Italy – Traveling back in time around Naples

Hello again! This is another pretty late post, but oh well, better late than never I guess. So I had a short vacation at home and before joining my new ship I decided to go on a small adventure to my neighboring country for few days, Italy. I’ve seen some of the more northern parts already, but the area around Naples was always high up on my bucket list. Since I had a friend there, even better! You can find photos on the bottom of the post.

Caserta Palace

One of the spots I visited was Caserta Palace, a bit north of Naples. It’s a magnificent palace, beautiful, full of amazing artworks, covered with so much marble that you can’t believe it. Seriously, I can’t imagine how much all that marble cost at one point. I’m always somehow shocked and disappointed how aristocrats often didn’t (still don’t) care how much money is spent on ridiculous things. But yes, I admit, the end result is impressive. In the rooms, you get the glimpse of a life of kings and queens, since you can see their bedrooms, study rooms, throne room with an actual throne and even the toilet. And it’s not just the rooms and regular objects that are interesting. In this palace, you need to pay attention to small details. The chandeliers, the paintings, the statues and all the tiny things that we sometimes don’t even notice – they’re all amazing artworks.

The thing is, the palace is so massive that it’s not fully renovated. Part of it is open to public (and it’s still massive), a big part is still under renovation. Hopefully one day everything will be restored to its former glory and we’ll be able to see every secret corner of this gorgeous building. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the inside (and honestly, I just wanted to enjoy the place without taking photos), so I don’t have much there… Since we arrived a bit late we didn’t have a chance to visit the gardens too, but I’d say if you ever pass the area, this is a spot worth visiting.

Naples

Let me say few things about Naples as well. Honestly, I expected much more of this city. We heard on the news this city has trouble with garbage, but I’m an optimistic person and I always think things can’t be that bad. Trust me in this case – it’s bad. I get there are nasty areas around the world, but I always considered Europe to be quite clean since my country is super clean… Well, that’s not the case in this part of Italy. I’ve seen people actually stopping the car on the SOS stop on a highway to put out on the side of the street a plastic bag full of trash. What the hell is wrong with people and this place?! So yes, for my standards, this place was quite dirty. Also, I thought it would be more interesting for a tourist, more to see, more to do… Well honestly, I was disappointed.

Walking around Naples is a bit tricky. Some parts of the city are really boring, gray, ugly and you get the feeling somebody will come around the corner to rob you. I felt a bit uncomfortable even if I wasn’t walking around alone. If you stick to the touristy streets and roads it feels better, but it’s easy to get off the beaten path. The main streets are actually really interesting, full of cute shops, souvenirs, and small restaurants. There is one main touristy route through the city that takes to all main locations, like the main square Plazza del Plebiscito with the Royal Palace and a church, then through the old town and all the way to the old city gate. Even though these are the main tourist areas I was quite surprised they were still very dirty. Trash was lying around the streets and there was a sad view of a lot of beggars and immigrants trying to illegally sell some souvenirs. I don’t mind the beggars and immigrants, don’t get me wrong, I just think it’s sad to see that and it makes you think what we all can do to help the world. I won’t get into politics here, let’s leave that maybe for some other post…

Castello del Ovo

I went to see the Ovo Castle, which is at the edge of the city, guarding the bay. It’s a nice castle, it’s quite well preserved and renovated and I love how it looks like a really strong medieval fortress that you wouldn’t want to mess around with. I always like to imagine going back in time, how it looked like in all its glory… I liked it. But I must say, I was a bit disappointed once I reached the inside of the castle. The exterior is nice, the walls, the walk up, the canons… But that’s about it. There is not much more to see there. Maybe I’ve seen too many castles and fortresses and I’m not that easy to impress anymore, but I really expected to see a bit more than just some cannons and blank walls.

National Archeological Museum

The place that impressed me was National Archeological Museum in Naples. Since I’m a huge history and art buff this was definitely one of the most exciting things for me. The building is home to so many statues and objects from different parts of the world, even some Egyptian art, mummies and scripts. Really cool. But the main thing that I came to see was ancient Roman art and objects from the city of Pompeii. There are so many massive statues from the Roman times that you can’t count them. Some of them used to decorate private homes, others were part of public buildings, but all of them are absolutely beautiful. The size of some of them is gigantic – I didn’t expect that!

Then there is one area of the museum that is dedicated only to the objects from Pompeii, and that’s more or less what I really came to see. They have an original bed, mosaics, tables, pottery and so many tiny objects that got “frozen” in time because of the eruption of Vesuvius. What I thought was absolutely hilarious was “the dicks of Pompeii”. I’ve heard of them before, my awesome professor of Art History even mentioned them to us once, but I never found much information about this. So that was also the reason I wanted to see it “with my own eyes”. So let me explain just a bit of history here. Ancient Roman times were very open minded and a lot of things that are a taboo these days were quite acceptable back then. They had a lot of brothels and obviously, sex was a big business (well, in a way that is still the case in modern times). So around the cities, there were a lot of “dick” signs to use as direction sign to the nearby brothel. Some signs were just as drawings on the wall, others were big (and hard) statues built in the wall. Walls of brothels were decorated with frescoes that usually had sexual scenes. There were all kinds of sexual positions, orgies and even some weird things they did with animals. Yes, those ancient times were quite crazy! So this kind of stuff is all represented in this museum and when you look at it, you’re not sure if you should laugh or not since it wasn’t really meant to be funny, but it somehow is… I don’t know, it seemed like I was the only one really enjoying this part of the exhibition, I couldn’t stop smiling, while others looked a little disapproving. =D

Well, let’s leave this sex topic now because I don’t want to get you all too excited. =)

Pompeii

Now let’s finally come to the highlight and the thing I was waiting to see almost all my life – Pompeii. Since I was a kid I used to read about this city that literally died in few hours. When I saw the walls I was probably the happiest person that day, it was like a dream come true for me. If I could travel in time, that’s the era I’d go to. The city is so well preserved, so many walls still high up, you can tell where were the doors, where the windows, you can see some frescoes, statues, and mosaics… There are some amazing remains of insulas (Roman houses) where you can see the floorplan and how on the lower level there was some sort of a shop or a craft and upper levels were used as an apartment. It’s so interesting to see massive built-in amphoras (huge vases or bowls) that were used to serve street food. I loved that most of the buildings had some sort of signs explaining their function. Then the villas on the outskirts of Pompeii, near the city walls. You can visit their amazing gardens with flowers and fountains and with a little bit of imagination you can see yourself there in some toga sitting on a bench enjoying Roman wine… Absolutely amazing.

Visiting the old theater was one of the best things because in a way I was hoping actors would come on stage and play some amazing act. It’s beautiful. And if you’re on the top of the main theater you have a really good view of the city as well. Underneath you can also see a smaller theater and a large sports court that was beside competitions also used for training purposes. Apparently smaller rooms next to the training court were used as rooms for gladiators.

And that leads us to the amphitheater on the outside of the city walls. It’s pretty large and it’s quite well preserved. When you walk inside you can imagine the crowd screaming, shouting… You walk around wondering how much blood was spilled on the spot you’re standing. Brutal, I know, but it is part of the history… Then next to the arena there is another massive sports court where there is part of the exhibition of interesting findings from the city. There is a lot of food that is still preserved from the day of the eruption. It is somehow trapped in time and just got black because of the heat, but that’s why it’s still preserved. So you can actually see some ancient bread, fruits and other things that would otherwise be long gone. As sad as the story of this city is, in a way we can be thankful that the disaster allowed us to be part of it all two millenniums later.

I know a lot of visitors come to see Pompeii because of the dead bodies. I know, totally creepy, but it’s true, there were people in the city that turned “to stone” because of the ash and heat. Those bodies are preserved to this day and they were found in few different areas of the city. There are still some visible on their original spots, but they are actually replicas. Originals are now stored in a museum (which I sadly didn’t get a chance to visit), so they won’t get damaged. But even if you know it’s a replica it’s still quite an emotional encounter, to see them lying there, probably praying for their lives, hoping God’s will have mercy…

Herculaneum

Now, this leads me to another city with a similar story as Pompeii. A bit less known, but also very impressive, Herculaneum. This place was closer to the sea at that time and a bit more west from Mount Vesuvius, so it got more ashes and less lava and massive stones falling down. That’s the reason why it’s more preserved than Pompeii. There are so many buildings with more than just the ground floor, you can see second floor, rooms, decorations on the walls and floors. It’s absolutely amazing. Some buildings even have wooden parts preserved, like wooden ceilings, floors and even doors and window shutters. The bottom level of the city is really impressive since that was actually the water level of the sea in those days. Down there you can see what used to be boat houses and a pier, which was one of the routes people of Herculaneum decided to use as their option to escape the tragedy. So there they lie, their skeletons, still holding on to each other and trying to protect the kids. It’s so sad to see that. And there they are now, a tourist attraction…

Mount Vesuvius

So to make the whole visit of this part of Italy complete, I had to visit the king of the disaster, the Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that killed thousands, destroyed cities and at the same time preserved all this for us to see so many years later. You can go quite high up the mountain with a car, then it’s up to you if you want to take a shuttle bus even higher up to the crater or you want to walk. We decided to walk, even though the path isn’t really meant for pedestrians at that part. But I wanted to enjoy the view, I wanted to take in as much as possible. So we walked… Once you get closer to the top you can see the different soil, smell the different air and eventually see the crater. In some areas, there is still smoke coming out, just enough of it to make you think that one day this thing will erupt again. It’s just sitting there, waiting, looking down at large and very populated area of Naples… I really hope it doesn’t create the same “Pompeii tragedy” again. But yes, when you think about it and that you’re standing on all this majestic power, you feel helpless. We came so far as human race, but on the other hand, when nature decides it’s time, we can’t really do much about it, except evacuate. The power of nature…

 

Visiting the Naples area truly was an interesting adventure for me, touristy and emotionally. This was probably emotionally the most fascinating place I ever visited, just because of the Pompeii, Herculaneum and the sad history written by the volcano. When I was leaving Naples with an airplane it was towards evening and for the goodbye, I got a magnificent view out of the plane window, down on a majestic volcano with sunset. That was the best ending of this trip, I couldn’t ask for a better view.

So if you ever go on a similar road trip, travel or adventure, try to take it all in. Try to think about history here, about the events that happened and try to imagine it all, put yourself in those times… It’s so much better. =)

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