Friday, June 29, 2012

A Day in Campania

Yesterday – the 27th June (an auspicious day) – was a day at sea as we sailed from Dubrovnik to Naples.

The most visually interesting part was passage through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the coast of Italy. It is narrow and requires the direction of a pilot who came on board from a highspeed boat and left the same way after the transit.

Naples is the cruise ships entry point for this area and there was a fleet in town for the day (and I’m sure that is the case all summer). Together with land based tourists this means that there are crowds everywhere.

We sailed into Naples early in the morning – and it certainly looks beautiful from the ocean at a distance. From close up the area around the dock, at least, was not very inviting.

Southern Italy has so much to offer in the way of beauty, history and a wonderful way of life that a day here is simply a starter – have to come back for more.

Regardless, we had to make a choice among all the tour options – various combinations between Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, Positano and the Amalfi Coast. I know what Niki would have chosen!

We chose to do an all-day trip that included a morning in Sorrento at our leisure followed by the afternoon on a walking tour of Pompeii.

The drive to Sorrento from Naples is by Autostrada through the suburbs of Naples as far as Pompeii then by the winding coastal road that takes you through (and in many cases above) the seaside towns.

The peaks of the Vesuvius complex looms over the valley as we travel towards Pompeii and you can see how its eruption would have affected a large area.

The Apennine mountain range, which forms the backbone of Italy, then curves in to become the cliffs that drop down to the see and make for such extravagantly beautiful scenery.

Over the centuries the residents of Campania have learned to accommodate to the mountainous cliffs, the ocean and the climate in a way that is truly harmonious.

Marinas and beaches can be seen at the waterside wherever there is a reasonable area and there are boats – fishing and pleasure - all over, swimming areas and sunbathing.
The cliffs have then been developed in terraces – the houses with their colorful walls are built into the cliffs and rise layer upon layer upward.

Around the houses, the fertile soil and wonderful Mediterranean climate, have allowed the cultivation of an array of fruits, vegetables and plants – again on terraces.
Olive trees were very common and are grown in groves with rolled up nets between them – when the olives ripen they drop into the nets (which have been spread between the trees for the purpose) and are harvested.
Grape vines are trellised vertically to save space.
We saw all manner of fruit trees but especially, as we got closer to Sorrento, lemon trees (for which the area is famous) and other citrus.

Our first view of Sorrento and the surrounding area of the Bay of Naples with Capri in the distance was spectacular.

After leaving the bus in Sorrento we went off on our own to explore. This is a sophisticated town with that has taken advantage of all its natural resources! The seafront area is a walk down from the shopping area and a Azamara cruise ship was docked in the bay. Beautiful Hotels offer views of the ocean and access to the waterfront all along the frontage but are largely hidden from the street.

Shopping, of course, was a major motivation for those wandering the streets. The main road (Corso Italia) was lined with lemon trees

And parked scooters.

The side streets were narrow and offered all manner of choices. The sweet liqueur limoncillo originates here – it consists of alcohol that has been infused for days with the rind of local lemons then added sugar syrup. Delicious. Had to buy a bottle. Innumerable stores offered their variations on the theme.

Fruit stores selling local produce – the figs!!!!! Yum.

Took a shot of the shop that sells the cute wooden toys and items we bought in Venice

We found a place that was selling Italian made kitchen and home goods at excellent prices – the owner (Umberto) with whom we chatted – was very vocal about the recession and the fact that, because of counterfeiting in the East, anything of Italian design is very quickly copied and sold at low price. We helped the economy as best we can (have to equip Vegas, right?)

Just being here even for so short a time gives off a vibe that makes you absolutely need to come back.

Then it was back in the bus and the ride along that scary, curvy wonderful mountain road to Pompeii.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD was catastrophic and resulted in an enormous release of lava, white-hot ash and gas to a height of 20000 meters.
The sky was darkened for days and the sun was hidden but fires started by the ash were extensive. Must have looked like hell!

Falling ash buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and all they contained very rapidly to a depth of 3 meters and smothered all life. Its hard for me to imagine that it was the ash fall that killed all the people as they slept – maybe the gases as well?

Pliny the Younger was a soldier in the Roman Army stationed nearby and described the event in his writings so the tragedy was not for gotten or lost and excavations of Pompeii were begun as early as 1748.

By the time the area was excavated it had been buried, encased in ash for nearly 2000 years and provides a fascinating look at the sophistication of life in a Roman City of the time.

I am sure many of those reading this have visited Pompeii and are familiar with it. The famous things to see.

I enjoyed particularly this glimpse of the day-to-day life of a world so long gone yet so familiar (and in many ways so modern)

The streets and shops had names and were posted.

They were paved with well worn basalt and there were pedestrian crossings constructed across them to keep your feet out of the schmutz.

These raised rock crossings were low enough to avoid the chariot axles. Smart.

The steel rimmed wheels wore ruts in the rocky road

Along the streets were stores with counters where you could buy supplies – liquids like wine were kept in clay containers in the counters.

Bread was baked on site – you can see the ovens still

the sidewalks had holes drilled in the rock to tie your carriage while you shopped / stopped

Some of the houses had signs indicating their owners.

A brothel advertised with a sign appropriate to the enterprise

Some of the walls on the street bear graffiti and some even have written adverts – supporting a political candidate.

Houses of the patricians were beautifully thought through. They had a vestibule with doors to shut out the street noise. A dining and living area and a yard where a hole in the roof allowed in light and rainwater to a pool below.

The walls of the houses, stores and buildings were decorated with frescoes some of which survive to this day.

Romans were big on plumbing – we saw the original lead piping that supplied water to houses and the pools.

We saw the ‘public toilet’ and baths in many locations. The ‘spa’ building of public baths had recesses in the wall for your clothes.

The height of the doors and the clearance above seating indicates (just as you see in old England) people were short in stature.

Seating at the theater (which had different areas for people of different status) was numbered and marked. The width of the seats suggests plebeians were slim (unlike some of our fellow passengers)

Finally we saw the recently renovated amphitheater – where the slaves had a go at each other and the lions etc. stood where Spartacus did

A final thought.

When the people of Pompeii died they were encased in ash. Their bodies moulded the material around them. Over the years the moulds become solid and their bodies decayed to dust. These plaster casts were made by filling the impression created in ash.

The detail is uncanny. One man is a slave. Barefoot. Simple clothes. His belt buckle has his owners name on.

The other figure is patrician. He is wearing clothes – like a skirt. And sandles.

They say they died in their sleep. Asphyxiated.

The last major eruption of Vesuvius was in 1943 during the Italian Campaign of WW II – very well observed. hmmmmmmm 

1 comment:

  1. Can we rent a villa and stay for a year??? Love love love!