it Neapolis, or “New City.” Actually, the Phoenicians were no better at naming cities: both Carthage and Cartagena were originally named Qart Hadasht by the Phoenicians, which means (you guessed it) “New City.” From the ship we could see both the city and the bay.

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     We walked through the Piazza Municipio in the first picture, then around behind the Castsel Nuovo and up to the Via Toledo which would take us to the Archeology Museum (after a long walk).  We saw a number of the city’s landmarks on our way to Via Toledo, Including (in addition to the Castel Nuevo) the Teatro San Carlo, the main theater (Teatro San Carlo), the old royal palace (Palazzo Reale), the church of San Francesco di Paola, and the Galleria Umberto I (a huge and glorious old shoppng mall with a glass roof). There were a couple of other interesting buildings I can’t identify.

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     The Archeological Museum was really fantastic.  We were very glad we had made the effort to get there. Opened in 1777 the museum is in the 16th century palace Palazzo degli Studi. Here is a tiny sample of its vast collection of ancient statuary(read the captions for the identifications I have).

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We wandered into a gallery containing artifacts from the Villa of the Papyri that was on the outskirts of Herculaneum. There were some interesting frescoes from the Villa (much of which is still not excavated), but that was not the main story here. It seems that Pliny the Elder, a renowned scientist & the local admiral, was trying to reach this villa to rescue his friend Rectina, who owned it and her vast library. But Pliny died on the beach and the villa along with its library, much of which was already packed in boxes for moving, was covered by the debris from Vesuvius. The 1800+ scrolls of papyri were blackened by the heat but the burial also preserve them. In the mid 18th Century the villa was rediscovered by workmen digging for construction. They tunneled through it, recovering a large number of ancient statues and discarding what appeared to be long pieces of charcoal.  When they broke through into a room lined with shelves full of these black artifacts it became apparent that they were books. In fact, this is the only ancient library to survive to modern times. However, no one could read the scrolls, not only because they were blackened but because all attempts to unroll them destroyed the scrolls.  Then a priest from the Vatican invented a machine that could, very slowly, unroll the papyri without destroying them so that many of them could be identified.  In this room of the museum was one of his unrolling machines, which was quite fascinating (although the pictures are hard to decypher because of the light reflecting from the glass case). Today attempts are being made to use a kind of CTI scan to decipher the scrolls without unrolling them (I don’t know if there are any results from this yet).  Meanwhile, a whole new level of the villa has been discovered near the shore, and experts believe it may contain another library, perhaps with copies of the ancient classics like the missing plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles. But the Italian government has not, so far, permitted any excavation there and there are fears that whatever is there may be destroyed by water or even by another eruption.

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Then we found what we were hoping to see at this museum: the artifacts uncovered mostly in Pompeii (& a few from Herculaneum & the surrounding area).  While one large Pompeii gallery was closed, we found several others that were really interesting, particularly since we had just been to Pompeii.  The first gallery contained a lot of physical artifacts, including a number of bronze household statuettes & articles of everyday life, such as lamps, kitchen utensils and even dental tools and dice. Most, if not all, of these are from Pompeii. I will put what little I know about these in the captions.

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Most of the frescoes were in the gallery that was closed the day we were there, but we saw a few. Unfortunately, most of them were in the Gabinetto Segreto or Secret Cabinet. This was a separate gallery containing artifacts from Pompeii of a sexual nature.  It seems that ancient Romans had a very liberated attitude toward sex.  Statuettes with huge phalluses and fairly explicit art were found in their homes. The Secret Cabinet also contains the original frescoes from the brothel, which explicitly depict various sex acts and served as a sort of menu on the wall of the brothel, kind of like a barber shop with pictures of various hair styles that are available from the barber. The items in the Secret Cabinet were kept under lock and key and shown only to educated mature males by appointment for most of its existence. It was opened to the public only in 2000 and the separate gallery was opened in 2005.  There is a sign at the door that says only adults may enter, but there is no one there to enforce it and we saw some adolescents in the exhibit.  I have pictures of a number of these items, many of which are quite beautiful pieces of art, which I would be happy to share by email upon request, but since there may well be children reading this blog I will only include here a couple of the most benign ones. We also saw some beautiful mosaic covered pillars from the House of the Mosaic Pillars in Pompeii and some pictures made with inlaid colored marble.

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Finally, we saw a large collection of mosaics, most of which are from Pompeii. Again, I will tell you what little I know about them in the captions.  The most famous one seems to be the large mosaic (almost 9’ by 17’) of Alexander and Darius at the Battle of Issus, which is a mosaic copy made in the 2d Century BC of a Greek painting from the 4th Century BC that is now lost. The battle was fought in 333 BC and Alexander won.  It was originally in the House of the Faun in Pompeii.  There were also two very long mosaics, maybe 10 feet, from the House of the Faun: a scene from the Nile, complete with a hippo & a crocodile, and a theater theme with two theatrical masks. Remember, everything in this section is mosaic.  Some look more like paintings because the tiles are so tiny, but they are all mosaics. I have included a few closeups of details that reveal the tile work.

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     We left the museum around 6:30 having barely scratched the surface of its incredible collection. Across the street on our way back was another monumental glass roofed shopping mall, the Galleria Principe (which seemed eerily empty, I guess because it was Saturday night).  Further down Via Toledo we passed the interesting looking Convitto Nazionale, a school, in the Piazza Dante.  It was, as I said, Saturday evening and it seemed that everyone in Naples – parents with strollers, families with children, young people on motorcycles — was out promenading up and down Via Toledo, which is normally a primary traffic thoroughfare.  It was a great atmosphere & made us feel very much a part of the city life. Just before we reached the ship we saw the 18th Century opera house, the Teatro Mercadante.

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   Just as we got back to the ship the sun broke through the clouds, lighting up just the top of Vesuvius. The weather was now clearing up nicely and the Bay of Naples was lovely.  There was a dramatic sunset behind the Castel St. Elmo, and all the lights came on in the harbor and on the shore of the bay near the volcano. A pretty glorious end to a day that started out so dismal!

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One response

  1. Janet

    Love your blog Rick feel like I’m there!!!

    July 30, 2013 at 2:38 am

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