According to St Augustine: “the world is a book and those that do not travel read only one page”.
If you’d been living in Herculaneum (Ercolano) or its sister city (Pompeii) in AD 79, you would have been a very lucky traveller indeed to be away from home. Home would not be there when you got back….. look at this (I think, terrifying) interpretation from 1822 by John Martin (who ?) – ‘The Destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
If you stand across the bay in Naples even today, it’s not hard to imagine the scenario. Frankly, I find it quite baffling the people have re-built all of it and have even built mre houses on top of the lava/ash remains (some 6m or more deep) that covered the whole area and drove the shoreline half a mile west! There she looms:
To the left, Mount Vesuvius. Right picture, I am looking down at what was the beach at the edge of Ercolano – the wall to the right is solid lava, which shows the depth of coverage and the excavation involved. It probably also explains why 1/2 the town is still uncovered! What remains is in part delightful, and in others sadly neglected. See :
The painted plaster wall is too fragile to remove, though the Museum in Naples has many such treasures, testament to the wealth and status of the inhabitants who perished in the apocalyptic events of that day. Some made it to the shore and were safe inside houses – they thought. Though not buried under ash and lava (as we have seen over the years in Pompeii pictures) these doomed souls were simply and instantly killed with the poisonous gases that preceded both the pyroclastic flow and the ash and lava torrent that followed in turn. You can just see their skeletons where they were found in the archways below:
Good to know though, that before their total destruction the Ercolanii would have enjoyed a life as rich and varied even as our own. Complete, to my surprise, with the earliest pizza I ever heard of – take aways made to order. Quick!
Which brings me, rather obliquely, to the little hotel – to give it an unwarranted title! – which accommodated me for a night before I left the area to head up to Rome – where I am writing this! At it happened, the only food available near to “Hotel Dormus2” was the local pizzeria. I took no pictures; I wouldn’t want you thinking I ever eat in places so quaint. If you think of a secondary school canteen just before the kids arrive you’ll get the rough idea. Not much in the way of linen napkins, can we say. BUT they had an oven – in the room – that closely resembled the picture above and the pizza itself – completely and rapidly home-made – was delicious. It was pizza in a team. One guy (who was short) took the lump of dough, rolled it briefly and waved it about until it was fairly wide and flat. He then laid and stretched it out on a giant circular wooden paddle. He did this standing on a typical wooden pallet placed to give him height to reach the work- surface. However, the height would not allow him to reach up and into the oven itself, so a second youth arrive to do the insertion, fiddle around with the pizza whilst inside and withdraw the finished pizza on an identical, but this time, metal paddle. I timed the whole thing from the ball of dough to table at exactly 7 minutes. There was also a waitress who brought the food and an old guy (the owner?) who just sat over the back, drank and watched UK soccer on TV.
Earlier in the day – as I wandered a little of Naples, I found myself sitting and having a coffee in the Piazza Dante, Now I know – as I’m sure you do – that he was from Florence and you can visit his home there, but there was a nice enough statue and the sun was quite hot, so a rest was welcome. Had I but known how near I was to Pizzeria Port’Alba, as it’s believed to be the first pizzeria in the world. In 1738 this pizzeria served pizzas to people on the street, but in 1830 it decided to move the pizza eating inside, establishing a pizza tradition we still follow and love today. I followed a sign after my coffee that took me down Via Port’Alba, so I must have passed its door and did not know! You see, you GOT to do research.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans”, as John Lennon wrote.
But next time I am in Naples, eager to eat pizza, you can guess where I’ll be going. If you get there before me, let me know how it turns out.
Meantime, on THIS visit to Naples I ate some salad on the Corso along the Bay – which magnificent views across to the Vesuvian side, plus several enormous cruising ships and hordes of sun-bathers making use of the rocks along the shore. Weighing my food, the condiments and my hat down against the periodic gale-force winds. As I wandered through the city, admiring the ancient archways and stonework etc, I was musing to myself how, nevertheless it was a working city with shops and pavement cafes and all sorts of small businesses. Little local fishing enterprises with a decent range of indeterminate fishes and sea creatures. Oh, but look, this one has a little shallow tank with a little octopus in it – with a little aerating machine to keep it alive. Until someone takes it home to cook and eat it. I had just seen a remarkable YouTube video of an octopus interacting super-intelligently with a group of school children and here was such a baser use of such a lovely creature. I have never been tempted by octopus or squid – oh, OK in all honestly, the occasional fried squid ring. But I don’t make a habit of that and never again. Moving on.
The Bay, the Back Streets and the Bathing……..
One of these days I will learn to read a map. And I have a question : is it me or do smart-phones turn maps round depending on which way you are holding them? I swear by Almighty G that I spend most of today (I’m in Rome now) crossing and re-crossing my routes. Always about 8-10 minutes walk from my planned destination, but the journey actually took about an hour! Irrespective of how often I tried to get it right. It can’t just be me……..
However, it happened in Naples too (and as I recall, in Florence and Cortona in past visits) so I am coming to accept the facts. In my search for parking on Sunday I was lucky, I thought, to be nearby the Archaeological Museum for a brief visit and walking round the corner, was surprised to find myself beside the cafe I had lunched at earlier. Which I thought was some distance away. That surprise pales into nothing when I managed somehow to completely lose direction, the car and this restaurant after I visited the Museum. In fact, it was after I finally gave up and decided to return to the Museum and start again that I walked along another random street only to become aware by degrees that this is the street where I parked the car!! Something mysterious must have followed me from the Museum.
Talking of mysterious, the statue left: long held to be an ancient lady – and known as the Dame of Naples – has now been fully researched and turns out it’s a man. Who seems good with the curling tongs. The mosaics on right are just a little example of what Ercolano would have looked like – the columns, the wall panels etc are all covered with tiny squares of coloured stone to make the mosaics. Each maybe 3cm square. Extraordinary and beautiful – and an indication of the number of people employed by the wealthy to indulge their homes.
And while we talk of extraordinary – behold the Bull of Naples (Il Toro di Napoli). This is a Roman copy of a Greek original – so made maybe 1800 years ago with the orginal maybe 400 years earlier in Rhodes. Which wasn’t called the Bull of Naples of course – who knows. I post it simply because the original – which seems have to got lost – was carved – as is this copy – from ONE solid piece of marble. Even though it has been quite a bit restored, it’s almost impossible to imagine the scale of the task. Just for a marker, this work is about 12 feet square and in height ! Say 3.5 metres. Amazing.
And finally, a treat for my theatre buddies – fellow thespians! A very early wall of masks (from Pompeiii) you will recognise them for what they are – and it’s not Theresa May and Donald Trump! I think it was Karl Marx who said that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”.
Camera skills deserted me here – so, apologies for the electrical sockets and part-painting above! No time to edit today.
My final sortie in Naples takes me underground. I decided NOT to do the lengthy tour of San Gennaro aka St Januarius. He was an early-Christian, martyred one day in September, nearly 2000 years ago and this church is built on top of the catacombs occupied by those early Christ-followers. They are enormous, multi level and allowed for masses as well as burials and so on – technically against the law, but allowable since they were well outside the city. The tour groups and guides are almost as large as those early catacomb-dwellers! For some reason Gennaro’s head and blood have been preserved. On the first Sunday in May – if all goes as planned, lengthy masses and rituals are undertaken and – for those lucky enough to witness it – the blood in its two ancient phials, turns liquid again from it’s hard and cold state! But, as I say, I missed thatas it’s now June. So, though I had swanned in by car and cheekily persuaded the attendant to let me park right at the gates, the thought of 50 minutes underground in a group was too much for this explorer, so I had a coffee, a cornetto marmelata (think of a jam-filled croissant) and then left.
But fear not – I did not miss the chance to venture alone on another underground mission. In the ‘centro antico’ of the city lies San Lorenzo – with a Basilica that suits atop the structures underneath. It is part of the original Greek settlement here before the Romans came. This was their Agora – to the Romans their Forum – and several streets down below are still preserved, with paving, kerbs, shop fronts etc.
It’s a little dim but you get the idea. The best thing was that – whilst there were a few small tours groups around, the complex is so large that I wandered off to a dead end and found myself able to sit quietly on a 2000 year old window ledge. I sat there quiety thinking and dreaming antique dreams. Moving only when, after many minutes, voices could be heard coming towards my hiding spot. A magical moment – so please forgive the terrible selfie.
If you like the sound of it – there’s a great website here :
This was to be a short-ish Blog as my visit to Naples was similarly short-ish but I have rabbited on as usual. I will bring this to a close by saying that if your time in Italy is limited I would probably say by-pass Naples itself and visit Pompeii or Ercolano. There’s so much to see in Rome, Florence etc . Choose wisely for in the summer months all will be crowded, Pompeii far the worst. The little sister is easier to manage. Save your energy for fighting the crowds in Rome! I took a picture there today at the famous Trevi Fountain. Which is magical and magnificent but – all you could see were crowds of tourists and barely a fountain in sight. No fun at all. And who said that selfie-sticks could make a come-back? I have not seen so many in years.
As we say down here, Hail and Farewell – till the next time.
Love & Light.