Naples or Napoli is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The building most worth seeing is the ancient Castle Nuovo, also known as Maschio Angioino; it was built during the time of Charles I, the first king of Naples. The Galleria Umberto with its magnificent glass ceiling is also a must see. Mind boggling really and you can shop here! Opposite is the Teatro di San Carlo which is equally impressive. There are numerous Churches (for the faithful and holy) in Naples and many museums. The Cathedral of Naples dedicated to their patron saint Januarius is an amazing place to visit. For a museum buff, even a whole week may be too little to cover all of Naples in detail!
Naples is also the home of the pizza. The Margherita pizza was named for Queen Margherita of Savoy after her visit to the city. Cooked traditionally in a wood-burning oven, the ingredients of Neapolitan pizza include yeast, natural mineral water, fresh cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. Popular pastry dishes include Zeppole and pastiera. Limoncello, also from this area, is a very popular lemon flavoured liqueur. It’s an acquired taste though – I didn’t much like it!
Situated on the Gulf of Naples, this bustling city is an important port. Naples is a healthy mix of the old and new. You will see facades of buildings which are very old. Underneath the city are a series of caves and structures created by years of mining, along with many catacombs. “See Naples and die” is the saying that comes to mind when you stand in the Piazza del Plebiscito! Sophia Loren and Bud Spencer, two of my favourite actors are from Napoli.
We had lunch at a very nice restaurant. In a gazebo surrounded by beautiful verdant gardens, we were serenaded by a guitarist with a rich timbred voice and we sang Volare (the most famous song in all of Italy) loudly with him! We guzzled some wine and made friends with some people from Down Under. Though we exchanged numbers and email ids we didn’t ever stay in touch.
We then set off to Pompeii (now a world heritage site) – an ancient Roman city that was destroyed in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Founded by the Oscans, this city had approx 12000 inhabitants. Herculaneum, another small city close by, was also destroyed by hot lava at the same time. Buried under 12-15 feet of ash, it was not discovered for 1500 years. It was discovered in 1599 but only excavated later in 1748. Most of the things found here were extremely well preserved – because of the complete absence of moisture and air so there was little deterioration.
Pompeii was a major tourist destination for the ancient Romans. With verdant soil around, the inhabitants of Pompeii were keen on agriculture. Wine that was made was mostly exported. There is evidence that there were many vineyards around the city.
We walked around Pompeii in total awe. To think that it was once a bustling city, like Naples is today, is hard to believe. Buried under black lava, there is a huge sense of sadness around. At least I felt sad. Most of the building are made of lava rock – so they are dark and very sturdy. So many buildings beautifully preserved. The temples of Apollo and Jupiter, the cobbled walks with deep ruts where carriage wheels moved, the bakeries, a bar which served vino and other liquor, a beautiful statue of a fawn in a rich man’s house, a brothel with some very graphic frescoes… all these still sit under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
The eruption started at about 1 pm on 29th August 79 AD and lasted for many days. You can see the skeletons of people who died – one is in a crouched position as if shielding himself from the ashes, a pregnant lady with her arms around her stomach in an attempt to save her unborn child, a dog laying down. All these transport you back in time, and you can almost feel their fear and pain. Plaster of Paris has been used to preserve the outline of the bodies. We saw many urns and wine pots, plates and other furniture that had been recovered from the ruins as well. A sense of loss pervades Pompeii – maybe just knowing that so many people died because of nature’s fury makes one stop and think.
The History lessons of my school days came rushing back to me – to actually be there and see it in the flesh was simply amazing! Tick one off the old (and ever growing) bucket list!