Tag Archives: pompeii

Beautiful Ruins/Pompeii

After a rainy night in Sorrento, we woke early the next morning and walked to the train station. Although the streets were dry, I threw my umbrella in my backpack-just in case. We arrived in plenty of time to buy our tickets for the trip to Pompeii and have a cappuccino at the station.

O Sole Mio! (note the tambourine  for tips to the left.)

As we waited for the train to depart, an accordion busker stepped aboard. He placed a portable karaoke machine down by the door and began playing Italian greatest hits. He did not get a good reception from the commuters (too early for accordion music?) and left the train just before it departed with not many euros in his tip jar. I thought about the young boy from the day before ( see my previous post) and the life cycles of a Sorrento street busker. O Sole Mio, Volare, That’s Amore…The man may age, but the songs remain the same.

Pompeii Scavi

The train stops at Pompei Scavi. Right near the station is a place to buy tickets to the ruins, from there it’s a short walk to the site.

What is Pompeii?

Pompeii was once a  thriving city in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius. It had theaters, public forums, bathhouses, brothels, food producers, laundries and more. The population, estimated to be about 15,000, included all socioeconomic levels, from landowners to slaves. Despite the huge differences in lifestyle and social class, all inhabitants were equally defenseless on an October day in 79 A.D. when Vesuvius suddenly erupted. Rich or poor, there was no escaping the torrent of hot ash and pumice that rained from the sky, smothering all life equally.  After that, the city slept for over one thousand years under the ashes.

 

Plaster cast made of a child’s body at the moment of death.

The House of the Golden Bracelet

This golden bracelet (weighing 0.6 kg) was found on the body of a woman inside their richly decorated villa.

We walked down a path that led to the Antiquarium, a combination visitors center and  small museum (rebuilt in 1947 after being bombed in WW2.)  While most of the treasures recovered from Pompeii are housed in the Museo di Archeologico in Naples,  there are some exquisite pieces displayed here, including glassware, furniture, paintings, jewelry, and coins. In sobering juxtaposition to the luxury of these items are the casts of a family who perished during the eruption. Archaeologists dubbed their home the House of the Golden Bracelet, because of the precious piece of jewelry found during excavation.

During excavation at the House of the Golden Bracelet archaeologists found the bodies of a family killed by a staircase that collapsed as they tried to leave their home. Casts were made of the child, man, and baby seated on its mother’s lap in the final moments of their life.

Villa Dei Misteries

After looking at the displays in the gallery, we headed out with the small printed maps received with our paid admission to explore, forgoing the guided tour that was heavily suggested. Pompeii is vast, and there is a lot to see-too much for one day. I wanted to start at the one place that was highest on my personal list-the Villa of the Mysteries.

My friend Dennis had no real tourist agenda and was happy to accompany me to the Villa. Located on the outskirts of the city, we walked along a road where chariots once rolled.  We passed by the Stabian baths, a brothel, the House of the Faun, the House of the Tragic Poet and more, saving these to explore on the way back. Along the way, I did pause to shoot a few jewelry photographs in the of the cemetery of Porto Ercolano, the crumbling tombs, and monuments providing the perfect context for the ancient coin rings.

Larrisa ring, ancient Greek coin, silver, with coral.

Dionysus ring-ancient Greek bronze coin depicting grape cluster, gold, silver, ruby.

 

Along the road that once led from Naples to Rome.

Villa of the Mysteries

There were few tourists around as we neared the entrance to the Villa. The air was fresh with the smell of flowers and the sweet singing of birds. The season of spring infused life and vitality to the sleeping city, a reminder that everything is part of a cycle.

Villa Dei Misteries, frieze depicitng Dioyisian rite.

The walls inside contain one of the largest and most beautiful of all ancient paintings, depicting the stages of an initiation into the mystery religion of Dionysus (The God of Wine). Archaeologists have not been able to come to a complete agreement or understanding about the full meaning of the scenes. Little is known from written sources as the initiates, mostly women were sworn to secrecy. In 186 B.C., the Roman senate banned the mysteries linked to Dionysus-Bacchus, alleging that they encouraged depravity. (Hmm…sounds like a witch hunt to me.)

 

The colors are unbelievably vivid, the photos  I took with the dim available light give an idea of how bright the pigments have remained, even after about two thousand years. Elsewhere in the villa are beautiful examples of the ornamental style painting popular in the time, including a lot of Egypt-influenced imagery. These were beyond the capabilities of my camera to capture, so I am showing just one details here, for the color.

ornamental wall detail

I could not resist placing my jewelry on the beautiful mosaic floor and taking a few photographs.

Ancient Greek coin pendant, with gold, silver and sea glass.

Copper cuff with Roman coin depicting the god Sol (sun).

Ancient Greek nymph coin, with silver, gold, diamonds.

The Walk Back

There were only a few other visitors at the Villa when we got there around 10:00. I felt that nothing else I would see this day could possibly top this experience, and was glad to have been among the first there that morning. We met a lot of people heading to the Villa as we walked back down the road. We stopped to explore to see the previously mentioned sights we passed earlier, ending up at the civic forum.

Pausing at a funerary monument, on the way back to the center.

 

We had a lunch of pizza in the busy cafe, which was now bustling with tourists from all over the world. I really needed the food to get re-grounded after that visit. It was also a good thing we brought umbrellas as the sky began to pour.

The moody lighting and lack of tourists (taking shelter inside) provided more opportunities to shoot jewelry in what would usually be the crowded civic forum.

 

Ancient Greek silver coin, with silver and gold.

Sea glass ring in the civic forum.

Demeter, ancient Roman coin, gold, and silver.

In Closing, a few more shots

In the large theater

Before the rain

By later afternoon, seeing as much as we could absorb for the day, we walked back toward the exit. I will definitely return to see what I missed another time. I will also see Herculaneum on another visit-and Paestum. We still had another adventure in store that day, getting back on the train and heading to Torre Del Greco, to visit a friend, which will be the topic of the next post. Ciao!

Final view of Pompeii dotted with red poppies and wildflowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Nights in Napoli

After Vasto, we hopped on a bus and rode across the country from the Adriatic coast to the Bay of Naples. It was a rainy, three-hour ride. I was glad we’d cancelled the car rental and could relax and take in the scenery with no concerns. It was a nice way to transition from the peace of Vasto to the chaos of Naples.

In this post, I will share my experience in Napoli, and highlight a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.  So if you love ancient art, gritty cities, and pizza-stay with me!

This Is The City

Naples has a reputation for crime, especially pickpockets. I tried not to let the warnings I read on travel blogs make me feel uneasy or paranoid. Well-meaning friends also primed me about various scams perpetrated on tourists, especially in train and bus stations. The day before I left  an acquaintance who had lived in Italy for a few years urged me to buy a money belt, “at least for Rome and Naples.” I chose to forgo the security belts and go with what I was planning to wear-my new Rebecca Minkoff crossbody bag. I feel that once you give into the fear of what might happen, its a slippery slope from there. The anxiety vibes you send out might actually attract the very thing you are afraid of.

Room with a View

We felt a tad uneasy when our freelance taxi driver, (who had assured us he knew the address to our accommodations when we engaged him) stopped to ask directions various times from street vendors in L’Antica part of town. Our uneasiness grew when he suddenly stopped the car, saying “sei arrivato”  in a no-nonsense tone of voice. He got our bags out of the trunk and gestured toward an alley, telling us the place was only a few blocks away, then hurried off.

We rolled our suitcases along the bumpy pavement, feeling very conspicuous as we looked for address numbers on the graffiti-sprayed walls of a dark alley. Vespa scooters wove around us as we walked and the heavy air was filled with the sound and smell of traffic. Children shouted up to laundry-strewn balconies and were answered by adults who peered down at us from above. It did not seem possible to me that we were ever going to find the address, and for a moment I silently wished we had kept it simple and stayed in a centrally located hotel. But we had wanted something “more authentic” and were getting exactly that.

We eventually found it and rang a bell on the outside of an iron security gate. My enthusiasm returned as Marco, our host, promptly answered. Siamo arrivati!  The small apartment where we would spend the next two nights was windowless and sparsely decorated on the lower level but had all the necessities. Upstairs was a sleeping loft with two beds separated by a folding screen and french doors that opened onto a balcony.  Marco gave us some tips on exploring Naples, (warning us not to go back the way we came at night).

First Things First

We headed out onto the Corso Umberto, the main thoroughfare which our small alley opened onto. To celebrate our arrival in Naples, we stopped at a nearby bar for an Aperol Spritz.

Later for dinner, we decided to try Michelle’s, the most famous pizzeria in Naples, which was a short walk from our alley. It’s a tiny place, nothing fancy. Just pizza. Many of the customers order takeaway and sit out on the street curb eating their pizza out of the box. The entire street was swarming with customers, waiting to get close to the entrance. This went on for hours. We decided to try the restaurant across the road and were not disappointed. The pizza had fresh yellow tomatoes and basil leaves with mozzarella di bufala and a great crust. While in Italy we had pizza in every city we passed through, but the memory of this one stays with me the longest.

The National Archaeological Museum

The next day, we visited the Museo di Archaeologico. An incredible museum offering four floors of sculpture, painting, mosaics and other objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the Farnese collection of antiquities. On the day we visited,  a contingent of Star Wars cosplayers were there for a Star Wars memorabilia exhibit on the lower floor, near the Egyptian collection. I wondered what Joesph Campbell would say to that!

Artemeis of Ephesus is a copy made in the Imperial period. She is made from alabaster and bronze. Her hands would have held a ribbon.

Detail of her richly ornamented dress, alabaster.

Mosaics

The collection includes all the exceptional finds from the Vesuvian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Later in the week, when we visited Pompeii I had a greater appreciation, after seeing these treasures, for the way of life that had suddenly ended when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

Memento Mori, representing life and death as the leveler of human fortunes.

More

 

Detail The Farnese Gems, collected during the Renaissance. Many were made from glass.

Ancient glass vessels

Artist pigments and mixing bowls.

From the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Room), displaying erotica collected from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Villa Farnese. The Secret Room has been opened or closed to the public depending upon the political climate and morals of the time.

Where Did the Time go?

View from the Museo di Archaeologico.

I did not attempt to photograph much of what I saw, preferring to hold the impressions in my mind, but hope what I have shared here is of interest and inspiring. After the museum visit, we walked around the streets, grounding ourselves by taking in some sights of everyday life.

The dogs of street buskers.

Door knockers are one of my favorite things to “collect” with a camera.

Gambrinus desserts and more!

We took the advice of Ornella and had a caffè and dessert at Gambrinus. It was the perfect way to refresh and get a second wind for more sightseeing.

Next Post: Sorrento

Thanks for staying with me for this many words and images- see you soon!