This was one of the longest weekends of my life, I swear. This weekend the entire program of people made the bus ride to Napoli, Pompeii, and Paestum. We all had to meet the bus at 5:30 in the morning! If that doesn’t tell you that it was going to be a long day, I don’t know what would other than my (what is sure to be a crazy long) description of my adventures.
After about a four hour bus ride we arrived at the archeological museum in Napoli. The museum itself is a large pink building, but on the inside it had some of the most amazing wall paintings from Pompeii and Herculanum and some of the most amazing statuary I have ever seen in my life. There was this amazing statue of Hercules that I am in love with. It was super tall, like three times my height at least. It was made out of this slightly brown marble, which king of gave it the illusion of being nearer to a tanned-skin color. Hercules looked older and tired, slightly leaning against his club, draped with the lion skin. And when you walk around the statue you see that the hand behind his back is holding three apples, which was one of his last tasks that he had to do and explains his fatigue. It is just amazing in the detail and attention to the human form, because you can almost see the veins in his stomach and the bones in his feet. It was just really impressive.
In comparison the wall paintings and pottery uncovered from the volcanic ashes were not as impressive even if they are a gift to archeologists. A lot of the wall paintings showed fake architecture, which would have given the walls illusions of details and windows, sometimes depicting fake scenes outside fake windows. Others simply had floral or grotesque imagery. Others still depicted scenes from mythology. One thing I found rather impressive were the mosaics found at Pompeii. There was this one mosaic that was the size of a wall (the original was in the museum and I would later see the replica in the Villa of the Faun at Pompeii) that was originally in a courtyard of a domus. It depicted Alexander the Great fighting the Persians and it is so interesting because of the depth, perception, and light that they were able to do in a mosaic. The pieces of glass were so tiny! It must have taken a long time to make it.
At lunch time we were on our own to find something to eat in Napoli. Napoli is the sketchiest city I have ever seen in my life. And I also got horribly lost without a map. A group of about seven of us were wandering around looking for a pizzeria because I had been told that Naples has some good thicker crust pizza. So it was really surprising how hard it was to find one, and we kind of never did. We wandered and kept getting more lost, not that the rest of the group would listen to me telling them that we were walking in the wrong direction. We ended up eating at a little pizza stand that also sold rotisserie chicken by a fish market. The stand was situated right next to a fish market and a store selling tripe on the other side. So it was a rather pungent area, but the food was rather good. I got a slice of pizza and a water bottle for the unheard of price of 2,20! The pizza was like a pizza sandwich because it had crust on both top and bottom and then it had ricotta, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and what I think was ham. It was so filling that I couldn’t finish all of it. Then once we left there the real fun began. In the sketchy city of Napoli, the boys kept going in the wrong direction against my advice. So finally I started going up to random Italians and asking where the museum was. They understood my question, but I had more trouble understanding their answers. Finally they would end up pointing and then a little ways farther I would ask someone again and repeat the process. I am kinda proud to say that we made it back to the bus on time, although we did detour to a gelateria where the woman sho-ed us out of the building and would not sell us gelato. I am not a fan of Napoli.
So then after a bus ride of another hour or so we arrived at Pompeii. Parts of Pompeii have not been excavated, but what has been excavated gave me a completely new perspective of Roman life. When you enter one of the first things that you see is the forum with a temple behind it. On the right side of the forum there is this massive building where the weavers would have worked. And since they would have been working with wool, they needed an acid to work with it and so people walking by would have urinated in one of the first rooms in there to help the weavers. One of the things that I saw that I had never known was about these food stands that many people would have. They had these counters with these big inset bowls in, kind of like fast food stores with the containers under heat lamps, and there would have been a fire underneath to keep all of the food warm. Yet these stands are not exactly the precursor to fast-food, because there would have been tables where people could sit and socialize. Think of them as a tavern kind-of. It was exciting to see such a humble aspect of everyday life because I like to study how people actually lived. Some of the other things that we saw were the necropolis, the Temple of Mysteries (some pretty amazing wall paintings, one following a girl’s transformation ritually from a girl to a woman), some houses (domus, one having the amazing Alexander mosaic, an auditorium for recitations of poetry and theater, and the amphitheatre. It is kind of like seeing a ghost town when you are there, minus all of the tourists of course. I must say however that it was really sad to see the plaster casts of people that were killed in the volcanic gasses and ashes. They are hunched over, looking like they are suffocating. Plus there was this one plaster mold of a dog that is all twisted up, fighting the gasses but trapped by his leash. I think that those casts alone make you aware of the real tragedy of what happened as much as I may appreciate walking through a real Roman town. It is kind of hard to believe that people still live there considering that the volcano is still active and is clouded over with smoke (I think that is what it is) every day.
Anyways after walking around Pompeii we walked a short distance to our hotel for the evening. I had to share a room with my three other roommates from Orvieto. As usual, I got the short end of the stick when it came to choice of beds and so I was sleeping in a side table that had a pull out cot (imagine it to be at least a foot narrower than a twin and possibly shorter too). Nevertheless it was nice that dinner and breakfast was provided for us at the hotel. Granted that dinner was not exactly what I was expecting. The first course was a seafood risotto. There is something about tentacles and an awkward tasting sauce that made it less than appealing. The second course tasted much better even if it was an odd combination of mashed potatoes and white fish. Then for dessert we got a selection of cherries, oranges, and peaches. In the morning it was chocolate croissants and toast before it was back in the bus and time to head to Paestum.
Paestum is situated overlooking a valley. It is in some of the most fertile lands of Italy. The Romans practically stole this area from the Latins so that they could use the farmlands. These farmlands were the reason that the Greeks came to Southern Italy in the first place, so as to form colonies to produce foodstuffs. So when this area was originally controlled by the Greeks (although they took it some still earlier native tribe, but before the Romans took over) it was called something like Poseidonia, indicating that this city was dedicated to Poseidon. But now it has some of the three best preserved Greek temples in the world, even over some in Greece itself. Many of the homes and public buildings were lost when the Romans Romanized the city, but the temples and this neat sanctuary-tomb were saved, and then everything was eventually covered over by a swamp. Anyways, the temples are beautiful with their Doric columns and the newest temple of the three had these intriguing temples on the interior. I don’t know if y’all know, but Greek temples were not the place where the actual worship would take place. So on the east side of each other temples you could see the alters were the worship would actually have taken place. The temples were a glorified structure to protect the cult’s statue of the deity and to store the treasure given as offerings to that god. They can tell for the most part what god or goddess the temple was dedicated to by the treasures buried around the temple, because when the storeroom in the temple would get full they would dig a large hole to bury the gifts to the gods. So the oldest temple is dedicated to Hera, the middle-aged one was to Athena, and the youngest one has some controversy. They found a lot of mixed statues and gifts around this one because it was so close to the one dedicated to Hera. Some people say that it is dedicated to Poseidon, but Alba (the mama of the program) said that her archeologist mentor said that it was dedicated to Apollo in his role as a healer. I prefer to believe what Alba believes and so I think that it was dedicated to Apollo. Besides the temples there was this really interesting structure that looked like an underground tomb, kind of in the Etruscan style like I saw at Tarquinia. But for this structure there was no entrance. So when Archeologists broke a roof tile to get into the structure they found six amazing bronze vases filled with honey (apparently a symbol of death) and this amazing red (or black I can’t remember) figure pot. They think that this weird structure was a symbolic tomb of a mythological city founder, perhaps even Herakles since the pot depicts the apotheosis of Herakles. Anyways it was interesting.
After walking around the site of the ruins, I went into the museum and saw all of the artifacts that had been found at Paestum. To make a long story short there were pots, statues, and figurines. The most famous thing there is a painted tomb, called the tomb of the diver. It is not all that different than other painted tombs except for the fact that it is odd that the person is diving. From the museum, I went to lunch at a sit down restaurant where they pretty much only served pizza, but it was really good and affordable. And I actually got full, which seams really rare here. From there I wandered around the tourist traps, bought a couple postcards (which someone spilled coke on in the bus, yeah not too happy), and then got on the bus for that wonderful five and half hour trip back to Orvieto.