Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, Italy - Day Five

Finally, some flowers!

Click on each image to enlarge.
Cameos The art of cameo carving was one of ancient Rome. It was largely a lost art until the discovery of Pompeii and the beautiful cameo jewelry unearth there brought a revival in its popularity.
Shell Cameos Most cameos are small, intended a jewelry, however some, like this one, are made quite large, entering the realm of fine art.
A lighted Shell Cameo Depicting a scene of Pompeii, the Pompeiians might find this lighted masterpiece a bit too familiar and to similar to the volcanic disaster which overtook their lives.
The raw materials The raw materials of the Cameo artist.
All roads lead to Rome We might call this the "main drag" through town. In any case, the Via della Fortuna Augusta is the LONGEST street in town, running roughly east and west for more than a mile. Another street, the Via di Stabia, quite similar to this, runs northeast to southwest through the city crisscrossing it near the center of town. It's also the WIDEST street in town.
Roman Arch at Pompeii The Arch of Calligula.
The forum at Pompeii The remains of the Forum of Pompeii, the social and political heart of the city.
Archaeological Workshops At the base of the hill near the entrance to the archaeological complex stand the workshops and storage areas used in the ongoing excavations of the city.
Ruins Some structures still remain largely a mystery as to their use despite more than a hundred years of intense study by experts.
An unreconstructed home Some of the unreconstructed homes maintain an eerie beauty despite their ruined state.
Stepping Stones Stepping stones such as these allowed pedestrians to cross flooded streets during rainstorms without getting their feet wet. Their precise placement also allowed wheeled vehicles to pass. The streets of Pompeii were used as sewers, cleansed only when rainwater from nearby, overhanging roofs turned them into flowing streams.
A public fountain Most street corners featured a fountain which supplied running water from aquaducts stretching from distant mountain streams.
One of the large, reconstructed homes This shows the plan of a typical upper-class Roman home in Pompeii. The areas in yellow were open to the sky, as was the large garden area in back. The entrance was directly from the street in the center near the bottom. The side entrance may have been a small shop. There is also a large opening in the rear which may have been occupied by a small hill.
A restored fresco The frescoed walls of what may have been the Roman equivalent of our living room. This is one of the larger murals still intact in Pompeii.
Atrium The sunny gardens seen here and below are as pleasant today as the were in the first century.
An atrium in bloom Decorated with bronze and stone sculpture, and carefully manicured vegetation, this visual focal point in many many Pompeiian homes would have been a welcomed source of cooling breezes and shelter from the sun during the hot Mediterranean summer months.
A foyer pool. This would have been a shallow pool feeding a sistern below during Roman times. Today, its stones are a cool respite for one of the many friendly Pompeiian "canni" which roam the ruins.
Restored Fresco Roman Fresco painters had a good grasp of perspective, the human figure, and the depiction of action as indicated by these well preserved examples.
Nude Fresco The nude figure (male or female) was quite acceptable home decor during Roman times.
Part of the Roman Bath Perhaps because of it's vaulted roof, this section of the baths, near the forum, survived both the earthquakes and the lava ash. This particular chamber was a undressing/dressing room next to the thermal area of the baths.
The corner bar One of the better preserved of the many wine shops which often occupied street corners in Pompeii. The deep wells in the counter held wine which was dipped up and sold to customers passing by.
The Greek Theater The theater dates from the Greek era of Pompeii, near the time of the city's founding in the sixth century BC.
Artifacts & plaster cast of victim Amongs the various pieces of stone furniture and storage vessels, can be seen one of the many plaster castings made from body impressions in the solidified volcanic ash. Today, an acrylic resin is used in place of plaster when new "bodies" are found during excavations.
A plaster cast of victim, struggling for breath This huddled, figure appears to have been struggling to breathe amid the toxic gases and raining lava ash which completely saturated the air.
Sorrento from the sea A few miles south of Pompeii, the Italian coastal city of Sorrento sits atop 75-foot bluffs. Here one can see one of the deep, steep ravines which cut across the city at irregular intervals.
The ONLY way to go! As elegant as they are practical, these one horsepower vehicles take visitors on hour-long tours of Sorrento while providing a gentle, picturesque backdrop to the bustling Mediterranean playground.
Ristorante Entrata The warm, inviting entrance leading up from the street to the terrace "ristorante" seen below.
Lunch on the Terrace in Sorrento The authentically ristorante Italiano in Sorrento was a welcome respite after hours trudging the narrow streets of Pompeii. The wine wasn't bad either.
Shopping in Sorrento "Souvenir" shops in Sorrento were a bit "pricey." I bought a refrigerator magnet for my mother-in-law.
Inlaid wood Rare, inlaid wood designs like those seen here are a distinctly Italian art form of which they are justly proud. Such pride is reflected in their prices too. This one was priced at 300,000 lira (about $1,500.)
A chess set The bronze and silver chess set with marble board was bargain priced at 120,000 lira.
Clocks Elaborately carved clocks such as this were priced at 830,000 lira (plus shipping and handling, taxes, title, and insurance).
The Gulch leading to the harbor of Sorrento. This incredibly deep "fissure," for lack of a better term, led down to the Sorrento docks where we boarded the so-called "hydrofoil" for Capri. It was a nice boat, but it weren't no hydrofoil.
Sorrento From the Harbor From the boat, a parting glance back at an elegant Sorrento hotel perched precariously on one of the city's trademark cliffs.
The Isle of Capri. The harbor at Capri was something straight from an artist's easel.
Inside the funiculare The funiculare was something straight from an engineer's drawing board.
The top of the funiculare And the scenic overlook from the top of the funiculare was straight from the tour catalogs.
Capri view Picturesque vacation villas crowd every square inch of the town like a saddle from sea to sea across the island's mid-section.
Capri view looking out to sea. Cruise ships often line the harbor while cameras line the railings shooting down upon them.
The Clock in the center of town. The town's clock tower is relatively young by Mediterranean standards. It was built in 1909.
Capri Flowers Flowers are everywhere...except where tourists tred...which is also everywhere.
A narrow Capri Street Streets are the spaces between buildings. It's easy to get lost in Capri...and fun.
A crowded Capri Street. Streets on Capri are two-way...up and down.
The local bikini shop The local bikini shop. They didn't have anything in my color.
A cruise ship in the harbor It's grand, but it's not the Grandeur.
The rear entrance to a Capri villa What I found when I got lost. And THIS was the BACK door.

Italy seems to get more beautiful the closer you get to it's toe.  Northern Italy seemed to me harsh and industrial.  Rome is cosmopolitan, rich in everything that makes a city enchanting, interesting, and exciting. And, while Naples is no one's idea of lovely, at least the general area abounds in natural beauty.  On down the coast, Sorrento is as dramatic, bright, and charming as it is overpopulated.  One has to wonder, in moving about the country, how much of what one sees as typically, or stereotypically, Italian is, in fact, a facade, scientifically engineered to bolster the Italian lira with solid American dollars.  Flowers are pretty.  Colorful stucco is charming.  Smiling faces and a friendly effort to speak at least a little English are a nice gesture.  But beauty and warmth cost little when compared to an adequate transportation system.

And therein lies Italy's biggest problem.  It needs to either widen its roads or "skinnify" its tour busses.  They've done well at limiting the size of their personal vehicles both  their cute little cars and their sneaky little motor scooters, but short of making us all walk, there must be some better way to shuttle tourists about. If Italy is so intent upon tourism, then they should find a way to handle the sheer volume of it without compromising the very reasons tourists come to Italy in the first place.  A few decent parking lots would be a nice place to begin.  We're not talking Disneyland here, underground and out of sight if necessary, but at least within reasonable walking distance.  If they can unearth Pompeii, it would seem they should also be able to bury a few parking lots. Speaking of Pompeii, the road south out of Naples to this archeological treasure is typical of Italy's ground transportation problem.  It became a four-lane highway in 1956.  It hasn't changed a bit since.  Rather than improving it, the Italians have taken to apologizing for it instead.

The highway leads past a small "factory" (actually more showroom than factory).  For once the parking lot is adequate, if not spacious.  Inside is housed a national treasure.  With the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii in the eighteenth century, came the rediscovery of an old, all-but-forgotten art form.  Preserved among the city's ruins were exquisitely carved sea shells worn as jewelry.  Conque, and many other larger sea shells are naturally layered in various colors.  The ancient Pompeiians had learned to carve images in the outer layers, usually lighter in color, to create faces and figures, backed by darker, yet highly translucent layers of shell.  These they framed in gold and hung around the necks of the fairer sex.  Often, they were all the personal belongings that survived the devastation caused by Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD.  Today, the cameo industry flourishes in the shadow of the now peaceful mountain which preserved it.  A tiny, 3/8-inch, cameo locket mounted in silver with chain, which I bought for my wife, was $70.

Pompeii was also different from what I'd expected.  I'd pictured an excavated hole in the ground.  But like most cities of its time, Pompeii was and is situated on a hill, and a pretty substantial one at that.  It must have been a beautiful city too, because even today, even amongst its ruins, there is a strange, almost ominous beauty.  But more than beauty, their is a sort of morbid fascination.  Pompeii was a death trap.  Amongst the other displayed artifacts recovered from within its walls are modern day plaster casts made from the impressions left in the hardened ashes by the bodies of the tortured victims of this natural tragedy. Often, such plaster figures reveal solidified volcanic material in the mouths and lungs of the suffocated victims.

Over the past 250 years, roughly 65% of the city has been excavated, mostly the public areas and the most interesting parts.  The forum, the amphitheater, the Grande Palestra, the port (now almost a mile inland), and the commercial areas have all been unearthed and are open to the public.  We saw little more than one-fourth of the city.  We also saw where Italians got the inspiration for their narrow streets.  Most is as it was, simply uncovered, unreconstructed.  But those buildings, especially the more opulent homes, which have seen some degree of restoration imposed upon them, are the most interesting.  We also see rebuilt the ever-present Roman baths, a corner bar, a mill, a whorehouse, a theater, a military garrison.  We see Greek architecture and Roman art - eternal frescoes, rich, elaborate, skilled, decorative, erotic, sometimes even obscene.  We see what was once a wealthy, vibrant, fairly large and fairly average, Roman mercantile community.  Pompeii does not disappoint.

Further south, around the huge Bay of Naples, moving ever closer to the toe of the Italian boot, the feeling is that of a scaled down French Riviera.  The cliffs are not so high, but every bit as difficult to impose roads upon and every bit as breathtaking.  Here, the city of Sorrento has grown too big for its real estate.  The landscape is too beautiful for its own good.  Strangely, every so often, very deep geologic "gashes" appear unexpectedly within the city.  Most are filled with vegetation, a few have streets ascending their vertical sides.  All are most peculiar.  It was in Sorrento we ate at a picturesque terrace restaurant bordering one of these deep ravines, right in the middle of the busy downtown area.  Italy is famous for its two-hour lunches followed by three-hour naps. I like that about Italians. Much as I might have liked to, we didn't nap after lunch, we shopped.  Then we caught the hydrofoil (in name only) from the sun swept city docks to the enchanting island of Capri just three miles off shore.

The island of Capri is shaped like a misshapen figure eight, with one high peak and one lower peak joined by a "high valley" between them.  To get up to the tiny town square located in this "valley" from the port below, you take a steeply inclined railway the Italians call a "Funiculare."  One might characterize it as an enclosed escalator with seats.  The good news is it doesn't take cars.  The bad news is, I was on my feet for three solid hours.  Worse than that, I was lost most of that time.  The good news is, Capri is a lovely little town to get lost in.  I found that even the back streets and back gates of many of the small, but expensive "villas" which cling to the island's gentle slopes are really quite attractive.  The cats and dogs and other natives are friendly, and the views are breathtaking.  Groceries are delivered by golf cart.  The ice cream is sinfully delicious.  Salt and Pepper shaker sets cost $14.  The artwork for sale in chic little galleries and spotlessly clean hotels is shamefully overpriced, and one corner of a huge commercial building juts right up to the front steps of the town's hundred-year-old church, leaving one to wonder which was there first. It's a nice place to live but I wouldn't want to visit there again.