Friday, May 11, 2012


Pompeii – Day 38 – Sunday

Sunday is a slow day for buses, so I slept in until 8:30 and still had time for a leisurely breakfast before catching the 10:05 bus to the station.  Being isolated up here with nothing but expensive hotel restaurants nearby, I have fallen into the habit of eating a large, late lunch and skipping dinner.  This is probably a good thing after my excesses in Tuscany.  I had a nice ham and cheese sandwich and a hardboiled egg for breakfast.  I figured that would hold me until late afternoon. 

I arrived at the train station just as a train was leaving.  Sorrento is the end of the line and the train was already standing room only when it left.  Sunday must be a slow day for trains, also.  Ever since I got to the coast, I have been wondering where the sailboats are.  I’ve seen a few in the bay, but almost none in the Sorrento, Amalfi or Positano harbors.  I found them today.  The small boat harbor appears to be in Castellmare di Stabia.  I could see it from the train.  Pompeii is about 30 minutes from Sorrento by train.

Vesuvius Looming Over Pompeii
The ruins of Pompeii are right across the street from the train station.  There was a long line to get in.  Despite the fact that it had been raining when I left the hotel, the sun had come out and it was getting rather warm.  The line moved rather quickly and within half an hour I was in.  I had a Rick Steves audio tour on my iPod, so I was able to bypass the 6.50 Euro audio guide.

Pompeii was a port city and was right on the bay until Vesuvius erupted and changed the landscape.  Now, it is about three miles inland.  At 1:00 in the afternoon on August 24, 79, Vesuvius erupted and covered the city in a rain of ash.  The ash grew so heavy that roofs and floors collapsed, but the walls remained standing.  Most of the 20,000 residents fled, but about 2,000 stayed behind.  These were entombed when a pyroclastic flow came rushing along at 100 miles per hour and buried the city.  Pompeii remained covered until it was discovered in the 17th century and excavations began in the mid- 18th century.  Today, most of Pompeii has been excavated and it appears as if it had never been buried.  It is extensive.  More organized than a medieval city, it appears startlingly modern, with regular blocks arranged in a grid like a modern city.  Adding to the illusion of modernity is the fact that each shop or dwelling has been assigned an address and the numbers are displayed on little marble plaques like a condo complex.

Roman Crosswalk

Roman Traffic Barrier
The streets are paved with large blocks of basalt, many of which are deeply rutted from chariot wheels.  Small pieces of white marble are interspersed with the black basalt to make it easier to find the way in the dark.  The streets were regularly flooded to wash away filth.  “Crosswalks” of raised stepping stones allowed Pompeians to cross the flooded streets without getting their sandals wet.  Many of the streets were pedestrian only zones, blocked to chariot traffic by stone traffic barriers.

Stuccoed Column

Ancient Roman Muffler?
Roman Locker Room
Pompeii was not a particularly wealthy city.  Buildings were constructed of brick and were stuccoed with crushed marble, rather than faced with marble slabs.  The basilica was in the process of being rebuilt after having been damaged by an earthquake and you can see how the columns were constructed of uniform bricks around a circular core because they had only been built about four feet high at the time of the eruption.  Pompeii follows the plan of most Roman cities, with the temple of Jupiter, basilica, curia and other public buildings all fronting on the forum.  There were public baths with hot, tepid and cold pools.  You can even see the “lockers” where bathers could leave their togas.  In places, the original lead pipes that brought water to the baths, homes and fountains can still be seen.  I wonder why they didn’t all suffer from lead poisoning?

Flour Mill and Bakery

Fast Food Counter
Roman Interior
I explored the city and visited the fish and produce market, bakery and fast food restaurants.  Many Pompeians lived in small apartments without kitchens, so took their meals in the marble countered restaurants with holes in the counters in which to set pots of food.  There are a few well preserved large homes, one of which covers 27,000 sq. ft.  Most of the sculpture and mosaics have been carted off to the museum in Naples (see following day), but there are some replicas in their original sites to give visitors an idea of how the homes might once have looked.

Roman Porn
Theater In Use
Gladiators' Courtyard

 The most popular attraction was the ancient brothel.  The building had numerous small cells with stone beds and pillows.  The hallway was decorated with erotic frescoes.  I got trapped in the middle of a Polish tour group and had to shuffle through the narrow passage while their guide droned on in Polish.  After the brothel, I visited the theater.  This theater was originally built by the Greeks and was expanded by the Romans until it seated 5,000 people in three sections.  It is very well preserved and is still used for productions today.  Behind the theater is the colonnaded courtyard where gladiators lived and trained.  Today, the courtyard is green with grass and dotted with flowers.  It was a colorful respite from all the brick and stone.

Outside the Wall
Yes, Those Lemons ARE as Big as Her Head
I exited through the theater and walked around the outside of the city wall to the main street of modern Pompeii.  The outside of the city wall is very scenic and typically Italian, with lots of cypresses.  It made me want to stop and paint something.  I had to settle for taking photographs, for now.  I stopped in a shady café.  It was about 3:00 and business was slow, so I had a relaxing meal of gnocchi Sorrentini, which were served in tomato sauce with lots of mozzarella cheese.  I also had a large cold beer, since it was hot and the café had reasonable prices.  It was the first meal other than pizza that I had eaten since I got to Sorrento and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The train was less crowded on the way back to Sorrento and I got a seat.  At the Sorrento station, I only had to wait a few minutes before the bus left for the hotel.  The bus was standing room only.  The driver took the curvy road without regard for the standees and remaining standing took a lot of effort.  From a standing position, I could not see my landmarks, so I was fortunate that someone else signaled a stop at my hotel.

It was about 5:00 when I got back and the weather was gorgeous.  I took my bottle of wine out to the terrace and had a glass of wine overlooking the Bay of Naples and the cruise ships anchored off Sorrento.  There were three of them today, including one four masted sailing ship.  After my glass of wine, I was feeling sleepy and I napped for a couple of hours until I was awakened by what sounded like gunfire.  Although it was still broad daylight, they were setting off fireworks in the town below.  This had also happened the day before and again just before 11:00 pm.  They seem to like fireworks in Sorrento.

Naples – Day 39 – Monday

I missed the 9:20 bus by seconds, but didn’t have to wait very long before another guest gave me a lift to the station.  I actually got a seat on the Circumvesuviana train to Naples, but had to wait quite a while before it left.  I talked with an English couple on their way to Herculaneum until they got off.  I arrived in Naples just before noon.  I took the metro from the train station to the Archaeological Museum. 

It was raining when I poked my head out of the station, but it wasn’t far to the museum and I had an umbrella.  The Archaeological Museum in Naples is more interesting than most because it holds most of the statues, mosaics and frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the Farnese collection of classical statuary originally excavated from the Baths of Caracalla and Palatine Hill in Rome, but moved to Naples during the 17th century as a series of marriages and shifts of power moved the Farnese family seat south.
Julius Caesar

Someone Knew the World was Round 2000 Years Ago
Farnese Bull
 The Farnese collection is impressive.  There are numerous mammoth marble statues, as well as many on a more human scale.  Some of them have heads, hands and feet of a different color marble from the clothed bodies.  There were also some animal statues carved from marble simulating the animals’ fur.  I liked the statues of famous emperors such as Julius, Augustus and Claudius Caesar.  The statues were seemingly complete, since the Farnese clan had hired Renaissance sculptors to “restore” and complete them.  No matter how impressive the rest of the collection, the Farnese Bull overshadowed them all.  This grouping of statues, at 13 feet tall, is the largest intact classical marble grouping ever discovered.  It depicts Antiope observing her husband’s mistress being tied to the horns of a bull to be bashed against a mountainside.  The action captured in this work would not be equaled until Bernini came along 1,300 years later.  Unfortunately, the museum has not put much effort into displaying this priceless collection.  White statues are displayed against white walls with poor lighting.  I could recommend a couple of good curators …

Pompeii Mosaic
Pompeii Frescoe
Pompeii Bronze

The artifacts from Pompeii are also interesting.  The paintings and mosaics exhibit realistic perspective and many of the frescoes are painted in such a way as to convincingly suggest additional alcoves or rooms.  The bronze statues could have been cast yesterday.  There is no obvious difference between these ancient statues and modern ones.  I especially liked the ones of people with interesting faces.  You can see were Rodin might have found his inspiration.  The mosaics are fascinating because of their realistic detail.  The tiles are so small as to be nearly indistinguishable.  They seem almost to be just a more permanent form of paint.

No description of the Archaeological Museum in Naples would be complete without mentioning the “Secret Room” (although it is a very well-advertised secret), a collection of erotic art from Pompeii and other sites.  The Greeks and Romans loved their phalluses.  Many of the phalluses depicted in these statuettes are comically large.  To the ancients, these were not obscene, but signified fertility and good luck.  It was not uncommon the find them displayed above the front door.  A group of frescoes are thought to be a kind of menu of services available at a brothel.  They form a sort of Roman Kama Sutra.  Greek pottery depicts even more graphic acts, some of which seem to be homosexual in nature.  Sexual morality has changed many times over the past two or three millennia.

Spanish Quarter
I was happy to see that it had stopped raining when I left the museum.  The sun was out and it was very pleasant.  I followed Rick Steves recommended walk downhill towards the harbor, taking in the stark contrast between the Renaissance and Bourbon architecture and the ugly imposing Fascist architecture of the 1930s.  Off to the right, stretched the Spanish quarter, with its streets so narrow that neighbors can toss a beer from balcony to balcony with ease.  There is no word for “privacy” in Italian.  The idea is beginning to catch on, but they just use the English word, in the same way that they have adopted the English words for “computer” and “internet.”

Naples recently hosted a series of Americas Cup qualifying races.  The boats were gone, but some signs remained.  Naples does have a lot of sailboats in its marina.  It looks like a pleasant place to sail with the Bays of Naples and Salerno as nearby playgrounds.  I’ll have to come back with a boat one day.  I had a piece of pizza and a beer in a café overlooking the harbor.  I was shocked when I realized the bill was only three Euros.  Normally, the beer alone would have cost that much.  Naples has much better prices than anywhere else I’ve seen.  Rick Steves doesn’t recommend staying there because the surrounding area is so much quieter and prettier, but Naples is a good place to stay for the budget conscious.  Hotels are cheaper there, also.

San Francesco di Paola

There is a massive piazza just above the harbor, with the Church of San Francesco di Paola (closed) on one side and the Royal Palace on the other.  The palace has housed Spanish, French and even Italian royalty over the years.  It is a huge complex painted in Pompeian red.  Around the back is the Teatro di San Carlo.  This is Europe’s oldest opera house and the second most respected in Italy, after La Scala in Milan.  Across from the theater is another century old, glass roofed shopping mall.  Not as grand as the Galleria in Milan, it is still impressive and a lot less crowded.  I stopped and ate a bowl of gelato while admiring the architecture.

I headed back up the hill to the narrow street called “Spaccanapoli” (translated as split Naples) this straight, narrow street has bisected Naples since ancient times.  Theoretically a pedestrian zone, I was still threatened by numerous motor scooters and the road was packed with people threading their way through shops whose wares spilled out onto the sidewalk.  I saw the same cheap scarves, trinkets and t-shirts I have seen all over Italy for half the price.  I still didn’t need any.  There were two interesting churches facing each other across the Piazza Gesu Nuovo.  The façade of the Church of Gesu Nuovo looks like a fortress because it was originally a 15th century fortified palace.  The inside, however, is decorated in Baroque glory.    The patron saint of the church is St. Moscati, an early 20th century doctor who was canonized in 1987.  After having seen saintly relics hundreds and even thousands of years old, it was interesting to see what was displayed for a person who died in 1927.  Entire rooms from his house had been reconstructed in a chapel off the right side of the church.  The saint is very popular with the locals who come to him to pray for deliverance from various health problems.  Naples is an exceptionally superstitious place.

Across the street is the very different Church of Santa Chiara.  The interior is very plain (the 14th century frescoes having been plastered over), but lofty and light-filled.  The aisles are not structural, but merely constructed inside the rectangular shell of the main building.  There wasn’t much to see, but the organist was rehearsing with a soprano soloist and the music was heavenly.  The place has superb acoustics.  I could hear her clearly in the back of the church without amplification.

I continued down the increasingly seedy street towards the train station.  The lower section is full of shops buying gold (probably stolen jewelry in most cases – Naples is notorious for thieves.)  The pedestrian mall gave way to a couple of postage stamp sized piazzas jammed with motor scooters and finally emptied into the vast Piazza Garibaldi, which was unfortunately fenced off due to some unnamed construction project.  I had to compete with scooters and automobiles to fight my way down the narrow passage along the periphery of the piazza to the train station.

Luck was with me at the train station, however.  I didn’t manage to get a seat, but I did get an express train, which knocked about 20 minutes off the usual 70 minute train ride to Sorrento.  I got back in time to catch the 7:15 bus back to the hotel.  I needed to use the internet to pay my credit card bill and locate my hotel in Florence.  Despite there being notices everywhere that use of the internet cost 6 Euros per hour, they didn’t charge me anything.  I probably could have been using it all along.  Unfortunately, by the time I discovered this, I only had a couple of hours before I had to retire.  I had to get up at 5:30 am to catch an early bus to the station so that I wouldn’t miss my train from Naples to Florence at 9:50 am.  It had seemed like a reasonable departure time when I made the reservation, but I hadn’t counted on the 30 minute bus ride in addition to the 70 minute ride from Sorrento to Naples.  Adding in time to drag my heavy bag up a few flights of stairs and through the passage between the Circumvesuviana and main train lines, I needed nearly three hours to make the trip.  I dashed off a blog entry before retiring, but didn’t have time to upload any more photos.  I have a lot to do when I get to Florence.


  1. Excellenz documentary ! Compliments from Buenos Aires, Argentina