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.

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.

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.