søndag 29. september 2013

Exploring the Sorrentino Peninsula

Bella Amalfi
Left lovely Naples bound for the Sorrentino peninsula and the Amalfi coast. You get a spectacular view of the Bay of Naples on board the ferry from Napoli to Amalfi. Made friends with another passenger Umberto Persico, a native of Sorrento who was fluent in English and very helpful, literally a knight of the old school. He was nothing less than an honorary member of the Order of the Maltese Knights. Yes, they still exist, and thank goodness for that. Because cavaliere Persico spontaneously made sure that I boarded the connecting ferry from Sorrento to Amalfi. Twelve points and eternal glory to the Maltese Knights, gentlemen of the old school indeed.

Amalfi Adventures
Went on to explore Amalfi, Praiano, Sorrento and Positano for a whole week. This escapade was truly an adventure in itself.  But I must finish this unpretentious travelogue. And for the sake of brevity, which is the soul of wit and convenience, let me change the form from prose to photos. A picture is worth a thousand words; so here’s a selection of images from my Amalfi adventures. Enjoy.

Images




lørdag 28. september 2013

La Floridiana, Castel Sant’ Elmo and the Bay of Naples

Tortoise pond in la Floridiana
On this fine Saturday morning we set out to visit ‘La Floridiana’ in the Vomero quarter.

La Floridiana was once the summer residence of Lucia Migliaccio, the Duchess of Floridiana, hence the name.

The surrounding garden is now a large park from which there is a splendid view over Napoli and the bay. The villa itself has been converted into the Duke of Martina National Museum of Ceramics. It has one of the largest collections of Italian decorative arts and works of manufacture - dating from the 12th to the 19th century.

The collection was founded by Placido de Sangro, Duke of Martina. Born in Naples in 1829, the Duke moved to Paris after the unification of Italy. Here he began to acquire objects of applied art.The entire collection was inherited by the duke’s grandson who donated it to the city of Naples in 1911; and so these treasures are available (at least to see) for common people like us.

View from Castel Sant' Elmo
In the afternoon we visited the Castel Sant ‘ Elmo, once a medieval fortress near the previously mentioned Certosa di San Martino.

We have heard of St. Elmo's fire, the weather phenomenon that causes a bright blue glow, appearing like fire from lightning rods, masts, spires and chimneys. It is explained well in Wikipedia:

St. Elmo's fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formiae (also called St. Elmo, one of the two Italian names for St. Erasmus, the other being St. Erasmo), the patron saint of sailors. The phenomenon sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms and was regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light, accounting for the name.Because it is a sign of electricity in the air, which can interfere with compass readings, some sailors may have regarded it as an omen of bad luck and stormy weather. Other references indicate that sailors may have actually considered St. Elmo's fire as a good omen (as in, a sign of the presence of their guardian saint).

On this site where we now find the castle was once a church dedicated to Sant’ Erasmo, whose name through the years has been altered to Sant’ Elmo. Today the castle serves as a museum, exhibition halls and offices. The panoramic view of Napoli from Sant’ Elmo is spectacular.

View of Castel dell'Ovo and Vesuvius
from the Bay of Napoli
In the evening we embarked on a coastal tour —this time by boat— from the port of Mergellina along the coast of Posillipo to the islet of Nisida, returning to our starting point after a scenic cruise past Castel dell’Ovo.

Images from La Floridiana, Castel Sant’ Elmo and the Bay of Naples

fredag 27. september 2013

Ercolano and San Martino

Water fountain in Ercolano
I took the "Circumvesuviano" –the train that circumvents Vesuvius– to Herculeanum, or Ercolano this morning. It took approximately 30 minutes from Garibaldi Station in Napoli.

Ercolano's "burial" in AD 79 was deep enough (30 m of volcanic ash covered the whole town) to preserve the upper stories of many buildings, and also wooden objects such as beds and doors. Remnants of food were also found on the site.

It was amazing to walk along ancient streets and imagine life as it existed two millennia ago in this Roman town, once a Greek settlement (Herakleion) from the 5th c BC.



Eavesdropping in Ercolano
I joined a group of German students who were on an excursion with their history teacher as guide, and it made my visit all the more educational, even though my German is getting rusty.

The most famous of the villas at Ercolano is the Villa of the Papyri which has four terraces stretching down towards the sea (the sea level was much higher then). The villa had a library with 1785 papyrus scrolls (carbonized by age), hence the name. These Papyri were discovered by workmen in the 1750’s. The scrolls have ancient Greek philosophical texts and other topics. They are stored in the National Archeological Museum and the Biblioteca Nationale di Napoli, where there is an entire section devoted to the Herculaneum Papyri.

See pictures from Ercolano

San Martino
I returned to Napoli in time for the aftenoon tour of the National museum of San Martino. My guide was none other than Giustino, my tireless cicerone.

View from San Martino
The Certosa di San Martino (a former monastery) and San’ Elmo fortress are the most visible landmarks i Napoli, located on top of the Hill of Vomero. Inside the monastery complex are impressive terraced gardens, cloisters, the Chiesa delle Donne and a charterhouse.

The former living quarters of the prior and the monks have been converted into this impressive museum dedicated to Napoli's history and culture.

Among the many unique exhibits are the famous Napolitan nativity scenes, of which Cucinello’s crib (from 1879) is considered to be the world's largest with more than 150 people, animals, angels and a few hundred miniature objects (see link to photos at the bottom of this page).

Tavola Strozzi
Of the many paintings on display here is the original Tavola Strozzi (from 1479), an oil-on-wood painting of Napoli seen from above, facing the port of the city. The present skyline is still the same.

Impressions from Certosa di San Martino

torsdag 26. september 2013

In and Around Napoli IV


"Sappho", from Pompeii,
Insula Occidentalis
I had the whole morning to explore the National Archaeological Museum. Since I was going to Herculaneum the following day, the collections from Pompeii and Ercolano were first on my agenda. To actually see the frescos and artefacts at close range brought people as well as gods and heroes from 79 AD a little closer.

I leave the reader with a recommendation to visit the museum in situ, it is profoundly inspiring. You can also explore the museum’s web site as an appetizer.

Cumae
My hosts had yet another excursion planned for the afternoon. On our agenda was a visit to the ancient city of Cumae (founded in the 8th c BC), the unique Fusaro Lake, the city of Pozzuoli with its famous Macellum, and last, but not least the the volcanic craters of Solfaterra.

The old city of Cumae was colonized by Greek settlers in the 8th c BC. They came from the Greek island of Euboea and brought with them a cultural heritage that would mark the civilization of Magna Graecia. An important contribution was the Euboean alphabet, a variant of the Greek ditto that gave rise to the old Italic alphabets, including Etruscan and eventually the Latin alphabet that we use.

Cumae is also famous as the seat of a Sibyl, a prophetic priestess who presided over an oracular shrine dedicated to Apollo. People came here from far away to hear her prophecies.

Entrance to the Cave of the Sibyl
Chiseled into the rock face by the entrance to the Sibyl’s cave is an engraving (see photo) that actually is a lunar calendar, tangible evidence of an ancient civilization with knowledge of astronomy.

Near the sanctuary of the Sibyl was the temple of Zevs, of which only ruins now are left. The temple was rebuilt into a Christian basilica at the end of the 4th c.

See images from Cumae

Our next destination was the nearby Fusaro Lake (see photo). Some say it was the harbour of Cumae in early antiquity. The lake is now famous for its oysters and mussels and a unique ecosystem.

Pozzuoli
Our trip continued to Pozzuoli, a city situated right above the so-called Campi Flegrei, a large subterranean and submarine volcano west of Naples. Volcanic activity in this area causes the ground to rise and fall, a phenomenon called “bradeyism”. Mount Vesuvius, Campi Flegrei and Ischia are constantly monitored by the Vesuvius Observatory in order to detect threats caused by volcanic activity.

Ruins of the Macellum in Pozzuoli (a former Roman market building)
Pozzuoli (founded in 528 BC by Greek refugees from Samos) is known for the ruins of its Macellum, the food market in the former Roman colony of Puteoli, now Pozzuoli. The macellum was built between the late first and early second century AD. The columns (see above photo) have visible traces from molluscs (ie marine invertebraes) that left their mark when the ground level (and the market) was under the sea level due to the deflation of the subterranean caldera.

People and celebrities associated with Pozzuoli are e.g. St Januarius, Napoli’s Patron Saint who was executed in Solfatara near Pozzuoli 305 AD, St. Paul who landed in Pozzuoli on his voyage to Rome in 61 AD (Acts 28:13-14) and last, but not least film diva Sophia Loren (b.1930) who grew up here. Important personalities worthy indeed of mention.

On our way back to Naples we paid a visit to Solfaterra, a shallow volcanic crater which emits jets of steam with sulfurous fumes. We also passed by the city of Baiae, famous for its Mystery tunnels.

onsdag 25. september 2013

In and Around Napoli III

 Inside Pio Monte della Misericordia
Our excursion this morning began at Pio Monte della Misericordia, a church in the historic center of Naples, famous for the Seven Works of Mercy, the painting by Caravaggio.  No sooner had we arrived, when a priest emerged and gave a sermon to the five grateful souls who had the good fortune to be present.

Our next destination was the Cathedral of Napoli or the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, named after the city’s patron saint. The cathedral was built 600 years ago on the foundations of two ancient Christian churches, the Santa Restituta (6th c) and the baptistery of San Giovanni in fonte (5th c). The latter is the oldest monument in Western Christendom and has awe-inspiring mosaics, still intact - more or less. The Duomo is indeed magnificent, but the baptistery of San Giovanni resounds more of bygone times.

Mosaics in the Baptistery of San Giovanni 
However, we had an agenda to follow, and our next stop was the recently refurbished complex of San Domenica Maggiore, the so-called Insula Conventuale di San Domenico Maggiore. The complex contains not only the church and convent of San Domenico, but also the library, the study chamber and chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. The entire “insula”  is like a small city within the city, and the sights are in abundance. We shall focus on St.Thomas’ study chamber from the 13th century.
“Cella abita da S. Tommaso d’ Aquino negli anni 1272-1274,”
said the brass plaque on the door of the cell.

Inside St. Thomas' study chamber.
The monk from Armenia explains.
The "cell" is not open to the public on a daily basis, only on special occasions are guests allowed inside.Was it providence when a group of pilgrims from Prague arrived on the scene with two Armenian monks (Domenicans) as guides? Because these pilgrims were allowed to enter the cell of St Thomas in small groups - under polite supervison. And yours truly, a pilgrim from the far North, was allowed to join the company from Prague inside St.Thomas’ chapel. An incredible moment.
Photos from St Tomas' chapel.


The Royal Palace of Caserta
It was time  to return to our headquarters in Vomero, since our plan for the afternoon was to go with Giustino to see the Royal Palace of Caserta, some 35 kilometres north of Napoli. We had an extensive agenda on this day, to say the least. But the visit to Caserta was worth the trip.

We had heard of the splendour of Versailles, but who knew that the Royal Palace of Caserta was built with the former as a model example, only on a larger scale? The construction of the palace began in 1752 when Charles VII of Naples (later king Charles III of Spain) commissioned  the architect Luigi Vanvitelli (whose list of achievements includes the facade of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano) to lead  the construction. The king  wanted to have an impressive new royal court and administrative center in a location protected from attack from the sea.

The palace has an immense garden, 1200 rooms, two dozen state apartments, a large library, a theatre - and its own royal chapel, the Palatine Chapel, where we could  enjoy "Vanvitelli and his angels", an exhibition with paintings of angels who seemed to be in silent dialogue with their marble counterparts in the chapel.

Photos from the Palace of Caserta

tirsdag 24. september 2013

In and Around Napoli II

Garland in memory of
Giancarlo Siani (1959-1985)
Our first destination this morning was the Piazza del Gesù Nuovo and the churches of Gesù Nuovo and Santa Chiara.

But we must forget not the wreath we saw on the wall in Piazza Leonardo. The wreath was given by the Mayor of Napoli the previous day (23 September) to commemorate the death of Giancarlo Siani (1959-1985) who was an Italian crime reporter from Napoli. He wrote articles about the links between organized crime, politicians and construction contracts.

Sani was killed in 1985 by the Camorra, while approaching his apartment in Vomero (the part of Naples where I was staying). At the time he was conducting an investigation of one of their leaders. His memory is honoured with garlands and flowers each year on the day of his death 23 September. A sad story that needs to be remembered.

The Church of Gesù Nuovo
The Church of Gesù Nuovo (originally a palace from the 15th c) has a piece of music hidden in the outside wall. The facade of the church is not flat, but built of hewn stone blocks that protrude like small pyramids. Each of these little pyramids has signs engraved on them.

Until 2010, experts thought that the symbols were the initials of the stonemasons who built the church (or palace) in the 15th century. But it turns out that the symbols are Aramaic letters, and each of them corresponds to a musical note. Read from right to left and bottom to top, the engraved notes form a concert for stringed instruments. It's a Renaissance music score which follows a Gregorian canon, according to the experts. Find out more

Click to hear the music and see the symbols on the facade of  Gesù Nuovo (short YouTube clip)

See images from Napoli

mandag 23. september 2013

In and Around Napoli I

We had admired the breathtaking view over Napoli from the hill of Sant’Elmo the previous evening. Now was the time to visit some of the many sights Napoli has to offer. With us on our sightseeing tour was Bianca, our Neapolitan pilgrim companion who, together with Marisa, had volunteered to lead the way on this expedition. On our agenda this day was the the Piazza Plebiscito, the Castel dell'Ovo and the Parco Virgiliano (Virgil’s Park), nothing less.


Piazza del Plebiscito with a view of San Francesco di Paola

The Piazza Plebiscito is a must for visitors to Napoli. On the west side of the piazza is the church of San Francesco di Paola, on the opposite side lies the Royal Palace where former regents of Napoli have their statues in niches. Among them are Roger the Norman or "Ruggero il normanno" who was king of Sicily in the twelfth century.

Newlyweds posing at Castel dell'Ovo

Castel dell'Ovo is one of Napoli’s distinctive landmarks. The name means “Egg Castle” in Italian and originates from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil, who had put a magical egg into the foundations to support the original fortifications. If something had broken the egg, the castle would be destroyed and a series of disastrous events would befall upon the city of Napoli. Today the castle is a popular site for exhibitions and other special events, such as having your wedding photo taken

In the afternoon we visited the Parco Virgiliano on the hill of Posillipo where we enjoyed spectacular views of the Gulf of Napoli, the coast of Sorrento, Mount Vesuvius, Nisida island, Pozzuoli and Baia, not forgetting the islands of Ischia, Capri and Procida.

Spectacular view from the Parco Virgiliano

søndag 22. september 2013

Porta Rosa, Entrance to Antiquity

The Porta Rosa in Velia



Our mission on this fine day was to explore the aforementioned city of Velia –actually the ruins thereof– which date back to the 5th century BC. The site is now known as the Parco Archeologico di Velia, a park where you can sense the presence of ancient civilizations.

The city was once a part of Magna Graecia, ie the coastal areas of Southern Italy that were colonized by Greek settlers from the eighth century BC. Velia was known to be the seat of a medical school whose knowledge and tradition may be the roots of the aforementioned Schola Medica Salernitana.

Cicero, Horace and other famous personalities found the atmosphere in Velia gentle and welcoming, as did we during our visit there. Laura pointed out the occurrence of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and other herbs - reminiscences from past times, we thought.

While walking up the Porta Rosa road, once the main street of ancient Velia, we were brought back to its foundation nearly 2400 years ago. The Porta Rosa (Pink Gate) itself is an impressive viaduct that was built by Greek settlers to connect the northern and southern parts of the city. The arch, which was built in the 4th century BC, is  still in fine condition.

We were also impressed by the amphitheater and the ruins of the acropolis But the original Greek temple was partly destroyed by the tall tower of the Norman castle that was built here in the middle ages.

We left Velia with a sense of connection with the generations who had lived and thrived there.

Our weekend in Acciaroli was now coming to an end, and we headed back to Napoli.

Visions of Velia

lørdag 21. september 2013

Enjoying One’s Otium

Laura and I began the day with a swim in the “Mare Nostrum” (i.e. Our Sea, the Mediterranean) in Acciaroli. Temp in the sea: 22 C. We contemplated the implications of enjoying one’s otium, which not only relates to retirement, but also to leisure time when you can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors. And we were currently engaged in all of the above.


Our quest on this fine day was –with the notorious Giustino as our eminent cicerone– to visit the living Museum of  Mediterranean Diet in Pioppi – and also to find the statue of the Greek philosopher Parmenides (5th c BC), founder of the School of Elea, a pre-Socratic school of philosophy in the early fifth century BC. Elea (now Velia) was a former Greek colony not far from Acciaroli.This is useful knowledge for pilgrims such as us, for we discovered a connection between the philosophy of Mediterranean Diet and that of Parmenides.

Stein and Giustino in front of the Museum of the Mediterranean Diet
The American dietician and  doctor Ancel Keys (1904-2004!) was largely responsible for  the renaissance of the Mediterranean Diet, a  concept which introduced a more healthy fare for many since the late 20th century. His book “How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way” (1975) was a milestone in the consciousness-raising campaign for a more healthy diet for millions. Keyes had his second home in the village of Pioppi where we found the above mentioned museum. It turned out that Keyes was influenced by the heritage from Ancient Greece and the philosophy of Parmenides, a philosophy that points out the need for Harmony between Man and Nature.

The living Museum of the Mediterranean Diet in Pioppi is the historical, scientific and cultural center of the Mediterranean Diet, it was worth the visit. We learnt that the Dieta Mediterranea was added to UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

Our next destination was the statue of Parmenides, whose location we were somewhat unsure of. But thanks to Giustino, our unstoppable chauffeur, we eventually found our Greek philosopher. A fine reward – and useful preparation for our visit to the ancient city of Velia the following day. Velia was namely the home of Parmenides and other philosophers.

But let’s not get too philosophical. On the more down to earth level - we enjoyed the ever so tangible cultural heritage of the Mediterranean cuisine when Marisa prepared and served delicious dishes with Neapolitan finesse and grace.

Aspects of Acciaroli and Pioppi

fredag 20. september 2013

A Cultural Journey


L-R: Laura, Stein, Giustino and Marisa in Salerno


















On the second day of my stay, we set out on a trip to Acciaroli, an Italian hamlet  in the Province of Salerno some 60 km south of Napoli. This is where Marisa and Giustino had their beach house on the idyllic coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea. On our way there we visited Salerno, a town known for its Schola Medica Salernitana (the first University of Medicine in the world).  People from all over the world came to the "Schola Salerni"; the sick, in the hope of recovering - and students, to learn the art of medicine. Thus - Salerno was known as the "Town of Hippocrates" for centuries.

With us on the excursion to Salerno was  none other than the above mentioned Laura from Rome, a sociable pilgrim who also is a notorious medico of the good old school. In Salerno we rediscovered the profound wisdom in the Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum, a twelfth century poem with a collection of timeless medical advice, e.g.:
If you stand in need of medical advice,these three things will be as good as a physician to you;a cheerful mind, relaxation from business and a moderate diet. 
A prescription we followed to a tee. We also visited the Virtual Museum of The Medical School of Salerno in the old San Gregorio Church in Salerno.

Scenes from Salerno

Visiting Paestum
In the afternoon we headed for the the former city of Paestum, a Graeco-Roman city founded by Greeks in the 7th century BC. The Temple of Hera (or Ceres), from around 550 BC, was one of many monuments that left me awestruck in admiration of past times and cultures.

Fresco from the Tomb of the Diver in Paestum (470 BC)
One of the world-famous gems in the National Archaeological Museum of Paestum is the fresco from the Tomb of the Diver, which dates from 470 BC. It shows a diver in mid-plunge, thought to represent the passage from life to death (see photo). The diver from Paestum has also become the symbol of the Mediterranean diet, a diet so healthy that it inspires physical exercise such as e.g. diving. Amazing.

Pictures from Paestum

Our journey on this fine day ended in the aforementioned beach house in Acciaroli, a town where Ernest Hemingway –captivated by the lovely location– stayed during his Italian trips after World War II.

Aspects of Acciaroli

torsdag 19. september 2013

A Warm Welcome

San Gennaro of Napoli
Arrival in Via Bernini in Vomero, a hilly area in the center of Napoli. My arrival coincided with the feast day of St. Gennaro (or S. Januarius), who is the patron saint of Napoli, and whose festival is one of faith and redemption, a time for remembrance and celebration. As if to salute the feast day, the moon shone full from a starlit sky over Napoli that evening when I arrived.

It turned out that my kind hosts –Marisa and Giustino– had visited Trondheim one fair summer in 1981. And since Giustino was a passionate music lover, he also had a collection of Norwegian music, classical as well as contemporary. And while I was unpacking my backpack and humble belongings in my fine guestroom, I was greeted with familiar tunes from the living-room where “Nidelven stille” and other Norwegian evergreens were played in my honour.

Later that evening we went down memory lane and saw real old-fashioned slides from Marisa’s and Giustino’s visit to Trondheim some three decades ago. I will always remember that warm welcome, a fine prelude to my adventures in Napoli and Campania, a region rich in cultural heritage, gastronomy, music, architecture and ancient sites; all of which I had the privilege to enjoy during three intense weeks in the autumn of 2013.

A Visit to Napoli et Environs

Introduction: For They Were Pilgrims All


It all began with a pilgrimage on the Via Francigena del sud two weeks in April 2012. That was when an international group of pilgrims walked from Teano (north of Napoli) all the 240 km to Rome. We were guided by the friendly and competent members of the Gruppo dei Dodici, an Italian Pilgrim Association. The standard of our accommodation en route was in harmony with the pilgrim ideals of simplicity. And our group of pilgrims was similar to the company described in the Canterbury tales:

There came at nightfall to the hostelry
Some nine-and-twenty in a company,
Folk of all kinds met in accidental
Companionship, for they were pilgrims all…
And by the time the sun had gone to rest
I’d talked with everyone, and soon became
One of their company, and promised them
To rise at dawn next day to take the road…

From the Prologue in Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
(1343–1400)

Under circumstances as the above, whether in the fourteenth or twenty-first century, pilgrims soon learn to get acquainted and become friends. Among us pilgrims was Marisa from Napoli who soon became my cicerone and companion. We must also mention Bianca from Napoli and Laura from Rome – both faithful pilgrims indeed. And there were also pilgrims from many lands who revived the old pilgrim ways to Rome; but that’s another story.

In this brief diary I shall tell of my journey to Napoli et environs in 2013, the above is just a prologue.

So, in the autumn of 2013 I set out to visit Napoli, invited kindly by Marisa and her husband Giustino ­who offered this pilgrim from the North shelter and hospitality during his stay in Italy, a country he keeps returning to year after year.

Images from Napoli