Tag Archives: bay of Naples

A to Z of Statues – U is for King Umberto I of Italy

This one was taken in the City of Naples…

Umberto was king of Italy from 1878 – 1900 when he was assassinated by an American/Italian anarchist

This is an interesting but unlikely story about him..

One day he was eating in a restaurant when he noticed the owner was a near-exact physical double. It emerged that both were born on the same day, in the same town, and had married women with the same name. The restaurateur had opened his establishment on the day of Umberto’s coronation. Umberto was shot dead on the day he learned the restaurateur had died in a shooting.  His dad had no doubt been playing away.

Umberto was allegedly an uneducated man which led him to have the unfortunate nickname of Umberto the Simple.

Lots of Kings in history have been given unkind nicknames…

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Entrance Tickets – Castel St’Elmo in Naples

Naples Castell St Elmo

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.  On the down side we had to pay to go inside the Museum.  Let me say however , 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.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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A Postcard From Sorrento

Postcard From Sorrento.jpg

In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy with my girlfriend Linda.  We were due to go on the 12th June but at some point shortly before travel she fell for the charms of a reporter on the local newspaper and abruptly ended the relationship.

This created a problem because it was within the no refund period and so I was faced with the prospect of losing all my money.   I could have begged I suppose but that would have been undignified so instead we had a family crisis meeting and the solution was found when dad enthusiastically stepped in and agreed to take her place. That’s what dads are for, I would do exactly the same!

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Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

Naples, Blue Sky and Statues

Naples Statue 3

Like any great European City with a splendid history Naples has its fair share of public statues …

Naples Statue 5

Do you notice anything unusual?

Naples Statue 1Naples Statue 2

Not a single pigeon to spoil the picture!

Naples Staue 6

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

Danger in Naples – Camorra, Vesuvius and Pollution

Naples Italy

“”See Naples and die.” Well, I do not know that one would necessarily die after merely seeing it, but to attempt to live there might turn out a little differently””, Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

On Saturday it was time for another trip and after breakfast we joined the coach that was taking us to Naples.  Naples is the third largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan but in the Golden Age of the eighteenth century it was the third largest in Europe after London and Paris.  Until its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the wealthiest and most industrialised of the Italian states.

There is a famous phrase that says ‘See Naples and die!’ which originated under the Bourbon regime and means that before you die you must experience the beauty and magnificence of Naples.  Some, less charitable, now say that the city is so mad, dangerous and polluted that death might possibly be a consequence of a visit there.

To be fair not everyone is so pessimistic and gloomy about Naples and in 1913 George Bradshaw wrote in his guide ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys”…

“Naples is a bit of heaven that has tumbled to earth.”

Centro Storico Naples

I liked it immediately.  At the Centro Storico the warren of alleys with peeling sepia walls were vibrant, chaotic and gloriously dilapidated, the architecture was glorious, the locals loud and boisterous, the balconies bannered with laundry and the driving was appalling.   This was a glorious place, the beating heart of the city, raw, passionate, crumbling, secret, welcoming and corrupt

Naples, we learned, was dangerous for a number of reasons.  Most obvious of all is its perilously close proximity to Vesuvius that looms large over the city. Naples is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world and is regarded as potentially one of the most dangerous volcanoes on earth because there is a population of three million people living so close to it.  Vesuvius has a tendency towards unexpected explosive eruptions and as the last one was in 1946 the next one is most probably overdue.

52 Naples

The second reason is lawlessness because Naples has enormous problems with Mafia style organised crime.  The Naples equivalent of the Mafia is the Camorra, which is a loose confederation of criminal networks in control of organised crime, prostitution, arms dealing and drug-trafficking, and the gang wars result in a high number of deaths.

The network of clans has been described as Italy’s most murderous crime syndicate, preying on the communities around it by means of extortion and protection rackets. Rival factions wage feuds as they battle to control the drugs trade.

Although we were extremely unlikely to come across the Camorra on our short visit to the city the tour guide did give strong advice on taking care of wallets and valuables and a recommendation not to buy anything from illegal street vendors.  She told us that cheap cigarettes would most likely be made from sawdust substituted for tobacco, leather handbags would be plastic and whiskey would be cold tea instead of a single malt and wherever we went we pestered by children trying to tempt us into a purchase.

“I remember the back streets of Naples
Two children begging in rags
Both touched with a burning ambition
To shake off their lowly brown tags”

Peter Sarstedt – ‘Where do you go to my lovely’

The Godfather

The third reason is the high levels of pollution which means that Naples is a very unhealthy city.  It was the most bombed Italian city of World-War-Two and today as we drove through it looked as though they were still tidying up.  The streets were full of litter and there was graffiti on almost every wall.  The historical tourist centre, which twenty years after our visit was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was better but we didn’t have to stray far away to find the unpleasant parts and the guide discouraged us from breaking away from the group.

There was a lot of air pollution as well and although the sun was shining above it we were trapped in a layer of smog and haze.  We drove to a viewing platform high up in the city overlooked by the bulk of Vesuvius and with a jaw-dropping view over the bay looking back towards the Sorrentine Peninsula where we could just about make out the ghostly apparition of Capri and although the sea looked inviting we knew that this was one of the most polluted parts of the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.

Vesuvius Naples Italy

The main reason for a trip to Naples was to visit the National Archaeological Museum which is considered one of the most important in the World for artifacts from the Roman Empire.  It was all very interesting and the best exhibits were the treasures unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum which filled many of the rooms.

I remember it as a curious museum without logical sequence or order and many of the valuable items on display seemed dangerously vulnerable.  In one room was a wooden bed that had been recovered from Pompeii and which one visitor decided to sit on to test it out.  This provoked a rebuke from an attendant but I have to say that it was their own fault for not giving it adequate protection.  I expect things might be different now.

But maybe not and I like this news report from August 2013:

“A tourist snapped the finger off a priceless fourteenth century statue in Florence. The incident took place in the Italian city’s world famous Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, with the six hundred year-old exhibit believed to be the work of eminent medieval sculptor Giovanni d’Ambrogio.

The tourist apologised for damaging the priceless artwork but the museum condemned the tourist’s behaviour, saying: “In a globalized world like ours, the fundamental rules for visiting a museum have been forgotten, that is, ‘Do not touch the works’”.

But there is  a twist to the tale – The museum  subsequently confessed that the broken finger was not original to the piece, and had been added at a later date.

In the late afternoon we left Naples and drove through the untidy outskirts of the city through whole neighbourhoods that were desperately in need of some attention.  After the War the Italian Government spent huge amounts of cash on rebuilding Naples and the south of the country but in some of these places it looked as if they were yet to make a start.  As we moved out of the haze of the city the sun came through and we drove back down the main road that returned us to Sant’ Agnello.

Naples Italy from viewing platform

Travel Memories – First European Holiday

00 Monarch Airlines

In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy with my girlfriend Linda.  We were due to go on the 12th June but at some point shortly before travel she fell for the charms of a reporter on the local newspaper and abruptly ended the relationship.

This created a problem because it was within the no refund period and so I was faced with the prospect of losing all my money.   I could have begged I suppose but that would have been undignified so instead we had a family crisis meeting and the solution was found when dad enthusiastically stepped in and agreed to take her place. That’s what dads are for, I would do exactly the same!

54 Look Capri

And so, on the appointed Saturday, we travelled to Luton airport for the Monarch Airlines flight to Naples.  Apart from the Isle of Wight this was the first time that dad had been overseas as well and to be honest he was slightly overdressed for the occasion in his rather formal sports jacket and tie.

There again this was still a time when passengers still wore their best clothes to travel, it was something special, airport departure was far more civilized without the dehumanising process of security checks and where officers at passport control called you Sir.

Airline travel was so different in 1976, the flight had proper seat allocations and the plane had comfortable reclining chairs with adequate leg room and stewardesses who wore smart yellow uniforms seemed genuinely pleased to see you and served a complimentary hot meal and free drinks.  These days they are called Flight Attendants in the same way that actresses are called actors.  I really don’t understand why women/ladies/girls don’t want to be treated as feminine any more.  I guess I am getting old.

Monarch stewardess

The plane landed at a rather Spartan military airport base near to the city of Naples and after I had already taken a picture of the plane on my Kodak Pocket Instamatic we were firmly warned against taking photographs.  It wasn’t an especially welcoming sort of place as we passed through a rather austere passport control and baggage reclaim hall both decorated in varying tones of slate grey and in dire need of a welcoming makeover and then made our way through to the coach that was waiting for us.

The twenty-mile drive to Sorrento took about forty-five minutes along a busy road running alongside the Circumvesuviana railway and on the way we got our first look at Mount Vesuvius which towers up dangerously close to the city, and then as we swooped down through cypresses, citrus groves and vineyards around the Bay of Naples we could see the Mediterranean Sea and the Island of Capri.

I think I remember being speechless.  The sea and the sky were so intensely blue that at times it was difficult to be sure where one finished and the other started.

06 Hotel Mediterraneo

This was breathlessly exciting stuff because previously we had never been further than Cornwall or Norfolk and the blue, almost luminous,  water looked a lot more inviting than the grey North Sea that’s for sure.

When the coach arrived in Sorrento it started dropping off the passengers at their various hotels and finally drove to Sant’ Agnello and a position directly on the coast on the top of the cliff and guests stopping at the Hotel Mediterraneo were invited to leave the coach.  This was our stop and we were immediately impressed with where we would be staying and I smugly congratulated myself on a good selection.

The hotel was six stories high and painted a dazzling white, so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it, with smart green shutters on the windows.  At the front it was surrounded by trees with attractive pink blossom and at the back there was a secluded garden full of citrus trees with oranges and lemons hanging invitingly low in the branches.

At the reception we checked in and the clerk handed over a room key attached to a bell-shaped key ring which would make it difficult to misplace and he had a surprise for me and handed over a letter from the pigeon-hole behind him.  It was my birthday (22)  in three days time and this was an envelope, which obviously contained a card, with an English stamp commemorating the bicentennial of American Independence.

This is one of the reasons that I am proud to be British – we can even celebrate our defeats without any bad feeling.  In 1966 we had a Royal Mail stamp collection commemorating the ninth hundred anniversary of the Norman Conquest.

The handwriting on the envelope I  instantly recognised as Linda’s and that made me feel rather sad.

07 Hotel Mediterraneo Garden & Pool

Our room was on the fourth floor and the hotel had one of those old-fashioned lifts that were little more than a metal cage that went up and down the shaft and you could see the walls flashing by through the grill.  This was the sort of lift that you don’t see any more because if you put your fingers through the frame it would rip them off and sensibly they have been consigned to history by European health and safety legislation.

The room was on the back of the hotel overlooking the garden and although it was basic it was clean and comfortable and we agreed that it would do very nicely indeed.  There was a tiled floor and real wooden furniture, beds with crisp white linen sheets and a bathroom with an old-fashioned bath suite.  Being 1976 there was no mini-bar of course and no television and certainly no Internet access.  We allocated the drawer space, emptied our suitcases and made ourselves feel at home.

I was in Italy, my mind was racing, my heart was soaring and my senses were filled with a whole gazetteer of new experiences….

Sorrento Postcard

Italy, Postcards from Sorrento

Sorrento Postcard

In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy and went there with my dad.

I mentioned before in a previous post that the currency was the Lira and  the notes were so worthless (I seem to remember that the smallest denomination was 1,000) that it was normal practice for shops to give change in the form of a postcard.

Sorrento Postcard

Sorrento Postcard

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A Life in Ruins – Pompeii, Victim of Vesuvius

76 Pompeii

“Pompeii is no longer a buried city. It is a city of hundreds and hundreds of roofless houses, and a tangled maze of streets where one could easily get lost, without a guide, and have to sleep in some ghostly palace that had known no living tenant since that awful November night of eighteen centuries ago.”  Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

The next day we were back on the road, this time with a trip to the ancient city of Pompeii  so after breakfast and picking up our lovingly prepared packed lunches in their brown paper bags we waited for the coach to arrive to drive us there.

The site of Pompeii is a ruined and part buried Roman city near Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the commune of Pompeii.  It is part of a larger Vesuvius National Park and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO twenty years after our visit in 1997.

It is the most popular and most visited tourist attraction in Italy with two and a half million visitors a year and I have now been lucky enough to visit the famous excavation twice.  The first time was with dad on this visit to Italy and the second time was nearly thirty years later with my son Jonathan in 2004.

It was only a shortish drive to the historical site and we arrived in the late morning and after going through the entrance gates waited just inside by the souvenir shops to be joined by our guide for the day.  It was a warm day already and when she arrived she was under the shade of an umbrella, which she subsequently used as a means of group identification and we set off into the ruined city.

At the time of the eruption the city is estimated to have had approximately twenty thousand inhabitants but Pompeii, along with nearby Herculaneum, was completely buried and destroyed, during a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius over two days beginning on 24th  August 79.

The volcano buried the City under a layer of ash and pumice many metres deep and it was lost for nearly one thousand seven hundred years before its accidental rediscovery in 1748.  Since then, its excavation has provided a detailed insight into the life of a city in an area in which many wealthy Romans had their holiday villas at the height of the Roman Empire.

Modern research suggests that it took only about fifteen minutes to kill all of the the inhabitants of Pompeii.

The study by researchers from the University of Bari in collaboration with the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology  and the British Geological Survey of Edinburgh, says the pyroclastic flow – a dense, fast-moving current of solidified lava pieces, volcanic ash and hot gases  engulfed Pompeii just a few minutes after the volcano erupted.

The lethal cloud had  a temperature of over 100 degrees and was composed of CO2, chlorides, particles of incandescent ash and volcanic glass.  Very nasty indeed!

  Pompeii Vesuvius Italy

At around one o’clock in the afternoon on August 24th, Vesuvius, which had been dormant for centuries, began spewing ash and volcanic stone thousands of meters into the sky.  When it reached the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere, the top of the cloud flattened leading the Roman historian Pliny the Younger, who was observing from a safe distance across the Bay of Naples to describe it as resembling a stone pine tree.

For people in Pompeii, who had no idea what was about to happen, the bad news was that the prevailing winds were blowing towards the south-east which caused the volcanic material to fall primarily on the city and the area surrounding it and the residents were covered in up to twelve different layers of ash, pumice and soil.

According to Pliny the volcano burst open with an ear splitting crack and then smoke, mud, flames and burning stones spewed from the summit of the mountain, sending a rain of ash and rock through the surrounding countryside.  The mud seeped down the sides of Vesuvius, swallowing nearby farms, orchards and villas and basically anything else unfortunate enough to be in the way.  Adding to the destruction were poisonous vapours that accompanied the falling debris and it was these fumes that first caused deliriousness in their victims, and then suffocated them.

Pompeii victims plaster casts of the dead

There is no doubt that Pompeii is a fabulous place to visit with many marvellous houses and buildings and so big that it is impossible to do it all in one day and it is an interesting fact that today visitors can actually only see one third of the site that was open for viewing in 1976.

We saw the Roman Forum and the administrative buildings, the public baths, the brothels, the shopping centres and the outdoor theatres.  Most of the priceless exhibits have been removed of course to the museum in Naples but there were some copies of the most famous and there are still wall frescoes and paintings to admire.  In 1860 an archaeologist called Fontana found some of the famous erotic frescoes and, due to the strict modesty prevalent during his time, quickly reburied them in an early attempt at archaeological censorship in case anyone should be offended.

Even then there were some rooms that women visitors were not allowed to enter just in case the paintings caused offence but the men were allowed to go in and once inside the guide explained in more detail that this was actually because the impressively large penis on one particular statue had been broken off so many times by excitable female visitors that they had had to be prohibited from entering this building. I don’t know whether that was true or not!

“It was a quaint and curious pastime, wandering through this old silent city of the dead–lounging through utterly deserted streets where thousands and thousands of human beings once bought and sold, and walked and rode, and made the place resound with the noise and confusion of traffic and pleasure.”Mark Twain

For the first time ever in a foreign country this was a truly excellent experience and simply one of the best places possible to visit.  I had chosen Italy for the holiday because I had studied Italian history at University, written my thesis on the nineteenth century Piedmontese Prime Minister Massimo d’Azeglio and had taught myself to read Italian to study his autobiographical notes.  I had acquired a passion for the place and now at last I was here and Pompeii was just absolutely wonderful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sant’ Agnello, thirty years on

Sorrento

We walked a little way along the cliff tops looking down over the small beaches of black sand and the wooden bathing platforms built out into the sea and the colourful fishing boats bobbing lazily on the occasional gentle wave.  On the balustrades were plant pots brimming with gaily-coloured geraniums and every few metres there were seats to stop and sit and admire the views.

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