Friday, June 24, 2011

Naples: The city and Paestum

After spending two days in Pompeii and Herculaneum, we decided to spend the next day in Naples and see one of the castles.
Castel Nuovo

The problem with seeing Naple's castles is that while you can see the courtyard, and some of the interior, you can't actually go up into the towers and the battlements, which is what I'd really like to see when I'm visiting a castle.  Instead, Naples seems to have turned all its castles into art museums, which seems to me to defeat the purpose of going to see a castle.  There were some interesting paintings, I admit, including one of the Visitation of the Magi, where one of the magi was clearly a midget.  There was also this door:


Which is most interesting for the cannonball embedded in it.  This is supposedly the door to the gate, but as the sign next to it notes, it's far too small to span the gate to the castle.  It may have been part of a larger structure spanning the gate, but I believe the sign suggests that it actually belongs to another castle.

The next day we went to the Naples National Archaeological Museum.  This is where many of the artifacts recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum end up.  Once more, there seems to be an emphasis on the art rather than the archeology.  The museum mostly contained statues, mosaics, and pottery.  There were a few exhibits of everyday, household items.  These would have been the most interesting ones to Kristin and I, if any of the signage for that section was in English.  But they seemed to save their English for the more artistic items, like these:



We also managed to accidentally follow a tour group into a part of the museum which isn't normally opened to the public, displaying some of the more erotic artifacts found in archeological digs.  Let's just say that phalluses were widespread and common as nicknacks in Pompeii.  I didn't take pictures, though.

On our last day in Naples, we traveled to Paestum.  Getting there proved to be a chore, starting with a train to Sorento, and then a long bus ride to Paestum.  Getting back was easy though, as there was a direct train between Paestum and Naples, which would have made things much easier if we had known about it for the trip thre.

Paestum is the remains of a Roman colony, which was originally a Greek colony.  It has some of the oldest temples in Italy. 
A temple built by the Greeks.

A Roman house with a traditional layout.
There's also a museum, which I thought was one of the better archeological museums, not least because it had English signs for everything.

After that it was time to return to Rome, and from there to Boston, because we'd seen all of Italy we could see in two weeks.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Naples: Pompeii and Herculaneum

Last time, I talked about the first part of our honeymoon, in Rome.  I've been negligent in talking about the next part, which involved traveling to Naples.  Our goal was not so much to see Naples, but to visit the important historical sites close by: Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Paestum.  Naples, being the largest city near these, was our home base for this part of the trip.  It also had a large museum, collecting many of the artifacts recovered from these sites.

I remember, when we first got to Rome, thinking "Wow, the traffic here is worse than Boston."  Well, Naples was even worse.  The streets were filled with pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cars, all honking and zooming past one another.

A taste of Naples traffic.
But we managed to survive Naples, and even get out of the city to visit some of the important sites.  First up, Pompeii.  There was a lot to see in Pompeii, and it'd be easy to overwhelm with pictures.  Pompeii was buried in ash when Vesuvius erupted, and its rediscovery was one of the great archeological discoveries of Ancient Rome. 

Kristin walking down a Pompeian street
It's been a long process unearthing Pompeii, with many mistakes along the way (some say that Pompeii's second tragedy is that it was discovered a couple of centuries too early).  Still, there's a lot to see.  For example, this very famous mosaic (technically a copy, as the original is in the Naples museum).
Cave Canem--Beware of Dog
The best preserved building in Pompeii is the Villa of the Mysteries, famous for its paintings connected to the Dionysian mysteries.  But what I found most interesting was this room:
A storage room?
According to what I could find, this is supposed to be a storage room.  My difficulty, however, is that it apparently has no door, just the hole in the wall that looks like it was made as part of the excavation, and this window:

The only way in or out?
Maybe I'm wrong, and the door was just very narrow, and it was merely widened, but I did notice that some of the maps of the building showed no door there.  I couldn't find much more information on what most people consider an uninteresting part of the house.  But to me, it's rife with story possibilities.

And one last photo, also located in the Villa of the Mysteries.  A grim reminder of the tragedy which gave us Pompeii as we have it today:
One of the bodies found in the house.
The next day, we went to visit Herculaneum.  This city was also buried when Vesuvius erupted, but since it was buried deeper, much of it was better preserved.  Overall, I preferred Herculaneum over Pompeii.  It's better preserved, and thus there's more there for the amateur archeologist.  It's also smaller overall, so you can see all of it without being rushed.  Finally, they provide you with a free English map and guidebook, both of which you had to pay extra for at Pompeii.

Herculaneum.  The grassy area is where the beach used to be.
The view from the beach.  The cliff on the left shows how deep the volcanic tufa burying the town was.
I took many, many pictures, of which only a few will be interesting to those not fascinated by Roman archeology.
Kristin taking a picture of the impluvium (a pool for catching rainwater) in the atrium of one of the houses.
Kristin taking pictures of a shop, which probably sold those jars you see in the upper right.
One of the interesting things about Herculaneum, from an archeological view, is that some of the wood from the town was carbonized and preserved, giving us some rare samples from the time period.  That's why I have pictures like this:
Part of the door to one of the houses

Lots and lots of pictures like this.  Which maybe aren't so interesting to folks who aren't as into ancient Rome.

I was going to finish up Naples in this post, but I'm thinking maybe I can save some of it for later.  So I'll wrap things up here for now.