From under the Ashes of Pompeii

I have been lucky enough to visit Pompeii about 10 times and each time has fascinated me as much as my first visit, discovering something new every time. Buried under the ash erupting from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD it provides us with amazing details of  Archaeological Museum Napleseveryday life and customs of the ancient world. Many of you may have been with me as we toured the massive Archaeological site with a guide. I regret now never having squeezed in a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples as it has the most fabulous collection of Mosaics, Frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. But then it’s not always possible to do everything on tours.

For those of you who have never been to Pompeii or to refresh your memory this video will walk you through this incredible Archaeological site – the Forum, Villas and bath houses. And to think there is at least a third of the city still to be excavated!

I spent a morning in the Archaeological Museum spellbound by the quantity and quality of the collection. Intricate mosaics discovered in the first excavation of Pompeii begun in 1749, a glorious mix of everyday life, exotic animals and theatrical scenes.

 

These are but a few that were on display together with an assortment of frescoes takenFrescoes Pompeii from various Villas in Pompeii, saved for eternity from deterioration on site. Cupids and ladies dancing to the seasons and many with the famous Pompeii red featuring as background to mythological figures. Entire rooms covered with elaborate frescoes demonstrating the wealth of the villa owners,  a true feast for the eyes.

And then special rooms dedicated to the erotic side of Pompeii where a school group was huddled embarrassed, giggling and quickly snapping a shot with their smartphones. I wondered if they had read why the phallic symbol was such a part of life then as ‘the male organ was regarded as a talisman of fecundity and prosperity which could also ward off evil influences’. So it was found everywhere; on walls, pavement stones, in front of shops and at home.

And for those families wealthy enough there was an entire range of tableware to keep Pompeii erotic tablewareguests entertained ‘providing an instance of the close association between eros and banqueting…..in crass burlesque spirit’ .

But these were not the only sassy artefacts on display as I came across my old game of  knuckles. Who could believe they were playing knuckles in the 1stC and I was still playing the same game in the 1960’s! (Not sure if it has turned into an App these days?!) And ancient dice and gladiators passes to enter the Arena. Unbelievable!

The sophistication of the articles on display was mindboggling considering their age. From the highly decorated kitchen utensils, jewellery boxes, modern alabaster and crystal vases to glass funerary urns dating between 3rd-5thC AD. It was stunningly overwhelming.

The elegance of the jewellery box with its bronze mirror, needle, silver jewellery gold plated, delicate bone comb and mermaid decorations….and the beauty of the cameo glass amphora with cupids grape harvesting left me speechless.

And to end the tour at Villa Papyri of Ancient Herculaneum where the owner could delight his guests lounging around the pool with a selection of glamorous statues.

And while this beautiful collection remains safely protected inside the Naples Archaeological Museum it is even more awesome to see what remains on site at Pompeii. The frescoes we found at the Villa of Mysteries in 2012 bowled us all over!

While my photos hardly do justice to the collection and cover a small portion of what is to be seen I can only suggest next time you are over to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Naples Archaeological Museum.

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Colour, chaos, eclectic, eccentric Naples

On a surprise visit to Naples for only a couple of days I managed to squeeze in the essentials of the city and savour its chaotic atmosphere and its fabulous pizza. I guess pizza comes first to mind whenever Naples is mentioned, alongside Vesuvius and nearby Pompeii. All of which rate highly and in fact I will have to write a separate blog on the National Archeological of Naples that houses the most incredible collection of mosaics, frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii.

So on a wet night we ventured out early to find Sorbillo – the historic pizzeria in the centre of town. Early to grab the last table before a queue formed outside with lots of locals. The puffy Neapolitan style pizza was scrumptiously light and tasty. In fact Sorbillo had been the main instigator and successful in promoting the wood fire baked Neapolitan pizza to the Unesco list as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ in December 2017. Italy had argued that the practice was part of a unique cultural and gastronomic tradition and in respect of its Unesco Heritage listing, toppings considered unseemly like pineapple, minced beef and beans are ‘OUT’!

Naples centreThe streets were chaotic, colourful and electric. Being Italy’s third largest city with a population of over 3 million the mix is not surprising. It’s cosmopolitan history of Greek, French and Spanish conquerors has left a glorious heritage that hides amongst some areas of decay and squalor. But how could it not retain its exotic character when the legend says Naples was built where the Siren Parthenhope was washed ashore after being rejected by Ulysses!

Legend also envelopes the Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) the oldest Castle in Naples that sits in the Bay of Naples keeping a watchful eye on Vesuvius. It is said Virgil the Latin poet who had super natural powers planted a magic egg inside the Castle, which as long as the egg remains intact the city will be protected from catastrophes……and the egg is still intact?!

Naples souvenirsLegends and superstition are part of life still and the typical red ‘Corno‘ charm against the ‘Evil eye’ hangs everywhere, together with the ever popular ‘Pulcinella’ a scallywag figure from the 16thC, in white trousers and blousy white Pulcinella statueshirt that covers his hump and a half mask that covers his ugly cheeky face. But going beyond his appearance and awkward gait  he represents metaphorically the conditions of Naples’ lower classes, rebelling against the aristocracy with irony and a wily grin.

And then there’s Via San Gregorio Armeno home to the famous artisans who produce the thousands of Nativity scene figurines, both ancient and modern, including Popes, politicians ( Berlusconi a favourite!) singers and soccer players.

Church of the New JesusRound a corner or two and the street opens onto a splendid square – Piazza del Gesù with a magnificent 15thC palace turned into a church by the Jesuits late 1500’s, with geometric rustications in front of an elaborate spire devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Naples social centreThe contrast of elegance amidst turmoil, and mad traffic where pedestrians seem to challenge drivers, and if you’re lucky a policeman may help you cross the road!

Neapolitans live up to their name of being experts at the art of managing to get along – ‘arrangiarsi‘ with a smile on their faces. Layback blues music drifts fromVinarte 52 wine bar Naples

 

the wine bar in another square full of restaurants and greenery as we try L’Etto,  a self serve buffet where you pay by the 100g serving a range of tempting local delicacies.

 

And if things are tough for Neapolitans, dining out may mean standing on the street eating at a favourite ‘friggitoria’ fried food and shopping at the local markets where a pair of shoes cost me a meagre €3 having soaked my regular shoes in the downpour the night before. I don’t envy them but I did enjoy seeing them relax in the first sign of sunshine with a classic stunning view and delicious local pastry in hand.


 

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Time for the snow- Little Alps and Dolomites

Snow shoesAfter such a long hot Summer in Italy the predictions were for a freezing Winter of the likes of 1985, which was the freeze of the Century; pipes broken, olive trees burnt and snow on the ground for a month, even in Florence! I was dreading the thought since I had decided to stay home this Winter.

So far the predictions have proved false apart from this weeks polar temperatures ( -8 degrees) and snow for a couple of days at home, we have had only minor snow falls in the mountains.In snow shoes Still it was my opportunity to test my skills in snow shoes on Monte Falco and Monte Falterona near the Tuscan, Emilia Romagna border at a height of 1564m. A fabulous experience, since I am not a skier, or snow border and rarely set foot on the snow. An Italian friend said he could understand that since I am Australian!? As if to say there is no snow in Australia!??

After an explanation on how to put on the snow shoes and their various variations for uphill and downhill – blocks and heels, we set off. A cold but sunny day with magic images of fairy tale trees dripping in icicles, shadow contrasts in untouched snow throughout the forest and a breathtaking view at the summit. High enough to see as far as the Northern Alps. Unbelievable!

Especially since I was to be in the Dolomites shortly after, at 2000m hiking amongst skiers and snow borders, enjoying even more breathtaking views, spectacular scenery and idyllic weather. The home to Otzi the Iceman  the 53000 year old mummy, found in the glacier in 1991!

Home base was at Merano, above Bolzano in the South Tyrol area, close to the Austrian border. German, or should I say Southern Tyrol dialect spoken, and hardly a word of Italian overheard. A pretty village of art nouveau buildings, Tyrolese traditional dress and famous Sacher chocolate cake. And constant references to the Austrian Empress, affectionally known as Sissi, who spent her vacations at  Trauttmansdorff Castle.

 

We headed for the Merano 2000  cable car to the summit, together with hoards of local and tourist skiers sounding like a herd of elephants with their heavy snow boots. It’s a family ski resort with over 40kms of slopes for all ages and levels of competence as well as a great trail for hikers, intermittently crossing the ski slopes without too much risk.

Incredibly beautiful, wherever you looked, and as hikers it’s easy to have the time to take in the views at leisure.

Apple Orchards Venosta valleyThe next day we were in for another treat on the ice and snow of Lake Resia in the Venosta Valley, land of our apple orchards. Infinite rows of trees line the valley and the slopes, leaders in the production of organic apples for both the Italian and European market.

It’s the biggest lake in the area, in reality an artificial reservoir created in theBell tower immersed in Lake Resia 1950’s flooding the towns of Curon and Resia so only the steeple remains uncannily visible above the water level. An historic landmark surrounded by romantic legends of its bells still being heard in the depths of the water. An area sort after by ski surfers and windsurfers in season as it blows an outright gale through the valley.

We walked the Lake into the sun with the icy wind at our backs, past the jetty laden with ice and packed snow that serves as the boat tie up in the warmer months. Onto San Valentina alla Muta submerged in metres of snow, a picture postcard.

While I am not totally converted to a snow experience, as I still hate the cold, I have to say it was a beautiful experience and better than I had expected. Now I understand why people go!

My moment of relax on the Dolomites and a farewell to the steeple on Lake Resia

Lake Resia steepleMoment of relax in the Dolomites

 

 

 

 

 

Trentino Alto Adige map


 

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