Category Archives: Travel

Naples, The Bay and the Castles

Bay of Naples Painting

“Rome is stately and impressive; Florence is all beauty and enchantment; Genoa is picturesque; Venice is a dream city; but Naples is simply fascinating”.– Lilian Whiting

On the way back to Ercolano railway station we had a little bit of a misunderstanding about coffee and cake.   Kim wanted coffee and cake and spotted a café and I rejected it because it was on the shady side of the street confidently predicting that there was sure there would be another one further along in the sun.  As it turned out there wasn’t so we stopped instead at a bar with a pushy waitress and had an alternative beer.  We should have been eating gooey cake but I was in a sticky situation!

The train ride back to Naples was less crowded and a little more comfortable than the outward journey and thirty minutes or so later we arrived at the railway terminus and our plan now was to walk directly to the harbour and the sea of the Bay of Naples.

The direct route was along the arterial Corso Umberto I (an unfortunate king who was assassinated in 1900) and brought us to a magnificent statue of King Victor Emanuel II, his father and the first King of United Italy in 1861.  This was not a pleasant walk I have to say, too much growling traffic and a rather featureless route, I preferred the noisy and chaotic back streets.

Castel Nuevo

We reached the sea at the Castel Nuevo and the Palazza Reale, once a royal palace but now a museum and an opera house.  We originally planned to go further but we now agreed that after a long day this was rather ambitious so we turned our backs on the seafront and made our way back to the accommodation passing again through the crumbling architecture of the back streets.

I had a mind to visit an underground exhibition of a subterranean archaeological project called ‘Underground Naples’ but Kim wondered why we might go underground to look at Roman houses when only this morning we had seen them on the surface on in the sunshine.  I had to agree with her logic so we went for a drink at a pavement bar instead before going back for a short rest and preparation for evening meal.

There was no debate to be had about this and we returned to the pizzeria that we had enjoyed last night but this time we had double helpings of the buffalo mozzarella starter and we shared a pizza with a house red in a cracked pot to compliment it.

The following morning our plan was to finish what we started yesterday and make the long walk to the seafront and we set off soon after breakfast and after only thirty minutes arrived at Piazza del Plebiscito (the header picture) an elegant square first commissioned in the memory of Napoleon Bonaparte but famous most of all because in a public vote in 1860 this is where the Kingdom of Naples agreed to become part of United Italy.  a sort of reverse Brexit as it were!

As we walked north along the side of the Bay we knew that we were in an altogether different area of Naples, no grime here, just swanky yachts to our left and grand expensive hotels to our right.  I recall reading once, some time ago, that the Bay of Naples was the most horribly polluted part of the Mediterranean Sea but someone has been clearing it up and not any more it isn’t.  The water was crystal clear and people were swimming in the sea and fishermen and a procession of boats were making their way to the shell fish harvesting areas.

At the Castel dell’Ovo admission to the once mighty fortress was free (which is always a bonus) so we climbed to the top and enjoyed views of Vesuvius on one side and the waterfront of Naples on the other.  Let me say, no one should miss visiting Naples, it was once part of the Grand Tour of Europe and surely it should be again.  Just my opinion.

Naples and VesuviusBay of Naples

It was busy today so after the castle we strayed back inland back towards Piazza del Plebiscito where it was time for a drinks break and this is where we suffered the indignity of being thrown out of a restaurant.

It advertised bargain price beer and wine and as we examined the menu a waiter gathered us up like a shepherd and insisted that we go inside.  He showed us to a table and provided us with menus.  We told him that we only wanted a drink and this tipped him over the edge.  His eyes began to swivel, his arms began to flay and he lost all sense of volume control.  This is not a bar it is a restaurant, he yelled, withdrew the menus, dragged us out of our seats, pushed us towards the door and slammed it shut behind us with a resounding crash that almost took it off its hinges.  I looked back, the staff were sniggering, they thought it was amusing so I gave them a sarcastic smile and a tossed them a dismissive wave to tell them that so did I.

I haven’t been thrown out of a restaurant since 2004 in the Old Town in Prague for exactly the same reason.

Opposite was a pavement bar which also suggested cheap drink prices so we stopped there instead but when I called for the bill it seems the drinks that we had ordered were not included in the offer.  I wasn’t going to argue, I should have read the small print – another travel lesson learned!

Naples Waiter

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Naples, The Roman City of Herculaneum (remastered)

Herculaneum 5

“You could hear the wails of women, the cries of children, the shouts of men… many raised there arms to the gods, others declared that the gods were no longer and this was their last night on earth”, Pliny the Younger in a letter to Tacitus

These are some of the pictures that I captured when visiting Herculaneum.  I have edited them a little and given them some colour because although I am no expert on these matters and I am mindful that I am doing an Arthur Evans here, my guess is that the walls and the mosaics were much more bright and vibrant two thousand years ago…

Herculaneum 4Herculaneum 3Herculaneum 2Herculaneum 1

Naples, The Roman City of Herculaneum

Herculaneum

“At every ticket window customers were gesticulating wildly.  They didn’t seem to be so much buying tickets as pouring out their troubles to the… weary looking men seated behind each window.  It is amazing how much emotion the Italians invest in even the simplest transaction”  –  Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

The Circumvesuviana is an electrified narrow-gauge railway that runs from Naples to Sorrento and we enjoyed a cramped but scenic journey as the line passed through many tunnels and over several bridges.  I first used it in 2004 and from memory it was clean and efficient but now it is gloriously chaotic, battle scarred and overcrowded with danger seeping out of every corner.

After half an hour we arrived at the station of Ercolani Scavi, which is barely half a mile away from the entrance to the excavations.

You have to hand it to the Romans, they thought of everything, even down to building this great city so close to a convenient railway line.  Compare this to the French, for example, Calais station, if you have ever been there, is miles out away from the town!

For those short of time, Herculaneum is a good alternative visitor site to the more famous Pompeii.  After the eruption the town was buried under approximately twenty metres of lava, mud and ash and it lay hidden and almost intact until it was accidentally discovered by some workers digging a well in 1709 who dropped into an underground Roman Theatre.  After a bit of inevitable plundering the excavation process began soon after but is still incomplete and today the untidy Italian towns of Ercolano and Portici lie on the approximate site of old Herculaneum which prevents its complete excavation because you can’t just knock down a living town just to get to Ancient Rome.

Herculaneum

Actually the excavation has now been indefinitely suspended to help preserve the ancient city.  The volcanic water, ash and debris covering Herculaneum, along with the extreme heat, left it in a remarkable state of good preservation but once excavations began exposure to the elements began the rapid process of deterioration. This was not helped by previous methods of archaeology used earlier in the town’s excavation, sometimes rather crude which generally prioritised recovering valuable artifacts rather than ensuring the safeguarding of the infrastructure.

Tourism, vandalism as well as inappropriate excavation methods has damaged many of the areas open to the public, and water damage coming from modern Ercolano has undermined many of the foundations of the structures. Consequently the archeologists have decided that what remains buried is best left buried until it can be excavated safely.

So long as Vesuvius doesn’t erupt again these archeological  endeavours can wait.  No one knows absolutely for sure but it is estimated that visitors can only see only about a fifth of the city which led me to speculate on what great treasures there must be waiting to be discovered in what remains perfectly preserved underneath the foundations of the modern town directly above.

I had been to Herculaneum once before in 2004 with my son, Jonathan, this is him at an ancient fast food restaurant…

Herculaneum 7

I tried to recapture the cool pose fourteen years later…

Herculaneum 6

… and failed miserably on account of not having a hat.

From the entrance we had to descend into what resembles a deep quarry through the twenty metres or so of tufa and down to the site itself and it became immediately apparent that Herculaneum is most unlike the remains at the site at Pompeii.

Pompeii was destroyed and the citizens were killed by fumes and ash that were carried by the wind in a south-easterly direction from the volcano but Herculaneum was on the other side of the mountain to the west.  During the night, the column of volcanic debris which had risen into the stratosphere began falling back down onto Vesuvius.  A pyroclastic flow formed that sent a mixture of gas, ash, and rock that had reached a temperature of five hundred degrees centigrade racing down toward Herculaneum at a rate of sixty miles an hour.  No chance to outrun it, a Roman chariot could only achieve speeds of half that and only over a short distance. When the flow reached the city it buried the citizens who had fled to boat houses and were trying to escape to open sea and the intense heat killed them in an instant.

Herculaneum 9

This is the scientific bit.  A pyroclastic flow is a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas that rushes down the side of a volcano and the temperature within a flow may be so great that it is sufficient to burn and carbonise wood immediately upon impact. Once deposited, because of the intense heat, the ash, pumice, and rock fragments deform and weld together.  Although it killed all of the inhabitants this flow did little damage to the structures, instead slowly filling them from the bottom up and preserving them perfectly without destroying them altogether.

This process of filling from the bottom in this way was important because at Pompeii most of the buildings were destroyed by the overhead weight of the ash  and they inevitably collapsed but this didn’t happen at Herculaneum.  Good for us visitors two thousand years later but not so good for those living there at the time.

The excavation site is much smaller than Pompeii but because of the state of preservation of the buildings I found it to be more interesting.  The buildings are intact and the frescoes and the wall paintings are much more vivid and it is possible to visit the houses of important people (including Julius Ceaser’s father-in-law) and the shopping areas and public buildings and the boat houses where most of the inhabitants died as they tried to make their impossible escape from the approaching boiling lava flow.

Whereas Pompeii takes a full day to explore, Herculanem takes just a couple of hours so after we had walked the ancient streets we left and ran the gauntlet of the restaurants and bars with pushy waiters back to the railway station and a return to Naples.

Herculaneum also reveals that things don’t really change so much, this is a sign on a wall setting out prices two thousand years ago…

Herculaneum 8

… and this is a modern day fast food shop in the city of Naples…

Italy Chip Shop

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Related Articles:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

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Naples, Washing Lines

Naples Washing 1

I always wonder if they have ‘extra grip’ pegs in Southern Europe because if an unexpected gust of wind blows something off the line then it is surely gone forever.

This is rather like other unanswered questions that trouble me – why women are hopeless at supermarket check-outs, how did the Trojans fall for that Wooden Horse Trick, if moths only come out after dark why do they always fly to the light and just how can I be sure that the little light in the fridge has gone off when I shut the door?

Naples Washing 2Naples Washing 4

More Washing Lines…

Malta

Portugal

Italy

Washing Line Pegs

Naples, The Inevitability of Giuseppe Garibaldi

Naples Garibaldi

Garibaldi is the only wholly admirable figure in modern history.” –  A.J.P. Taylor (English Historian)

On our second day in Naples we made an early start because we were taking a train journey to nearby Herculaneum, a Roman City destroyed at the same time as more famous Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D 79.

We didn’t have a proper map of course but we were fairly certain of the right way towards the railway station and we confidently set off in our chosen direction and within a few moments came upon a huge piazza and the inevitable statue of Italy’s great hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi who we have come across previously in (no exaggeration here) every town and city that we have visited in Italy.

Every town and city in Italy has a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi.

This one was an especially fine statue, high on a column with an additional frieze depicting him alongside other Italian heroes.  I couldn’t get a very good picture because this would have involved standing in the middle of the road where I would certainly have been run down several times and so become a permanent addition to the tarmac!!

A few years ago I wrote a post in which I speculated on whether Giuseppe Garibaldi may be the most celebrated secular man ever to be recreated in statue form across the World.  You can read the post here.

After the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 the state worked hard at making sure Garibaldi would be perpetually remembered and the number of streets, piazzas and statues named after him makes him probably the most commemorated secular figure in history.  Such was the romance of his story of revolutionary heroism and daring-do that Garibaldi was at one point possibly the most famous man in Europe.

Garibaldi

In London in 1864 for example people flocked to see him as he got off the train. The crowds were so immense it took him six hours to travel three miles through the streets. The whole country shut down for three days while he met the great and the good.  Literary figures including the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott lauded him as the “Italian lion” and “the noblest Roman of them all”.

Statues of his likeness stand in many Italian squares and in other countries around the world.  A bust of Giuseppe Garibaldi is prominently placed outside the entrance to the old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC, a gift from members of the Italian Society of Washington. Many theatres in Sicily take their name from him and are ubiquitously named Garibaldi Theatre.

Five ships of the Italian Navy have been named after him, among which a World War II cruiser and the former flagship, the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Giuseppe Garibaldi Italian Navy

When I went on holiday to Sorrento in 1976 I took a bus ride along the Amalfi Coast the coach stopped at one dangerously precipitous hairpin bend so that the tour guide could point out to us an outcrop of rock in the sea which is said to show the profile of the great man.

Garibaldi Rock Amalfi Coast

The English football team Nottingham Forest designed their home red kit after the uniform worn by Garibaldi and his men and have worn a variation of this design since being founded in 1865 and there is a Nottingham Forest team magazine called the ‘Garibaldi Gazette‘.  Rather interesting that they choose Garibaldi and not Robin Hood in my opinion but then they would have had to play in green shirts which is not a popular football shirt colour.  A college in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire is also named in his honour.

Nottingham Forest Shirt

Garibaldi is like a rash, he is everywhere.  The Garibaldi biscuit was named after him, as was a style of beard, a pop group in Mexico and in Italy there is a cocktail drink called the Garibaldi (based almost inevitably on the Italian drink Campari). The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy has been awarded annually since 2007 in the European Six Nations rugby union competition to the winner of the match between France and Italy.

Other places and things named after Garibaldi include a National Park in British Columbia in Canada including Mount Garibaldi, Lake Garibaldi and an entire Volcanic belt; the city of Garibaldi in Oregon, USA; a town and a gold mine near the city of Ballarat in Victoria and a dirt road in Melbourne, both in Australia and a medium sized town in the very south of Brazil (his wife, Anita, was Brazilian).

There are Hotels in Naples, Palermo, Venice and Milan, but only a bed and breakfast in Rome. In England there are streets and squares named after him in London, Scarborough, Grimsby, Bradford and St Albans and a hotel in Northampton.  There is a Pizzeria in Memphis, Tennessee and in the Pacific Ocean near California there is a scarlet fish and a marine reef called Garibaldi. There is a museum on Staten Island, New York; stations on the Paris metro and in Mexico City; a café in Madrid, an area in Berlin, restaurants in Vienna and Kuala Lumpur, a Street in Moscow, a Museum in Amsterdam and a block of high-rise Social Housing flats in my home town of Grimsby.

If I have missed anything important out of my list then please let me know.

I have got rather a lot of photographs of Garibaldi statues from my Italian city visits but I took some more here and then we continued our walk to the railway station.

“We were for centuries
downtrodden, derided,
because we are not one people,
because we are divided.
Let one flag, one hope
gather us all.
The hour has struck
for us to unite.”

Italy National Anthem

Naples Statue 4

More Garibaldi Statues…

Giuseppe in Pisa

Giuseppe in Padova

Giuseppe in Venice

 

Naples, Saint Januarius and the Miracle of the Blood

Naples Duomo Cathedral

“In this city of Naples, they believe in one of the wretchedest of all the religious impostures one can find in Italy –the miraculous liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius. Twice a year the priests assemble all the people at the Cathedral, and get out this vial of clotted blood and let them see it slowly dissolve and become liquid– and every day for eight days, this dismal farce is repeated, while the priests go among the crowd and collect money for the exhibition.”  Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

We were staying at a place in an untidy little square situated directly behind the Doumo of Naples so it was easy to squeeze in a visit in between an afternoon on the busy streets and preparing for pizza.

The Doumo is a fine building with a grand façade that gleams like polished stone in the sunlight and an impressive interior but it is known most of all for being the repository of the blood of Saint Janurius, the Patron Saint of Naples.

Januarius was Bishop of Benevento and is a martyr and Saint of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Whilst no contemporary sources on his life are available, later sources and legends claim that he died during the Great Persecution of the Emperor Diocletian during which he was beheaded after first being fed to wild bears that refused to eat him.  These religious fantasy stories often beggar belief!

And so we go on…

Januarius is the patron saint of Naples where the faithful gather three times a year in the Cathedral to witness the liquefaction of what is claimed to be a sample of his blood kept in a sealed glass ampoule.

These religious fantasy stories often beggar belief!

Saint Jenarius

According to legend the blood of the Saint was mopped up after his execution by a woman called Eusebia who put it into a couple of ampoule jars. Then, over the following two and a half centuries official reports began to appear declaring that the blood spontaneously melted, at first once a year, then twice, and finally three times a year.

Thousands of people assemble to witness this farce in Naples Cathedral, on September 19 (Saint Januarius’s Day, commemorating his martyrdom), on December 16 (celebrating his patronage of Naples and its archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (commemorating the reunification of his relics).

Pope and blood of Saint Jenarius

It can also spontaneously liquefy at other convenient moments as well such as a Papal visit for example.  It is said that if the blood fails to do its magic then Naples will suffer a disaster.  Maybe it can predict the next eruption of Mount Vesuvius?

It is a lot of holy nonsense of course and the Pope and the Catholic Church steadfastly refuse to permit any scientific analysis less the religious scam is revealed as just that.  Anyway, we visited the Cathedral and found the place where it is stored, safely of course under strong lock and key so that the genie can never be let out of the bottle.

My favourite nonsense bible story still remains the water into wine thing, I wish I could do that, it would save me a lot of money that’s for sure!

In the United States, the “Feast of San Gennaro” is a highlight of the year for New York’s Little Italy, with the saint’s polychrome statue carried through the middle of a street fair stretching for many streets.  The procession featured in a scene in the movie ‘Godfather Part II’.

It is a good story but possibly not my favourite.  That has to be the tale of Saint Spyridon on the Greek island of Corfu. Spyridon is a very important Saint in Corfu who at various times is said to have saved the island from foreign invaders and from outbreaks of deadly disease and because he does his best to try and deliver on the requests of the visitors to his tomb.

This is my favourite story – it is said that at night when everyone is gone and the town is empty he rises from the silver sarcophagus and walks the streets of Corfu granting people’s wishes.  Every year he wears out a perfectly good pair of shoes and every year he has to be fitted up for a new pair. Really.

These religious fantasy stories often beggar belief!

This is the statue and the view from our apartment balcony…

Guglia_di_San_Gennaro_-_Napoli_-_2013-05-16_10-29-52

Blogger Denzil also has a good post about Holy Blood

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

Saint James and Santiago de Compostella

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

Naples, Mount Vesuvius

From  literally anywhere in Naples Vesuvius stands threateningly close by, like a loaded gun pointed at the heart of the city…

Naples and Vesuvius

Even eggheads find it difficult to be absolutely precise about this but scientists think that Vesuvius formed about twenty-five thousand years ago and today the volcano is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world – not because of its size but because of the proximity of millions of people living close by and if it was to go off again with a similar eruption to the one that destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D. then it is estimated that it could displace up to three million people who live in and around the city of Naples.

The volcano has a major eruption cycle of about two thousand years so the next eruption is dangerously imminent.

I visited the top of the Volcano in 1976.

Read the Full Story…

Vesuvius still smoking and active