“Death March” through the Bay of Naples

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Last weekend was what Professor Gadeyne refers to as the “death march”- a weekend of touring the Bay of Naples. Well, not so much touring as intensely absorbing mounds of information!

At 7 Friday morning we took a bus for two hours to the bay town of Terracina.The town has incorporated many of the ancient walls in existing structures. We saw one of the only preserved original pavements of the town Forum from 2nd century AD. It was on and off raining which made chasing Gadeyne’s speedy steps quite a challenge! We also saw the remains of a theater from the same time which was not very well preserved. It’s kinda sad because there are so many amazing ruins in Italian cities but there is not enough money to preserve them all.

Speaking of amazing ruins, we climbed (with bus this time) to the top of a hill to see the remains of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur. It was so high and looked over the water. The Roman Empire really liked their temples to make a statement. Then, Professor Gadeyne pointed out a faraway island/peninsula area called Montecirce which is where Odysseus is said to have stayed with Circe in the Odyssey. I definitely nerded out!
I just realized I should probably explain that these bay cities, being close to the water, were quite cold! SO as I am telling these stories imagine lots of fast pace walking and climbing in chilled wet wind. Twas an adventure!  Luckily we had bus rides in between to thaw.

Our next city was Pozzuoli. There we saw an ancient meat market that was set up similarly to markets today but had an elaborate bath complex which is a tad different than public restrooms today!
Our next stop was the Greek and then Roman settlement of Cuma. This was one of my favorite moments of studying abroad. We were walking up to a cave when I saw the Aeneid in my professor’s hand. Suddenly I remember that the cave in Cuma has to do with Book VI of the Aeneid and is said to be where Aeneas descends into the underworld. We walked through the cave and my professor read an excerpt from the Aeneid. I can’t even explain the feeling of being at the location of the epic as it was being read.
As we were leaving the cave, my professor noticed my dumb-founded smile spread across my face, put his arm around me, laughed, and exclaimed, “You are loving this, Tara, aren’t you?” You of course must imagine it said in a Belgian accent.

We then climbed two mountains over the cave to the Temple of Apollo (also mentioned in the Aeneid) and the Temple of Jupiter. It felt like a Classics major pilgrimage! They also looked out over the sea in a breathtaking view. I couldn’t help but think while climbing in the wind about the priests making their way to the temples for sacrifices in their robes! We finished up Cuma by returning to the cave of the Sibyl and Gadeyne read the prophesy of the foundation of Rome from the Aeneid. This picture doesn’t even capture a glimpse of the magic in that space.

We took the bus again and saw Naples from inside the bus. What an interesting city! So many buildings were old and run down but also beautiful. The city felt rugged with its chipped paint and laundry hanging from the windows. The city seemed to have character and resistence. I liked the fierceness and the off beauty of its decay.
We got to the hotel in Paestum which is family owned and adorable! We ere greeted by the two brothers who inherited the place from their fatehr. The walls are lavishly decorated with salmon floral prints on an egg white background with salmon furniture to compliment it. Needless of say, the place has character.

Saturday was the official “death march through Pompeii”. We survived! It was incredible. The weather was a perfect with blue skies and scattered clouds. Perfect day for roaming an ancient city!

We started Saturday at a small town outside of Pompeii called Boscoreale. What makes Boscoreale special, you ask? Nothing for a while. It was just a small town that one day decided to build a social housing apartment complex. As they dug to put in a foundation what should appear but a perfectly preserved farm house from the 1st century BC. Next to the farm house (that oddly did not look much different from country houses in Italy today) was a museum with all they had found within the remains of the farm house.

Honestly I’m not a huge fan of pots as remains since the generally tend to look quite similar but due to the lava preserving the farm house there were some very unique remains including two thousand year old nuts, wheat, pine cones, a guard dog, etc. The presence of such complete every day objects made the ancient people feel very real and relatable. In two thousand years not all that much has changed!
Next we headed to Pompeii. When they say it’s a whole city preserved from the moment of destruction, they mean it! WE walked through the streets lined with “tabernas” (small square spaces used as shops, bars, or restaurants), saw Greek and Roman influence on the Pompeians in the form of temples and inscriptions and an amphitheater. The wall paintings and marble counters preserved were simply stunning. We saw some casts of bodies that were truly haunting and learned some funny things about bathing rituals in the Stabian Baths. It still astonishes me how advanced they were so many years ago. They had a very sophisticated water system with fountains, pipes, aqueducts, etc. The various graffiti gave such a human touch to the city.

The thing that astonished me the most though was how far away Mount Vesuvius is. For some reason I always imagined Pompeii right at the base of the volcano but it’s a good 20 kilometers away. A good portion of the population actually survived the eruption which lasted for 18 hours. None of them knew it was a volcano so how terrifying would that be! They must have been wondering what god they pissed off.

At night we all hung out at the lobby area with glasses of wine and bonded together.

All weekend we have been staying in the town of Paestum but until Sunday we had only experienced the comfort of our hotel rooms except for a quick walk last night to the local cheese shop where we saw the buffalos who made the buffalo mozzarella we got. Therefore, today we went to see the remains of ancient Paestum that are pretty well preserved due to a malaria infestation during the Middle Ages.  Since Paestum is less touristy than Rome, the ruins had a lot of natural landscape which made trudging through the town feel more like exploring. Paestum was originally a Greek colony called Poesdonia so the most impressive part of the city was three giant almost completely original Greek temples from the 6th to the 4th century BC. Apparently they are even better preserved than almost all Greek temples in Greece! They were very impressive and made me happy to see a bit of Greece.
After that we went to Naples. I mentioned earlier that Naples had a rugged feel when we drove by and that it looked really neat. I had no idea just how much I would fall in love with that city in the few short hours we spent there. I’m trying to find the accurate words to describe Naples… Naples is a raw, real, filthy, gritty, rugged, energetic, colorful, homey city. The ruins are hidden under the modern city because as Professor Gadeyne said, “Naples’ best preserved ruin is the perfectly preserved Greco-Roman street grid”, meaning that all the modern buildings are exactly over where the ancient buildings would have been. Because of that, you get to experience the same hustle and bustle that an ancient city would have had.

The streets are narrow and follow axes that you can see to each end of the city. Buildings are a mixture of all time periods due to the piling up of building over the years. The walls are covered in graffiti and the bright paint is chipping off most building but it gives the city a real gritty feeling. Laundry can be seen hanging from most windows and locals eagerly peak from their windows and porches to see the commotion outside. Some streets have houses so close together that you could take several steps from one person’s front door across to another’s. Being able to see in each house so clearly in such a close, confined space really gives a feel of community. I just love the energy and heart and character of Naples. Some may see its grime and decay as negative but it just fit the down-to-earth nature of the people of Naples.

Overall the whole weekend was one of my favorite weekends of studying abroad.

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